Setting Standards for Team Work

“There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.” – Frank Lloyd Wright In our team building programs for leaders, I’ve worked with many managers from both public and private sector organizations. One of the questions I usually pose early on is, “How many of you have established a set of expected behaviours with your teams?” This is usually followed by a pretty sparse show of hands. I often don’t even get to use my second question which is, “How many of you re-examine these group norms periodically?” Many people dismiss these ideas with variations of the statement, “That’s all just common sense.” In my experience, common sense is a poor substitute for open discussion and agreement. What you can do: Here’s a quick team building exercise to help you open the conversation about your team interactions and establish some ground rules to make you more effective together. Introduce the topic at a meeting in which you have 30-60 minutes to dedicate to the initiative. Write out on a flip chart or include on the agenda the idea: “The development into a high performance team is a gradual and deliberate process. What can we all do ‘more of’ and ‘less of’ to move our team towards high performance?” Form subgroups of 3 to 5 people and give each a flip chart page. Have them divide the page into 2 columns. At the top of one column they can write the words “more of” and, at the top of the other, the words “less of”. Ask each group to brainstorm ideas for behaviours they’d like to see from themselves and their...

Valuing Team Conflict

“If we agree on everything, then one of us is unnecessary.” Conflict has gotten a bad reputation. It can make us feel threatened and uncomfortable. It can shut down communication and even cripple our ability to think. But some conflicts – not all – if they are handled constructively, can give tremendous opportunities for teams to examine their assumptions, see broader perspectives and generate creative solutions. In fact, true team collaboration may not be possible without some form of conflict. A few years ago, I got a call from an executive who was looking for a team building solution to get his leadership team to contribute more ideas during meetings. “I’d like to know what’s on their minds,” he said. “We have these weekly meetings and I feel like I’m the only one with any ideas on how to deal with the issues. How can ten smart people have so little to contribute?” So, we set up a full day team building program to help the team experience some successful collaboration, and to have them openly examine their own processes. We managed to get through an energizing icebreaker with lots of laughter and some good ideas surfacing, but things took a bad turn shortly into the first real team challenge. Just as the team arrived at the crux of the problem, a booming voice yelled, “Stop!” All eyes turned to the executive who proceeded to bark instructions to everyone in the group until the problem was more or less solved. Now, periodically he stopped to ask if everyone agreed with “the plan” and, of course, everyone nodded vigorously each...

Synergy: When one plus one equals three

“Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand! It’s the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge” –Stephen Covey Have you ever been on a team where everything seemed to click? You all knew the goal, you were all committed to it and, amongst you, you had all the skills to achieve something that none of you could do alone. That is pretty much the definition of synergy. And synergy is what high performance teams achieve. Some years ago, I had the good fortune to lead a group of ten very “differently-abled” people on a 5-day wilderness canoe trip. Now, this was a trip with significant distances to cover on the water, numerous rugged portages and daily camp set-up along with all the “group dynamics” challenges that one would expect when people are exposed to clouds of biting bugs, periods of pouring rain and prolonged physical effort. That trip remains one of the most memorable and inspirational experiences of my life. I could probably draw out every lesson on team building that I’ve ever learned from those five days, but one experience in particular remains vivid. Picture this: It’s late afternoon on a remote and pristine northern lake. Although it’s sunny, a strong headwind has whipped the middle of the lake into a seemingly endless series of whitecaps. All but the very margin of the lake is essentially a ‘no-go” zone for paddlers in these conditions. But a fleet of 5 canoes inches its way along...

Implementing and Consolidating Change

“A good vision and strategy quickly deteriorates into real work.” Many of the best plans for change stride confidently into the spotlight, create a momentary buzz, and then shuffle off-stage without leaving a lasting impression. Apart from endlessly repeating the change vision, how do we convert employee commitment to results? It takes hard work and persistence. Here are a few ideas for making change happen and stick. Make structures compatible with the vision. For instance, if you are moving to an integrated team approach to sales and service, establish cross-functional teams that have complementary skills and the common goal of seamless customer service. Align practices, policies, systems. This may mean changing things such as compensation systems, standardized procedures, communications policies, etc. so that the desired behaviours (such as collaboration) are rewarded. Provide the training employees need. This might mean developing skills in using new software or operating new equipment. It might also mean training people to work better in teams, or organizing simple team building programs so they can reach new levels of commitment and performance. Generate and publicize short-term wins. Break the big plan into smaller pieces so people can feel the exhilaration of success. And, share the stories with other employees who could use a little home-grown inspiration to help them over the hump. Deal with managers who undercut needed change. Sometimes people can actively resist change. Other times they can undercut the efforts by being too “soft” in their approach or allowing others to drag their heels. If coaching doesn’t address the issue, some people may need to be let go. A common mistake in bringing...

Communicate Your Change Vision

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” –George Bernard Shaw The above statement is never more true than in the change process. Even when you get the words just right, people naturally make assumptions and add their own meanings based on their unique experiences and interpretations. What they understand will often be very different than what you thought you conveyed. So, what do you and your core change team need to keep in mind as you communicate your change vision? Give a clear and concise “big picture” view of where you want to go – the destination – and how it will make things better for them, for the team and for the organization. This should answer the two important questions: “What is the change?” and “Why are we doing this?” Communicate face-to-face. Yes, emails and teleconferences can also be used, but nothing beats bringing people together so you can answer questions, check assumptions and help them place the entire initiative into their own work context. Also, when you are face-to-face with people, you can more effectively deliver important “emotional meaning” such as empathy, urgency, resolve and optimism. Everyone on your core change team should follow up with frequent one-on-one conversations with individuals and small groups to check understanding. Say it over, and over, and over again. You likely didn’t create and grasp the entire vision and its implications in a single flash of insight. They won’t either. Be relentless. Also, be consistent in your messaging. Everyone on your core change team must have the same messages, and they must show unwavering...