Tag Archives: Teambuilding

Five Elements That Help Create Real Teams

2137737248_e9f3e429d1_zThe word “team” is a perfectly good word but one in great danger of crossing the line that divides meaningful language from jargon. We’ve probably all heard it.

You have to be a team player“, they say.

I am a team player,” they write on their resumes,

And, even CEO’s talk to the masses of the importance of being on the “team”

You get the idea.

The point is that we throw around this word “team” in a very cavalier fashion, maybe because it has that warm glow of inclusion about it. Who knows?

So, what do we have to do to ensure that we are creating real teams?

Well, I have a few thoughts about that and here they are.

We are likely creating a real team when we ensure that:

Everyone on the team clearly understands its purpose

This seems a bit obvious but really, sometimes people come together assuming that they share the same idea as to why they’re there but this isn’t always the case. As such, it is always wise to ensure that the purpose and objectives of the team are commonly understood. It might take a little extra time and patience to get there, but failing to gain this kind of clarity can result in people running around like chickens in a yard, accomplishing nothing.

Individuals on the team each know their roles in fulfilling the purpose

Presumably, when we form teams, we do it with some idea as to how each member can contribute. However, it is always a good practice to give people an opportunity to say where they might make their best contribution. After all, it stands to reason that we do our best work when we are operating from our strengths. And, I expect we are that much happier about it too. As well, knowing where we, and our skills fit into the fulfillment of the team’s purpose helps us keep on track.

Individuals on the team see their roles as being no more, or no less important than anyone else’s

To me, a true team does not involve hierarchy. Yes, there is usually a team leader in the formal sense but the thing that is placed highest in the minds of all of the team members, including its leader, is the fulfillment of the purpose. That means that the work becomes more important than any individual’s need to be, or be seen to be, the boss.

We pay attention to the team dynamic every time a new member is introduced

The nature and culture of a team is something of a sensitive thing. The informed leader will appreciate that the introduction of a new member requires a period of adjustment, a little time to review team roles, skills and potential contribution. It is a time of orientation for the new member and for re-balancing and re-connecting to the purpose for the rest. It need not be a long drawn-out thing but without it, it is easy to lose the clarity required to get things done.

The team works together until its purpose is fulfilled.

It must be said that when one purpose is fulfilled, it is not unusual for teams to re-form and focus on achieving another goal. In this way teams can stay intact for a long time, changing and transforming as new people join and others leave. However, I think that in order to have a raison d’être a real team always needs to be able to easily connect to a tangible purpose.

Of course, nothing is simple. There are all kinds of teams… independent teams, interdependent teams, multi-disciplinary teams, sports teams, project teams, self-managed teams. Each has its challenges. But, it seems to me that no matter how big or complicated the team is, to capably function as a team, these elements have to be present.

Otherwise, it’s probably a group.

And by the way… you don’t have to be a member of a team to fulfill a worthy purpose or accomplish good things. But, if you say you are part of a team just know that it takes more than just saying it to make it so.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Teams, Teambuilding

Collaboration and the Value of the Dissenting Voice

dissent_SSAlthough the word collaboration can conjure up images of people working happily together, I rather think we would get closer to reality if we included a few arguments, some eye-rolling and some exasperated over-emoted sighs to round out the picture. Mostly this kind of friction happens because, as individuals, we differ from each other in culture, experience and skill. The perspectives we hold come from those things. And, as human beings, we can cling to them stubbornly, shutting out the possibility that there may be another way.

But, if we want to truly extract the best ideas and create the best outcomes, we must be prepared to include the likelihood that our view is not always going to be the best. That means making room for the friction and the dissenting voices of those who look at things through a different lens and have the courage to share what they see.

Here’s a quick and entertaining example from the great comedy team of Abbott and Costello:

I don’t know about you, but at times, I have discounted the opinions of others because their logic sounded wrong or what they were saying had, in my view, no bearing on the matter at hand. In those situations, I wonder what might have happened had I spent just a few more minutes listening and trying to understand. Of course, there was always the possibility that what was being said was complete drivel. But, it was equally possible there was something there of great value that was lost because I failed to take the time to really listen.

In a World where time is at a premium, I don’t suppose the behaviour I describe is unique. So many of us spend our days striving to get to the end, or accomplish a goal and yet sacrifice the quality of what we produce by ignoring the voices that don’t seem to have a place on our personal radar screens.

I think there are lessons here regardless of whether we need to make room for the dissenting voice or we are the dissenting voice.

For instance, to make room for the dissenting voice I think it helps to:

Develop a discipline of drawing out those who may be reluctant to speak

Some people can feel overpowered by the common opinion. In fact, they may believe their own view to be less important because it is different. And so they stay quiet so as not to rock the boat. Drawing them into the conversation can make it more real and provide the opportunity for a wider variety of ideas to be shared.

Provide enough time for reflection, curiosity and discussion

Of course if you make room for the dissenting voice, you also must make time for people to ask questions, explore, challenge and think about what is being said. It may take longer but the conversation will be enriched because of it.

Give the ‘Dissenting Voice’ a place at the table

That means, when you come together to discuss some aspect of your work together, assign a virtual place for the ‘Dissenting Voice’. Over the course of your discussion, stop from time to time, and invite people to place themselves in a perspective, they may not currently hold. Sometimes this will give rise to a new idea that may not have otherwise surfaced. And, It will encourage those who really do think differently to become part of the conversation.

Conversely, if you differ in experience, perspective or opinion from the rest, I think it helps to:

Find the courage to stand up and speak

While it can be nerve-wracking to stand up and share an opposing view, it can also be very liberating. Little is accomplished by waiting until a meeting is over to voice an adverse opinion, to no one in particular. If you want to be counted in, stand up and be counted. It matters.

Ask questions that provoke thought

Sometimes a well-placed question can slow the momentum of a meeting long enough to allow thoughts to take a much needed detour. Questions that begin with “what would happen if….?” Or “How might ‘X’ apply to this situation?” can spark ideas not yet explored.

Explain the relevance of your view to the subject at hand

If your view represents a big departure from the prevailing thinking, you stand a better chance of having it heard if you explain how it connects with the subject under discussion and the value it brings to realizing a successful outcome.

Abraham Lincoln has been quoted as saying, “ It is the man who does not want to express an opinion whose opinion I want”

From that I surmise that Mr. Lincoln was keen to be informed on many levels, to solve the right problems and to make good decisions more often than bad ones.

When it comes to working collaboratively, I expect that’s what we all want.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

 

* Please note the Clip shown from Abbott and Costello is for learning purposes only and not meant as an infringement on copyright.

** This post was originally published in July, 2012

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Filed under communication, diversity, Leadership, Leadership Development

Leadership and the Importance of Observation

observe-look-magnifying-glassIn Western Society, we’re big on jumping into action. Sometimes it leads to big things too. At other times though, chaos is our only reward for leaping into busy work before spending any time at all finding out what’s actually going on.

Here’s an example:

Many moons ago I was part of a team-building course in Toronto. At one point, we were divided into groups and marched outside to tackle a project that involved climbing poles and traversing from one pole to the other with only the aid of ropes and some safety tackle. Our goal was to successfully overcome the obstacles put in our way and complete the course in the best possible time.

We failed miserably. Not only did we not complete the course, we failed to overcome most of the obstacles as well.

With booby prize shamefully in hand, we reviewed what we might have done differently. And, in thinking about it now, apart from doing just about everything wrong, we simply didn’t spend enough time in “O”.

“O” stands for observation. It is part of a mental process that Edgar Schein refers to as O.R.J.I. in his book Process Consultation- Lessons for Managers and Consultants.

Here’s how it works.

Typically, when faced with a predicament, the human psyche follows a pattern.

We Observe and get a picture of what is going on.

We React emotionally to our understanding of what’s happening.

We Judge, and draw conclusions based on our understanding and how it makes us feel and then:

We Intervene, making decisions and taking action based on what we see, feel and conclude.

In the case of my deplorable “team” experience, we spent perhaps a nano second really looking at the challenge before us or trying to understand it. We asked no questions of either the coordinators or each other. We did not inspect the obstacle course or make any kind of effort to evaluate the resources available to us, human or otherwise. The loudest voice took the lead. The action oriented ones chomped at the bit to get out in the field and DO something. And, the reflectors, being completely overwhelmed by the noise and confusion registered what can only be described as insipid protests about making a plan first, an offering that, not surprisingly, fell on completely deaf ears

So, instead of looking like this: “ORJI” our process looked more like this: “oRJI”

Not surprisingly though, staying in Observation is hard. When problems are pressing, emotions can work in opposition to rational thought, often wanting to take over at the most inadvisable and inconvenient times.

So, here are a few thoughts about how to delay a move to action long enough to establish that the information you are working from is accurate.

Gather facts about the nature and scope of the problem

This means suspending, at least initially, feelings about what’s going on long enough to get some solid data.

Take time to determine the resources and skills available to you

In the case of our team exercise, we spent no time at all determining who knew what or who could do what. As a result, a number of individual egos launched themselves into the project without knowing anything about the skills they had at their disposal or how they could best be used.

Determine what you might be assuming about the situation and the people involved in it.

Giving some time to validating assumptions is never a waste. Assumptions almost always hinder the process of getting at the true nature of a problem.

Make room for many questions and a variety of voices.

This is simply about listening to every voice, be it soft or loud. And, sometimes it is the dissenting voice that holds the clue to a solution.

=======================================================================

The bottom line here is, great teamwork relies on giving time to observation and critical thinking. Launching into action without thought might look good initially but will most certainly require more backtracking and remedial work than you likely have time for. And sometimes, it makes the difference between success and failure.

That’s what I think anyway? What do you think?

Note: Originally published in August, 2012

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Filed under building awareness, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Teams

Leading Collaboratively…A 21st Century Necessity

This, from January, 2011.

======================================================

I don’t know about you, but when I was little, one of the things my parents were always on about was the importance of playing well with others.  In school too, I was encouraged, along with my classmates, to work together to complete projects and participate in sports events.

Then, in adulthood I got a job and for some reason, the emphasis there was not about that.  It was more about doing what I was told.  It was about individual survival and competition.  And somehow, while civility remained (for the most part anyway), a spirit of collaboration, where people shared information and resources freely to achieve something important together was rare.

In childhood we could perhaps afford to run afoul of collaborative efforts.  Then, the consequences were fairly minor.  But, as adults, we must go beyond the notion that collaboration is something we do to be nice. More and more, it is becoming something we must become skilled in if we are going to survive.

By now, most of us know why that is, at least on a global scale. In our current economy we are having to learn how to do more with less.  Our successes often depend on the successes of others, not only other individuals, but also other countries, other continents even.  Technology, too, has brought us closer together and the opportunities we have to develop relationships and work with others on-line are many and varied.

But what does this means to a leader at ground level, the woman or man who goes to work every day with the responsibilities associated with leading a group of others in the achievement of seemingly everyday things?  What part does s/he play in this collaborative effort?

Well, for one thing, I don’t believe it possible for one person to successfully demand collaboration from another.  It’s usually something we choose to do, or not.  And to me, that means that leaders at all levels must find ways to make it worth choosing.

So, if you are a leader, wondering how to help people in your place of work choose collaboration over other, more independent approaches to getting work done, I’ve had a couple of thoughts that may help.

Provide Clarity of Purpose

There is no doubt that people work much better together when they are certain about what they are working to achieve. We should not assume that everyone involved is clear about the goal. Clarity of purpose also includes ensuring that those involved have a shared understanding about why the work (and the achievement of it), is important and what working together in a common interest can accomplish that working out of self interest could not.

Offer Appropriate Reward

It is often the case that while we talk a lot about collaborative work in organizations, our reward systems frequently continue to acknowledge individual effort disproportionately.  This makes it difficult for people to choose collaboration over internal competition.  So, to me, the task for the leader is to model and acknowledge group effort at every opportunity and reward group achievement both in tangible ways and in ways that appeal intrinsically to its participants.  Or, simply put, rewards are structured in a way that people gain a sense of deeper satisfaction from working together than from working individually.

Share Freely

Sharing information and assets between and among various concerns is fundamental to effective collaboration. It is the leader’s role to demonstrate this by discouraging hoarding and secretive behaviour; by being candid with their views and generous with resources; and by helping others see that doing so will bring them closer to achieving their collective goal and enriching their personal experience.

Avoid Potential Pitfalls

Some people might think that collaborating requires us to always get along.  However, when we work together authentically, we are not always going to agree. So, taking unnecessary pains to avoid conflict in the group, often serves to impede its progress. As well, it is tempting to collaborate only with like-minded people for the same reason. On the other hand effective collaboration can be negatively affected if people get into the habit of attacking each other instead of the issues that get in their way.  So, the leader’s job is to strive for and encourage a balance that allows for healthy discussion, respectfully and productively conducted.

All this sounds like work.  And it is.  But, collaboration, when carried out effectively can produce wondrous things. Like this:

The bottom line is this. Whether we are engaged in for-profit business, non-profit organizations or more philanthropic efforts, our ability to work together in the pursuit and achievement of a common purpose has never been more critical. And, if our individual experience has so far not allowed us the opportunity to collaborate with others, now would be a good time to start, regardless of where we lead, or at what level.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

p.s. Here are some links you may find interesting:

Collaboration from Wikipedia ,  Collaborative LeadershipDefining Collaborative Leadership

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Filed under building awareness, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, organizational Development, Organizational Effectiveness

Leadership and the Importance of Observation

In Western Society, we’re big on jumping into action. Sometimes it leads to big things too.  At other times though, chaos is our only reward for leaping into busy work before spending any time at all finding out what’s actually going on.

Here’s an example:

Many moons ago I was part of a team-building course in Toronto.  At one point, we were divided into groups and marched outside to tackle a project that involved climbing poles and traversing from one pole to the other with only the aid of ropes and some safety tackle.  Our goal was to successfully overcome the obstacles put in our way and complete the course in the best possible time.

We failed miserably. Not only did we not complete the course, we failed to overcome most of the obstacles as well.

With booby prize shamefully in hand, we reviewed what we might have done differently. And, in thinking about it now, apart from doing just about everything wrong, we simply didn’t spend enough time in “O”.

“O” stands for observation.  It is part of a mental process thatEdgar Schein refers to as O.R.J.I. in his book Process Consultation- Lessons for Managers and Consultants.

Here’s how it works.

Typically, when faced with a predicament, the human psyche follows a pattern.

We Observe and get a picture of what is going on.

We React emotionally to our understanding of what’s happening.

We Judge, and draw conclusions based on our understanding and how it makes us feel and then:

We Intervene, making decisions and taking action based on what we see, feel and conclude.

In the case of my deplorable “team” experience, we spent perhaps a nano second really looking at the challenge before us or trying to understand it.  We asked no questions of either the coordinators or each other.  We did not inspect the obstacle course or make any kind of effort to evaluate the resources available to us, human or otherwise. The loudest voice took the lead.  The action oriented ones chomped at the bit to get out in the field and DO something. And, the reflectors, being completely overwhelmed by the noise and confusion registered what can only be described as insipid protests about making a plan first, an offering that, not surprisingly, fell on completely deaf ears

So, instead of looking like this: “ORJI” our process looked more like this: oRJI

Not surprisingly though, staying in Observation is hard. When problems are pressing, emotions can work in opposition to rational thought, often wanting to take over at the most inadvisable and inconvenient times.

So, here are a few thoughts about how to delay a move to action long enough to establish that the information you are working from is accurate.

Gather facts about the nature and scope of the problem

This means suspending, at least initially, feelings about what’s going on long enough to get some solid data.

Take time to determine the resources and skills available to you

In the case of our team exercise, we spent no time at all determining who knew what or who could do what.  As a result, a number of individual egos launched themselves into the project without knowing anything about the skills they had at their disposal or how they could best be used.

Determine what you might be assuming about the situation and the people involved in it.

Giving some time to validating assumptions is never a waste.  Assumptions almost always hinder the process of getting at the true nature of a problem.

Make room for many questions and a variety of voices.

This is simply about listening to every voice, be it soft or loud. And, sometimes it is the dissenting voice that holds the clue to a solution.

=======================================================================

The bottom line here is, great teamwork relies on  giving time to observation and critical thinking.  Launching into action without thought might look good initially but will most certainly require more backtracking and remedial work than you likely have time for.  And sometimes, it makes the difference between success and failure.

That’s what I think anyway?  What do you think?

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Filed under communication, Leadership, Leading Teams

Collaboration and the Value of the Dissenting Voice

Although the word collaboration can conjure up images of people working happily together, I rather think we would get closer to reality if we included a few arguments, some eye-rolling and some exasperated over-emoted sighs to round out the picture. Mostly this kind of friction happens because, as individuals, we differ from each other in culture, experience and skill.  The perspectives we hold come from those things.  And, as human beings, we can cling to them stubbornly, shutting out the possibility that there may be another way.

But, if we want to truly extract the best ideas and create the best outcomes, we must be prepared to include the likelihood that our view is not always going to be the best.  That means making room for the friction and the dissenting voices of those who look at things through a different lens and have the courage to share what they see.

Here’s a quick and entertaining example from the great comedy team of Abbott and Costello:

I don’t know about you, but at times, I have discounted the opinions of others because their logic sounded wrong or what they were saying had, in my view, no bearing on the matter at hand.  In those situations, I wonder what might have happened had I spent just a few more minutes listening and trying to understand.  Of course, there was always the possibility that what was being said was complete drivel.  But, it was equally possible there was something there of great value that was lost because I failed to take the time to really listen.

In a World where time is at a premium, I don’t suppose the behaviour I describe is unique.  So many of us spend our days striving to get to the end, or accomplish a goal and yet sacrifice the quality of what we produce by ignoring the voices that don’t seem to have a place on our personal radar screens.

I think there are lessons here regardless of whether we need to make room for the dissenting voice or we are the dissenting voice.

For instance, to make room for the dissenting voice I think it helps to:

Develop a discipline of drawing out those who may be reluctant to speak

Some people can feel overpowered by the common opinion.  In fact, they may believe their own view to be less important because it is different.  And so they stay quiet so as not to rock the boat.   Drawing them into the conversation can make it more real and provide the opportunity for a wider variety of ideas to be shared.

Provide enough time for reflection, curiosity and discussion

Of course if you make room for the dissenting voice, you also must make time for people to ask questions, explore, challenge and think about what is being said.  It may take longer but the conversation will be enriched because of it.

Give the ‘Dissenting Voice’ a place at the table

That means, when you come together to discuss some aspect of your work together, assign a virtual place for the ‘Dissenting Voice’.  Over the course of your discussion, stop from time to time, and invite people to place themselves in a perspective, they may not currently hold.  Sometimes this will give rise to a new idea that may not have otherwise surfaced.  And, It will encourage those who really do think differently to become part of the conversation.

Conversely, if you differ in experience, perspective or opinion from the rest, I think it helps to:

Find the courage to stand up and speak

While it can be nerve-wracking to stand up and share an opposing view, it can also be very liberating.  Little is accomplished by waiting until a meeting is over to voice an adverse opinion, to no one in particular.  If you want to be counted in, stand up and be counted.  It matters.

Ask questions that provoke thought

Sometimes a well-placed question can slow the momentum of a meeting long enough to allow thoughts to take a much needed detour.  Questions that begin with “what would happen if….?” Or “How might ‘X’ apply to this situation?” can spark ideas not yet explored.

Explain the relevance of your view to the subject at hand

If your view represents a big departure from the prevailing thinking, you stand a better chance of having it heard if you explain how it connects with the subject under discussion and the value it brings to realizing a successful outcome.

Abraham Lincoln has been quoted as saying, “ It is the man who does not want to express an opinion whose opinion I want”

From that I surmise that Mr. Lincoln was keen to be informed on many levels, to solve the right problems and to make good decisions more often than bad ones.

When it comes to working collaboratively, I expect that’s what we all want.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under communication, diversity, Leadership

5 Principles for Highly functioning Teams…Lessons from the Snowbirds

I love the Snowbirds, no, not the ones that migrate in their RVs every winter to warmer climes, but the The Canadian Forces Snowbirds.

I love them because apart from putting on a pretty spectacular show, they offer a clear demonstration of what can happen when you get collaboration and teamwork right.   The truth is, they have to get it right. Lives depend on it.

In most organizations, the necessity for getting it right is less dire.  However, the extent to which we work effectively together usually dictates our capacity and potential for success. And so, I think there is something to be learned from precision flying teams like the Snowbirds.

While I have only had the opportunity to observe them in action at an air show, these observations put me in mind of some principles that might very well apply to all highly functioning and effective teams.  So here they are:

Principle #1: Choosing team members carefully is vital to team success

In order to achieve optimal team performance, choosing the right participants is critical to getting the team off the ground. To do that, those decisions need to include very precise specifications around skill, experience, values, behaviour and potential. Poor choices can lead to some disappointing results at the very least.  Indeed, a poor choice made for the Snowbird Squadron has the capacity for a disastrous result.

Principle #2: Each team member must be clear about the team purpose and his or her purpose within the team.

It is the job of the leader to ensure that each team member knows why the team exists; what the team must achieve; and his or her role within the team.  Lack of clarity creates confusion and places team members out of alignment with each other and with their overall purpose.

Principle #3: Those on the ground are as important as those in the air

In most organizations there are those who are more visible than others.  These are the stars, the ones who are highly skilled in one particular area of the team’s work.   It is easy to assume that these people are the team.  However, those in the air can only be there if they have the benefit of the skill and knowledge provided by those on the ground.  For instance, there are nine CT-114 Tutor jets in the Snowbird fleet.  Each plane has its own dedicated technician who ensures his/her plane will fly safely and optimally for the pilot.   In other words, nine pilots in the air cannot do their jobs safely or well without the support of the rest of the team no matter how skilled they may be.

Principle #4: The team is always evolving

In any team, team members come and go.  Every time a new member joins the team, its dynamic changes and those who remain are charged with responsibility of supporting, training and integrating those who join.

A Snowbird pilot is assigned to the squadron for three years.  After that he is typically reassigned.  The turnover is planned in such a way that the more experienced pilots play a role in the indoctrination and training of the new ones.  In this way, the team continues to grow in depth and maturity while keeping the experience fresh for everyone.

Principle #5: Trust is the glue that binds highly functioning teams together

I would suggest that in a team such as the Snowbirds, the absence of trust would keep them all grounded.  This is also true of other teams in other organizations and that makes building trust among team members a very big deal.

After all, no one would be able to fly like this without it:

What do you think? What would you add?

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Filed under communication, Leadership, Leading Teams, organizational Development