Ingredients for High Performing Teams: #4, Meaning & Impact

The final ingredients for high performing teams that Project Aristotle revealed are meaning and impact. Leaders of teams need to articulate a clear vision, and reinforce how each member’s work contributes to bringing the team closer to that vision. On the surface, this sounds simple and straightforward. Let’s be honest, it’s nothing groundbreaking – the importance of meaning and impact to team effectiveness seems fairly intuitive. I mean, most organizations nowadays have mission statements. Meaning just seems to be another buzzword and lofty ideal in the corporate world. As I’m sure you’re well aware of at this point, implementing these ideals in ‘real life’ is a whole other story. The importance of meaning in team effectiveness is obvious – but how do you actually foster a sense of meaning and purpose in teams from the real world? A quick Google search reveals thousands of articles discussing how to develop meaning and purpose in teams (for example, this Harvard Business Review article). Most, however, just end up reiterating how important a purpose is in a team, and that you should “find it”. Finding the purpose as the leader, though, isn’t the hard part, in my opinion. To get the entire team to buy in and connect with it…that’s the real challenge. So in preparing for this post, I set out to explore this exact problem – how can we not only find a team’s purpose, but also get the entire team to ‘buy in’ to it? Before I dive deep into the question of how, though, I want to explore the why – why is making sure each team member...

Teaching Teamwork: How Insights from Team Building Can Benefit Educators

Is teaching a class that much different from leading a team? A 2010 article in Psychology Today makes a good argument for the idea that teachers are really “leaders in disguise”. Leaders and teachers both have to be positive role models, inspire their followers/students, provide individualized consideration, and engage the minds and hearts of their followers/students. Team building has increasingly become a key part of leadership. It seems that most leaders in corporate organizations are aware of, and believe in, the value of team building efforts. But if teachers are truly “leaders in disguise”, why do we so rarely talk about the value of team building in the world of education? The ability to work in teams has become increasingly valuable in the workforce over the past decade. In fact, Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey found that top companies in the world are pushing towards team-centric models, thus, the ability to work in small, cohesive teams is becoming more valuable than ever before. As educators who strive to prepare our students to succeed in the world of work in the future, it is now our responsibility to teach our students how to work effectively in teams. But how do we do that? I believe that teachers should model team leadership. When the class becomes a high performing team, students can experience first-hand what it feels like to be a part of successful team. When they’re given other opportunities to work in a team in the future, they’ll know what they should strive for. They’ll be prepared to recreate the successful team leadership they observed in their teacher....

Casting for Team Performance

Each member of any team should be “casted” in a role that takes full advantage of their talents. In my previous post, I talked the importance of having each team member know what’s expected of them and how that contributes to the team vision. But today, I ask another question – does what we expect of our team members align with their strengths? The premise of Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s First, Break All The Rules is that the key to work engagement is whether the work aligns with the individual’s strengths and talents. The manager’s main role, therefore, is to focus on each employee’s unique strengths, and find ways to make it fit with their work. The theory goes that you have far more potential within your strengths than your weaknesses. Often within organizations we complete employee reviews on a regular basis. Most often these reviews are designed to identify weaknesses and to help people “fix” them. However, you will have far more benefit from focusing on strengths than weaknesses. In Summit’s Strengths Finder workshop we discuss the fact that in your areas of weakness, regardless of how much training and focus you place on them, you do not have a natural ability in this area and will only improve so much. We often say you want to focus on your areas of weakness just enough so that they are not a liability, but do not waste more time here. It is in your areas of natural ability, your strengths, that you have the greatest potential for growth. This is a muscle that through exercise can become very...

Ingredients for High Performing Teams: #3, Structure and Clarity

Everyday at work, it’s easy to get caught up in ‘tunnel vision’. We go in, check off our to-do list, then check out and go home. But how clear is our understanding of what’s really expected of us at our jobs, and how that impacts our team and company? According to Google, the third ingredient of high performing teams is structure and clarity. Team members need to have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them as part of the team, how they can fulfill those expectations, and the consequences of fulfilling those expectations. The leader’s job, therefore, is to make sure that they establish clear expectations for all members of their team, and to bring to light how each person’s work on the team can contribute its mission. Without it, it’s unlikely that your team will reach high performance and engagement. As Summit President Scott Kress always says, “you cannot expect anybody to live up to your expectations if they do not know what those expectations are”. But let’s be honest, the reality of today’s workplace is that we often just don’t have enough time to get to that. Given the limitation of time and resources, how can we efficiently establish clear expectations for each member of our team and show them how it connects to the mission? Here’s an idea… One component of adventure education programs is called the group agreement. At the start of every program, the facilitator takes time to discuss with the group its goals (i.e., its ‘vision), and what the team will do to achieve those goals together. Specifically, two aspects that should...

Learning In Thin Air: The Power of Storytelling

Scott Kress’ Learning In Thin Air keynote leverages the power of storytelling to change the way his audiences’ think about leadership and teamwork. Here’s how he does it. But first, let’s take a look at why storytelling can be one of the most powerful tools that a leader can have. Andy Raskin, a strategic storytelling expert who has worked with major corporations including Uber and Intel, says that any leader who achieves anything does so by telling a great, credible story. Dianne Booher, an expert in leadership communications, argues that stories carry emotion that connect with people, and drives ideas deeper into our psyches. Paul Smith, author and consumer research expert, suggests that stories inspire organizations, sets visions, teach important lessons, and defines cultures and values. Stories entertain, educate, and inspire. This is certainly true of Learning In Thin Air. Scott Kress is one of the handful of Canadians that have climbed the Seven Summits – the highest peaks of each of the seven continents, including Mount Everest. In his keynote speech, he shares numerous stories based on his climbing experiences to capture the essence of high performance leaders and teams. He begins by sharing an experience of failure – his 2001 climb of Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mount in the world. Led by an ineffective leader, his team ended up becoming stuck in the ‘storming’ phase of group development, and was unable to summit the mountain. Like any good storyteller, Scott shares the reason why the climb wasn’t successful – and what that tells us about teams. Guided by a leader who subscribed to an ‘old school’...

Team Building: Does It Work?

What is team building, and does it actually work? Alright, so in an attempt to present dry research findings in a way that wouldn’t put you to sleep, I’ll tell you a short little story of my imaginary friend, Carrie. It’s a little silly, but bear with me. Carrie was pondering the question of whether team building actually works as she skimmed a Forbes article on teams at the end of her workday. She is a mid-level manager at a local branch of a public bank, and was recently put in charge on managing a newly put-together task force. She’s still relatively new to her position, and had little experience with managing small teams, but she was determined to help guide her team towards excellence. Carrie knew that organizations are increasingly moving towards collaboration and team-based structures, so she knew that she had to figure out how best to manage teams if she wanted to move forward in her managerial career. She had heard from her mentor that hiring a team building company to come in and deliver programs to help the team gel was a really worthwhile investment, but she had her doubts. Every time she thought of team building, she thought of Michael Scott’s ridiculous antics on The Office. It all just seemed like fluff… But there was something about team building that fascinated her, and she wanted to figure out if it was actually going to help her team work together better. She’d heard anecdotes and stories from her friends and colleagues, but something inside her told her that that wasn’t enough. Her mind took her...

Ingredients for High Performing Teams: #2, Dependability

Dependability matters in team performance – no surprise there. We often think of people’s dependability, though, as an inherent trait…so the important question is this: can we foster dependability in our team members? If so, how? We’ve all been there – stuck in a team with members who seem to be living on another planet. They show up late to every meeting, never follow through with their promises, are never prepared, and they never seem to be able to find any of the documents they need. They text their way through every meeting, and information seems to go in one ear and out another. They justify their lack of punctuality and organization by referencing the 2013 study that found that those who have messy desks tend to be more creative and produce more fresh insights. Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Thomas Edison all had messy desks, they’ll tell you, so you better not be judging them. Dependability seems to be something that we often take for granted in teams – until we don’t have it. So it should be no surprise that Google’s Project Aristotle identified dependability as the second key characteristic of high performing teams. Their top teams have members that set and achieve goals regularly and efficiently, follow through on their promises consistently, and produce work that’s always thorough. These teams are significantly more effective and efficient – it’s not hard to imagine why. If you can’t depend on other members of your team, you can’t trust them…and as I’ve explored in the past few posts, you can’t have an effective team without trust. A big piece of...

Psychological Safety: Another Reason Why Trust Matters

Google calls it Psychological Safety. Patrick Lencioni just calls it Trust. Really, they’re two sides of the same coin, but the point is – trust matters. In my previous post, I reviewed some research conducted by Google that identified psychological safety as the most fundamental characteristic of high performing teams. After writing the post, I got curious about the relationship between psychological safety and another big word in research on teams – trust. Do these two ideas essentially describe the same thing? If not, what’s the difference? According to Amy Edmundson, psychological safety and trust aren’t the same thing. While psychological safety focuses on team members’ beliefs about group norms and how they’re viewed by others in the group, trust focuses on beliefs that team members have about other. In essence, psychological safety describes people’s perception of the larger group environment, while trust describes people’s perceptions of each other. Let’s be honest, it’s a very minor difference. While the distinction may be important for researchers trying to assess the different components of teams, for the rest of us, it’s really two sides of the same coin. At the end of the day, what both of these ideas suggest is that team members’ perception of whether they can trust other members of their group is critical to their performance. Like I reviewed last week, Google suggests that this is because teams where members trust each other are better able to support each other, tackle tough issues openly, and embrace diverse skills and perspectives. Interestingly, in his work on team trust, Patrick Lencioni provides a complimentary perspective on this issue. Like...

The Big Turn

Over our distance of almost 1000km we only made one turn. If it were not for the Pensacola and Thield Mountains we would not have turned at all. From our drop off point we followed a bearing of 186 degrees for 19 days as we skirted to the side of the Pensacola Mountains. This led us to essentially t-bone into the Thield Mountains. In Antarctica you need to stay well away from the mountains as the mountains disturb the flow of the glaciers that cover the continent. As the glaciers turn around the mountain ranges they break and form massive crevasses that can be 2km deep. Obviously we want to stay well clear of these giant cracks in the ice. When we arrived at the Thield Mountains we made our one and only turn to 163 degrees. From here it was a straight shot 600 km to the South Pole. The turn does not look like much, but was very exciting for us because what it signified. Enjoy the...

South Pole: Windy Day

Antarctica is a very windy place. There is always a wind in Antarctica, the only question is how strong is the wind? The winds in Antarctica are katabatic winds. A katabatic wind is a gravity fed wind. As the wind currents travel around the earth they drop onto the South Pole and then travel to the ocean. Since the South Pole is close to 10,000 ft elevation and the ocean is 0 ft the wind is pulled down hill by gravity. It is said that in Antarctica you do not need a compass to ski to the South Pole. You just need to ski into the wind. As I sit in the tent this morning you can see the wind buffeting the tent walls, but it does not look too bad. Once we get out of the tent we are hit by the full force of the wind and have to dig out our sleds and gear that was buried by drifting snow in the night. Not only does this wind make travel more difficult, but the constant ultra-cold wind-chill can cause severe frostbite and windburn if you are not careful. Enjoy the...