Making Teams Work : 24 Lessons for Working Together Successfully (The McGraw-Hill Professional Education Series)

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Making Teams Work : 24 Lessons for Working Together Successfully (The McGraw-Hill Professional Education Series)

“A team is a group of people with different abilities, talents, experience, and backgrounds who have come together for a

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“A team is a group of people with different abilities, talents, experience, and backgrounds who have come together for a shared purpose. Despite their individual differences, that common goal provides the thread that defines them as a team.”

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“Consider how incredibly difficult it would be to think of a new product idea or design changes to a process and then implement those ideas and changes all by yourself. No matter how smart you are, the different expertise, experience, energy, and perspectives of others make things happen. A smart team knows how to make differences work.”

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Making Teams Work 24 Lessons for Working Together Successfully


M C G RAW -H ILL New York Chicago San Francisco Lisbon London Madrid Mexico City Milan New Delhi San Juan Seoul Singapore Sydney Toronto

Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved. Manufactured in the United States of America. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. 0-07-14902-80 The material in this eBook also appears in the print version of this title: 0-07-143530-1. All trademarks are trademarks of their respective owners. Rather than put a trademark symbol after every occurrence of a trademarked name, we use names in an editorial fashion only, and to the benefit of the trademark owner, with no intention of infringement of the trademark. Where such designations appear in this book, they have been printed with initial caps. McGraw-Hill eBooks are available at special quantity discounts to use as premiums and sales promotions, or for use in corporate training programs. For more information, please contact George Hoare, Special Sales, at [email protected] or (212) 904-4069. TERMS OF USE This is a copyrighted work and The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (“McGraw-Hill”) and its licensors reserve all rights in and to the work. Use of this work is subject to these terms. Except as permitted under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the right to store and retrieve one copy of the work, you may not decompile, disassemble, reverse engineer, reproduce, modify, create derivative works based upon, transmit, distribute, disseminate, sell, publish or sublicense the work or any part of it without McGraw-Hill’s prior consent. You may use the work for your own noncommercial and personal use; any other use of the work is strictly prohibited. Your right to use the work may be terminated if you fail to comply with these terms. THE WORK IS PROVIDED “AS IS.” McGRAW-HILL AND ITS LICENSORS MAKE NO GUARANTEES OR WARRANTIES AS TO THE ACCURACY, ADEQUACY OR COMPLETENESS OF OR RESULTS TO BE OBTAINED FROM USING THE WORK, INCLUDING ANY INFORMATION THAT CAN BE ACCESSED THROUGH THE WORK VIA HYPERLINK OR OTHERWISE, AND EXPRESSLY DISCLAIM ANY WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. McGraw-Hill and its licensors do not warrant or guarantee that the functions contained in the work will meet your requirements or that its operation will be uninterrupted or error free. Neither McGraw-Hill nor its licensors shall be liable to you or anyone else for any inaccuracy, error or omission, regardless of cause, in the work or for any damages resulting therefrom. McGraw-Hill has no responsibility for the content of any information accessed through the work. Under no circumstances shall McGraw-Hill and/or its licensors be liable for any indirect, incidental, special, punitive, consequential or similar damages that result from the use of or inability to use the work, even if any of them has been advised of the possibility of such damages. This limitation of liability shall apply to any claim or cause whatsoever whether such claim or cause arises in contract, tort or otherwise. DOI: 10.1036/0071435301


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Contents Making teams work Forge a clear, common goal Clarify member skills and responsibilities Take time for rules Avoid predictable problems Use the team consitution Tell the new folks Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate Bring ideas to life Leap to creativity Make solid decisions Don’t compromise Discover consensus Seek a shared view Practice consensus decision making Use disagreement Squash conflict viruses Actively manage differences Trust each other Run good meetings Reward each other Regularly size up your team Lead without dominating Ask for help Don’t give up vii

viii 1 3 5 7 9 11 13 15 17 19 21 23 25 27 29 31 33 35 37 39 41 43 45 47

✓Making teams work Who can go it alone in the business world? Maybe someone like Leonardo DaVinci or Albert Einstein. For them, magnificent ideas and insights are all in a day’s work. The rest of us need the help of colleagues and associates who pool their talents and creativity, their energy, motivation, and support into work teams to achieve a common goal. In today’s organizations, teams are the way work gets done. To be sure, individual contributors still have brilliant ideas and continue to make insightful decisions, but eventually those ideas and decisions are improved or implemented in the context of a team. Let’s define the characteristics of a team. A team has a clear, common goal, something everyone understands and believes in. The goal could be a sales target, the development of a new process, or managing a group of business units. Whatever it is, achieving the goal is clearly the reason the team exists. Another characteristic is that individuals have to work together to achieve the goal. People on a team are dependent on each other’s expertise, perspective, and efforts. When you think about it, an organization is staffed with individuals who have different levels of expertise—financial experts, planners, technical wizards, sales specialists and marketing mavens. Even in a work group where people do similar tasks, there are people with varying skills. When the power of those different perspectives and skills are effectively and efficiently brought to bear on a problem or challenge, the results can be awesome. viii Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

Finally, when a team goal is achieved, there is a payoff for all the team members. Achievement is shared, rewards are distributed, everyone wins. Why teams? Studies have repeatedly shown that the quality of decisions and level of creativity emerging from teams are substantially better than from average individuals working alone. A great team produces fast, creative, wise, decisive, consistent results. The point is no one can go it alone. People need to get together to share ideas for achieving a common goal. ■

Part of making a team work is to have all team members pay close attention to how ideas are expressed, whether team members are listened to and included, whether the team is working. Being attentive to the team process is a critical ingredient to success.

A team that wants to be world-class also needs to stop and ponder how it is doing as a team every once in a while. Improvement comes through reflection.

Remember, there are skills that sharpen the effectiveness of teams. These skills can be learned and practiced by the team. That’s what this book is all about.

“Individual commitment to group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” —Vince Lombardi


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Move in the same general direction

✓Forge a clear, common


A team without a goal is like a ship without a destination. There’s plenty of ocean out there for the team to figuratively float around on and yet never get anywhere—endless meetings, unsatisfying discussions, half-hearted decisions. What every team needs is a solid, clear, and achievable goal. A goal states what the team has to accomplish. A goal is motivating; a goal demands action and decisiveness. Typically, a team goal statement is short and pungent: Keep the lines short in our retail store. Produce a breakthrough product by the third quarter. Speed up our budgeting process. Provide maximum value and service to our best distributors. Reduce waste and delay from the customer experience. Introduce our services to a new market area. Of course, President John F. Kennedy gave us one of the most famous team goal statements of all time. Back in 1962, he said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” No question about where that team was going and how long they had to get there. Remember, in a team setting, the goal is always an outcome that individuals can’t possibly achieve by themselves. That’s why it’s a team goal. Because we are dealing with a number of people, there is

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a chance that individuals might not really understand what the team goal actually means. That’s a problem. Imagine working on a team whose goal is to “Create better customer-vendor relationships.” The intention is laudable, but do you think this goal means the same thing to each team member? A better goal would be to “Reduce customer complaints” or “ Shorten reaction time” or “ Increase satisfaction scores.” A team has to face an even more subtle challenge. Team members have to believe the goal is possible to achieve and that it is the right thing to do. If people feel they are being dealt an impossible or arduous task, then the team experience will be difficult at best. And, what about the team member who doesn’t think the team goal is right? What if the clear team goal is “Cross sell additional products to existing customers” and one team member thinks the customers have been sold enough products, that further selling attempts would undermine the relationship? Better to find out and deal with these goal issues before the team embarks on its voyage. Make sure goals work for the team:

Be concise: Make goals short, clear, action-oriented and definite. If the team can’t “see” it, the team can’t do it. Ask what the goal is: Their answers will reveal if they have understood what the team outcome is supposed to be. Check feasibility: A team capable of the goal—skills, resources, and commitment—will stretch itself to achieve it.

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success. “ —Pablo Picasso


Expect that everyone knows what to do

✓Clarify member skills

and responsibilities

Every team member has to be a team player. That means the team counts on each member to do his or her part, and the team member lives up to that responsibility. To do that, team members have to know what the team is trying to accomplish as well as some basic team skills that are above and beyond their technical job skills. Knowing these team player skills can make the difference in the team experience. Team members have to help the team develop, follow, and enforce the team’s own policies and procedures—the team’s constitution. A team constitution defines team rules—from simple things like how often the team meets and meeting agendas to more complex issues like how the team will handle conflict. Each team member needs to know and understand these basic rules. Team members also need to understand how to collaborate. That means fluently contributing ideas, generating alternatives, discussing creative approaches and expressing what is on their mind without feeling intimidated or without being ridiculed. Collaborative ideas are the real work product of teams. A team has to develop these ideas through open and frank discussion. Team members have to encourage everyone on the team and make sure every member gets a chance to contribute.

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Once ideas are on the table, team members have to know how to reach decisions. On a team, decisions are best reached through consensus. That means sticking with discussions that unravel all the issues, develop a common view of the problems and obstacles, and move to the best possible course of action, given the circumstances. Finally, team members have to be able to deal with the natural conflict and disagreements that occur in team settings. Instead of turning a disagreement into an argument, team members should view conflict as a chance to explore differences and to think about problems from a number of diverse points of view. On a team, no one “wins” an argument. Constitution, collaboration, consensus, and conflict management are unique team skills every member should know and practice. Get team members up to speed on these:

Teach team skills: Everyone on the team knows how to do their technical job; they will need guidance and practice in developing team player skills. Give feedback: Skills aren’t learned overnight. Each team member can support the others by watching for how well skills are applied and suggesting alternatives. Seek expertise: Some of these skills are not easy to learn without the advice of trainers or teachers. Ask an expert to observe your team meeting and offer suggestions to individual team members.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” —Henry Ford


Plunge right into the work

✓Take time for rules A serious error that teams make is to devote the first team meeting to doing the team’s work. Now, that sounds odd, doesn’t it? Teams should do what has to be done to achieve their goals. However, it would be wise for the team to invest time, especially at the beginning of the team’s life, to defining how to work together. Without these guidelines—this “constitution”—a team’s work can soon deteriorate into unorganized, aimless discussions with an argument or other impasse tossed in and very little to show for the time involved. So, a team needs rules on how to manage itself. Where do these rules come from? Some teams have rules already defined for them. If you’ve ever been on a school board or other local government group, you’ve seen a chairperson, committee heads, a secretary, an agenda, and procedural rules like making motions to vote on decisions, having motions seconded, and the like. These parliamentary rules and structures have been established by tradition and, of course, Roberts Rules of Order, the formal reference for how some kinds of groups are managed. These kinds of rules may be a little too formal for a work group. However, the idea of having a consistent set of guidelines gives the team a sense of stability. For example, a team can consider defining how frequently to meet, rules of attendance, preparation, and communication paths. That is, a team may agree that members must attend meetings. Or, if you miss two meetings in a row, you have to catch up privately with a team member before coming to the next 5 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

meeting. Or, the team can decide to have an agenda sent before meetings and a report of outcomes sent at the end to all team members. And a team can nominate a note-taker or a secretary to keep track of discussions on a flip chart. Besides procedures, a team can decide on how to handle more complex matters before they become problems. For example, it would be useful for a team to have an idea of how it intends to handle conflict that comes up during a team meeting. Or, a team may decide to form committees to explore and make fact-based recommendations on business decisions rather than having members share opinions at a team meeting. A team can establish a clear expectation that decisions made by the team are supported by individual team members, even if they disagree with them. The team can invent any kind of rule it needs to be productive: A team can require a contribution from every member at a meeting, a certain amount of time per week devoted to team business, a special place to meet, a menu of finger food for faster team lunches, whatever. But, without those rules, progress can be chancy.

Write a “constitution”: Countries have them, why not your team? A constitution establishes operating ground rules, policies and operating principles and values. Create rules at the beginning of the team’s life: Think first about how you want the team to run. Narrow down your ideas to a few simple rules. Start with values: Ask team members what they want and expect the team experience to be like. Those are values you can use to create the team’s rules.

“Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems.” —Rene Descartes


Discount the past

✓Avoid predictable


Can you remember being on a team that you wish you weren’t on? Everyone has. Team members felt they were wasting their time, and, if they could get away with it, stopped coming to meetings. What is regrettable is that these kinds of reactions tend to happen over and over. You’d think people would learn. Well, you can learn. The kind of problems that teams—especially new teams—encounter are predictable. And, the good news is that these problems are avoidable. Here’s a list and some suggestions for pre-empting common obstacles. Important people are not included on the team. Now, that might not be obvious at the beginning of a team’s life, emerging only when tough decisions are being contemplated. Avoid this problem by thinking ahead about who would be affected by the team’s work product or ultimate decisions. These individuals should play a role on the team, either as full-time members or “advisors.” Team meetings are undisciplined. Members show up late, unprepared; people don’t get involved with discussions, work on other projects, or conduct personal conversations during the meeting. The list goes on. What is needed here is a clear statement of what is expected from team members and then consistency in monitoring these rules. Write the team constitution; keep it handy and visible. Long, drawn-out discussions. Lengthy, filled with digressions, ram7 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

bling, dominated by a few “talkers,” these discussions can break the spirit of a team. The answer is to adopt a format and an agenda. A format might be old business, new business, other business or start with a problem statement and examine alternatives in a more systematic way. After all, decisions are made by examining the future and foreseeable consequences of an action. If you can focus the team on that concept, the discussion can be more orderly. The dominators. One or two members talk all the time, provide clear opinions, and, despite the best efforts of the team moderator, the discussion always comes back to them. Encourage a chance for others to participate by simple rules like going around the table to gather ideas or asking people to form small groups to frame up answers to questions or problems. Deal with these typical and predictable problems before they become surprises to your team.

Anticipate common problems: If there is any good news in this, it is that these problems are familiar and, as such, foreseeable. Expect them to happen and don’t think your team is unique if they do. Take action: Dealing with these process problems sends a message about how the team wants to run: efficiently, inclusively, and productively. Don’t let these situations go unanswered. Stay alert: Every team member has the responsibility to ensure these kinds of process problems don’t inhibit or impede team progress. If the team process starts going wrong, team members should be encouraged to apply process solutions.

“A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.” —John Dewey


Patiently let the team process take care of itself

✓Use the team


The team constitution is a way of describing how the team wants to work together. Usually, a wise team will spend time at its first meeting constructing a constitution that reflects how team members want the team experience to go. That set of rules will help steer the team through its work and provide guidance when things go wrong. But the team constitution is not just a one-time exercise in setting expectations. The team’s rules should be considered a living, dynamic concept that the team turns to whenever the members feel the team is straying from its intentions. How can a team use its constitution? Ask team members how they think the team is doing at the end of every team meeting. Spend five minutes getting a read on how the team process is working. Use the constitution as the measuring stick. The team leader or designated member should diplomatically and privately consult with persistent violators of the constitution to determine if they understand how the team wants to operate and to determine the individual’s degree of commitment to the team. Compare your team’s constitution to that of another team. Are there ideas you can adopt or share? Don’t be shy. When you see a violation of the team’s constitution, speak up. Remember, every team member is responsible for how the team is doing as well as working hard to achieve the team’s goal. 9 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

Revisit the concept of team expectations after you’ve made some progress and done some work on your team goal. You may discover that there are new areas that are ripe for addressing with rules or clear expectations. For example, a team may not be aware that attendance would be a problem at the first few meeting. But, by the time the team is in the middle of a project, that problem might have emerged. Deal with it. Make the team constitution a living document:

Take time to talk about it: A constitution defines how the team wants to work. The more the team reviews its expectations—constitution—against actual experience, the more process efficient the team will become. Change it when it isn’t working: Remember, new and less predictable problems will arise as the team does its work. That is an indicator that it is time to update and revisit the constitution. Document it: When the constitution is on paper, the team will take it more seriously. A team constitution can become a wallet card, poster or sticker on the back of employee id cards.

“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practiced every day.” —Jim Rohn


Expect new members to catch on

✓Tell the new folks Picture this: A new team member is working with another department on implementing a decision her own team has struggled over. In describing the decision to the other department, the team member says, “I’m not sure why they decided to do it this way. It seems kind of backwards to me. I bet you might have to change how you do it.” And on and on. What’s going on here? This team member has broken a team rule: “We may disagree in the team meeting, but once we make a decision, we all have to be behind it.” Why did she do that? The answer is simple; no one on the team told her the team rules. Too often, new team members have to learn how the team operates by observing how meetings work, who does what, and how team members behave with each other. This wait-and-watch approach can teach the new member some important lessons, but a lot of it is left unseen and unsaid. What new members need is a clear description of how the team works—how the team comes to agreement, what the busy times are and what has to be done, what is expected of members if some team members can’t meet commitments—all the norms and values of the team. Each team has a culture, a framework that defines what it is like to work within the team. Smart teams pay attention to shaping that framework by defining team rules and how people need to behave. 11 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

The challenge for the team is to actually remember to orient new members to the team’s culture and not take for granted that new members will understand what is going on. For example, imagine an enthusiastic new team member who isn’t aware of the team rule of presenting recent facts and data to make important decisions. It might take a while for it to dawn on the new member that that is an important aspect of the team’s operations. Meanwhile, the team may slip into unforeseen conflicts and delays when the new member attempts to persuade others based on opinions and speculation. To keep the team running effectively:

Be aware that new members need an orientation: Each team is unique and has its own method of operating. New members need to know that. Focus on the basics first: Tell new members what the typical meeting agendas are, how meetings work, what is expected of members, what the cycle of work is over a quarter or a year. Spend time debriefing the new member after the first meeting: The team leader or a veteran of the team can review how and why things happen they way they did after a team meeting. The new member can not only be made aware of the rules but can be advised about whatever team politics are at play.

“All things be ready if our minds be so.” —William Shakespeare


Figure it out for yourself


collaborate, collaborate Solving a problem in a group is different than solving a problem as an individual. An individual struggles with a problem—perhaps forming a mental image of what the problem looks like—and tries to generate ideas. One idea after another comes to mind and, sooner or later, the ideas stop. What happens is that the sole problemsolver’s view of the problem starts to limit the kinds of solutions he or she can generate. For example, you are trying to get from Point A to Point B in a strange city that you’ve never been to before, and all you have is a map. You can see where you need to go right on the map, but it looks quite far. Do you walk? Is there a bus? Where would you get it? How about a train? Does it go where you want? You don’t know if any of those are possible, so you take the most obvious and least inspired solution; you walk. See? With a limited view of the problem, an individual has limited solutions. Now, if you had called together a team from the passersby on the street, you’d have a completely different view of the problem. Someone on the team would see the answer right away; in fact, the solution might be as obvious to them as it had been obscure to you. So, one of the significant advantages of a team is the power of collaboration. When people work together on problems, the different views and interpretations of the problem—plus the different facts and knowledge people bring with them—create better solutions. It’s that simple. 13 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

The key to collaboration is to open the door to ideas from other people. The team has a responsibility to create an environment where the ideas people have—their knowledge, interpretations and even wild and crazy notions—are welcome without threat of embarrassment or disapproval. When collaboration is really working well, team members listen closely to each other, build on each other’s ideas, modify them, drop them, pick them up again, come up with new ones. Team collaboration is a volleyball game of thoughts. Create value for collaboration on your team.

Point out team member differences in background and interests: If everyone on a team were cut from the same cloth, it would be a boring team indeed. If people knew those differences, it might allow the team to call on those with specific skills or knowledge strengths when these are needed. Practice collaboration skills: Ask your team to name as many uses for a paperclip as it can in two minutes. Invent a new logo for your company. Relax and have fun: Collaboration, done well, isn’t a competitive exercise. Instead, people should feel comfortable offering halfformed ideas that might go nowhere, but which also might ignite a brainstorm.

“None of us is as smart as all of us.” —Pogo


Be careful about what you say

✓Bring ideas to life P eople have good ideas, sometimes creative and unusual ideas, all the time. Yes, everyone is creative. You may not think you are the “creative type,” but you are. Creativity doesn’t only mean being artistic, poetic or expressive. It means—among other things—being able to generate a number of ideas. Some of those ideas may be so unique and insightful that they surprise even you. Where do these come from? We learn as children to play in imaginary worlds where ideas flow and anything seems possible. When we grow up, we learn over time to keep those ideas inside. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, many people learn to be sensitive—sometimes overly sensitive—to what other people think of our ideas and the way they are expressed. We worry that what was once playful and fun to us would be viewed by others as silly and unbusinesslike. There are subtle and often unintentional ways that teams send a message that creative ideas aren’t really wanted. When team members say, “We tried that already,” or “Are you kidding?” or “That’s not what we had in mind,” ideas are squashed. On the other hand, there are ways the team can encourage team members to express their ideas and bring them to life. One sure-fire technique is to really listen to what people are saying. If someone says something interesting, pursue the thought with probing questions. Find out what led to the interesting comment. Another idea is to ask people to stretch their thoughts and go beyond the obvious. Surprisingly, most people generally rise to the 15 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

challenge. People will be more creative and likely to generate interesting ideas if you simply ask them to. It is as if people need permission to be creative. Go for a quantity of ideas rather than quality of those ideas. Generating a volume of thoughts gets people talking about options. Don’t be discouraged if ideas come slowly; people do need time to think. Once expressed, ideas can be refined. Avoid criticism of ideas as they are being formed. Focus instead on how ideas can be improved or used. Hold up ideas and try to examine them from every aspect and angle. Ask lots of what-if questions. What if we didn’t have constraints? What if we had a limitless budget? What if a disadvantage were considered as an advantage? All of these kinds of questions encourage more ideas. To get ideas flowing think about:

Ask team members to be creative: People will respond to problems with creative ideas if they know unusual thoughts and unique solutions are acceptable. Have fun: Collaboration on a team and creative ideas engenders laughter, jokes and high spirits. Let it flow. Be patient: Collaboration means forming and molding ideas. That process may take some time. If the team seems stuck, take a break and come back another time.

“Numerous studies demonstrate that people can be motivated to creativity simply with the addition of an instruction to ‘be creative.’” —Richard Saul Wurman


Don’t expect your team to come up with great ideas

✓Leap to creativity You can get people in the mood for developing unique thoughts in a team setting. Remember, everyone can be creative; it just takes a little practice. Once members of your team practice creative thinking in your team setting, they will get the idea of what is expected and start generating high quality collaborative thoughts. A simple way to practice creativity is to do some silly sounding group exercises. Yes, little problems and tasks that stretch the team’s imagination and don’t have any real consequences can literally make your team leap into creative thought when real problems need to be tackled. Before your team tries the following exercises, you might want to ask them to loosen their ties, push back tables and chairs and sit on the floor, put on some music and change the atmosphere of the team setting. Also, although these exercises are kind of fun and light, they do spark people’s imaginations. Let it flow; acknowledge when people are really stepping out on a limb with their ideas. On the other hand, expect to see unproductive team behaviors as well, behaviors that might tend to squash ideas before they are developed. Being judgmental, dominating discussions, not listening and the like are all worth pointing out to the team. So, what are some exercises that will challenge your team’s collaborative skills? Ask them to draw a new logo for your organization. Make sure the new logo reflects what people really value and think. Ask the team to come up with 100 low-cost or no-cost ways to 17 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

improve customer satisfaction or product quality without having to ask permission from higher management. Ask the team to tell the “real” story behind the smiling face of Mona Lisa, the famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. Brainstorm all the possible explanations you can think of and give a joke prize to the story that is most plausible as well as outrageous. Gather some old magazines, randomly cut out a bunch of pictures and put them in a pile. Ask the team to sort through the pictures and put them in a sequence that tells a story that somehow ends with your team in your organization. If you really want to have fun, put on a skit that tells the story and use the pictures as props. Get your team to practice creativity when they collaborate together:

Practice collaboration like an athlete practices a sport: Work at it by doing exercises that challenge your team’s creative abilities. Change the ambiance to foster collaboration: Make sure people are relaxed when the team is trying to collaborate to generate new ideas. Taking members out of the usual meeting setting can make a big difference. Watch the behavior: Although creative collaboration should be fun, some members might dominate discussions or put-down emerging ideas.

“Dig within. Within is the wellspring of good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.” —Marcus Aurelius


Dance around the issue

✓Make solid decisions M aking decisions is what a team is really all about. Whether you are a team formed to run a project, manage a process or develop a new idea, the team’s basic function is to make decisions that will affect a specific outcome. When you think about it, that’s really a team’s overriding mission: make decisions about what to do. The problem is that while many teams realize that they have to make decisions, they are often unaware of how to do that effectively and efficiently. Decision making in such a team is often preceded by lots of discussion, sometimes diversions and digressions and wasted time. Instead of floundering about what to do, a team can benefit from taking a close look at what decision making really means. Decision making attempts to determine what to do now about a situation, sometimes a problem. The challenge is that the result of the decision—what actually will happen—is unknown until the future unfolds. Should we fund this initiative? How much? How can we best fix a quality problem? What will happen if we cut out this step in a process? All of these decisions are literally guesses about what will happen if we do X, Y or Z. If that’s the case, then discussion about decisions should focus on how alternative actions will impact the future outcome. What will the future result of this potential action be? How can we be sure? More importantly, how can we arrange things so that what we want to happen actually happens? Most of the decision-making discussion in a team should focus on identifying and reducing the unknown factor—the risk—in a deci19 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

sion. There are three sources of information that can help here. One includes facts, data, trends, any solid information derived from reliable sources that can be counted on to provide some insight into what might happen. Note that this data comes from the past in the broadest sense. Another source of data is the result of trials and the use of prototypes—the data derived from “experiments”, if you will. The third source of data is intuition, that “sixth sense” that some people have, a sense that is based on experience and acute perception. So, the best way a team can grapple with decisions to generate alternatives is to use data and intuition to identify the risks, create ways to minimize the unwanted consequences of different alternatives, and select the best choice. Ideas to crystallize how decision-making works on a team include:

Look at decisions as a series of projections about the future: The key question your team should ask itself in making decisions is, “What will happen if we do this?” Use data to help the team determine what the consequences of different actions might be: Relying on opinions may be helpful, but consider using current data from history or “experiments” to reduce the chance of risk. If data is not available, use the intuition of the team: Keep asking, “What if” questions until the team understands the possible outcomes of different choices.

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson


Go with the majority

✓Don’t compromise Compromise is what happens when a team reaches a decision that some members aren’t too happy about. Or perhaps they don’t really care about it. Some words that describe compromise are: half-hearted, concession, reluctant. For example, imagine a team is designing a training program for a specific group. The majority of the team believes the program should be two days long, the minority believes it should be two-hours long. After much discussion—where opinions are batted around and around—the compromise is that the program will be one and a half days long. How does each team feel? Well, the majority might feel as if it listened to the minority, but things really haven’t changed that much. The minority probably feels like the change was symbolic at best. One group feels it has won; the other group feels it has lost. The reason teams engage in compromise decisions is that it is usually an expedient way to make progress. In fact, some decisions have to be compromises because of the pressure of time. Members cave into different views and try to appease or account for different positions without really modifying their positions. With a decision made, the team can go on. There are a number of problems in compromises. Of course, the results of these compromise decisions are less than ideal. Some people quip that the camel is an animal designed by compromises. That one and a half day training program is probably going to turn out all right, but it certainly won’t be able to address all the objectives that need to be addressed. 21 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

More important, this type of decision creates a commitment problem. When people are involved in a decision they aren’t 100 percent committed to, they will most likely feel less than enthusiastic about supporting the decision. Implementing the decision might become a problem. While compromise decisions on a team might occasionally be useful, consider this:

Spot the compromise: When making a decision, the team should ask its members of anyone feels short-changed or half-hearted about the decision. If they are, a compromise might still be all right if the members acknowledge they can live with the outcome. If they can’t, there is an opportunity to revisit the decision. Watch the implementation: Ensure that decisions reached through compromise are implemented as effectively and efficiently as possible. This is where compromise decisions are vulnerable. Do it better: Don’t make compromise decisions a habit in your team. Members are eventually going to feel left out or unable to influence the team; enthusiasm will drop off and so will commitment. In certain situations, try for consensus, a much stronger form of group decision making.

“Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.” —James Russell Lowell


Continue to compromise

✓Discover consensus There are many decisions a team makes that require the group’s commitment. Imagine a team is given the opportunity to design a flexible work schedule for the employees of a company. Should it be four-ten hour days, four seven-hour days and a twelve-hour day or alternating weeks of 35 hours and 45 hours? Each choice has advantages and disadvantages; none are perfect. When this decision is implemented, it will require the total backing and support of your team. This kind of decision calls for a consensus of your group. A consensus is simply a decision made in a group that everyone agrees is the best decision to make given the circumstances. There is a clear understanding of why this decision was made, and everyone on the team stands behind it. The process of arriving at a consensus involves getting members with different points of view to start seeing the problem in a similar way or at least narrowing their differences. In a consensus, the various points of view of each member of the team are revealed, considered, probed, compared and discussed again until members begin to see—and understand—all aspects of the problem or decision. The outcome of a consensus goes well beyond a compromise— what people can go along with. Instead, it is a decision that the team believes is the best way to go after having sorted out all the facts, risks and implications.

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Granted, the decision itself might not be ideal, and everyone on the team might not be totally happy with the decision, but, again, everyone will understand why the decision was made. Because the issue has been examined from many different perspectives, consensus building is a learning experience. Members see how others stand on different aspects of the problem and what is important to them. The team moves from a group of people with differing views to a more common understanding of the issues they are facing. Two important caveats: consensus takes time. Team members need to honestly share and discuss their perspectives, people have to be willing to listen and be flexible. Individuals need to change their minds or adjust their positions when confronted with facts and compelling arguments. That doesn’t happen fast. And, consensus is not for every decision. Consensus is meant for decisions that the group has to stand behind and live with—a decision that has to be implemented effectively. The team has to identify what decisions need the consensus approach.

Recognize consensus decisions are never going to be perfect: Consensus yields decisions that are right for the time and place. Given other conditions, better choices might be much more preferable. Work at it: Consensus requires real effort on the part of the team. This is where a good facilitator or team leader comes in handy. If in doubt, just keep going around the table to get people’s opinions. Learn consensus skills: Team members should know how to exchange ideas, probe why people feel the way they do and remain flexible and non-defensive. These are skills that can be learned and practiced.

“Again and again, the impossible problem is solved when we see that the problem is only a tough decision waiting to be made.” —Robert H. Schuller 24

Fight it out

✓Seek a shared view If the spirit of collaboration is to get the team to put creative and interesting ideas on the table, consensus is the process of getting the team to select the best possible idea and go with it. To achieve a true consensus, one where every member of the team understands and supports the team decision, the team has to demonstrate some important skills. Remember, the basic idea behind a consensus is for team members to develop a shared view of the problem and alternatives involved in addressing it. Each team member has to reveal how he or she feels about the problem. That means an open and honest disclosure of why they think Choice A is preferred to Choice B. Revealing positions is the first step. Probe for underlying definitions. If your team is contemplating a flexible work schedule program, don’t be surprised to find that some members might interpret “flexible” in different ways. To one, it might mean “anything goes.” To another, it might mean “choose among alternatives.” Those different interpretations may be at the heart of the reason one member keeps resisting one idea after another about flexibility. Specifically ask each team member for ideas and to defend those ideas by citing their pros and cons. It won’t be long before the team starts to see there are probably more similarities than differences on how to approach a problem. Emphasize the need for open-mindedness and cooperation. Accept that other people have reasons for their points of view. Look 25 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

at the problem or approach using their rationale and perspective. Although it might be different from yours, you may recognize why they feel the way they do. You may even change your mind. When being questioned why they feel the way they do, some people may feel attacked or put into a position of having to defend themselves. Every team member should understand that consensus depends on discussing these positions non-defensively. No question, members will be challenged; they need to remain calm and work on clarifying their points when that happens. Consensus may be a new concept to some team members. To help them become successful at it:

Explain how consensus works: Everyone should know consensus involves systematically revealing each team member’s point of view and reasons for it. Involve everyone: No one can opt out of a consensus decision. This is the time for the team to recognize the power of 100 percent participation. Have a lot of patience: Consensus is a thoughtful process. It may require more than one meeting. People may need to reflect on what to do. Give consensus time to happen.

“Patience is a bitter plant, but it has a sweet fruit.” —German Proverb


Consensus is easy

✓Practice consensus

decision making

Because consensus may be a new way of operating for your team, consider the idea of demonstrating how consensus works by conducting a simple exercise or two. Let the team know what it is about to do. Set expectations about what kind of behavior is going to be most productive. Remind them that consensus works when people are non-defensive and open-minded, when they accurately reveal why they believe certain choices are preferable and when they listen carefully to appreciate the other person’s point of view. Curiously, when team members learn they have to cooperate and try to reach mutual agreement, their behavior becomes much more open and compliant. Here’s a basic consensus exercise for your team to try. Conduct a lively discussion on a hot topic. Ask the team to come to an agreement on one of the issues listed, using whatever conditions the team comes up with. The key is agreement, not compromise. In addition, each team member has to attempt to practice a consensus skill: active listening, non-defensiveness, open-mindedness, revealing positions and reasons, and, of course, he or she must be an energetic participant in the process. Imagine the team is making policy decisions. Here is its first decision. Should all school children in your city, town, or state wear a uniform to school every day? What conditions would make this decision acceptable to each team member? 27 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

Here’s another decision. Should vehicular traffic in the large city near you be limited to emergency vehicles, trucks, buses and taxis during the hours of 10 to 3 every work day? What would make this acceptable? Finally, here’s a really controversial decision. Should salary increases of team members be based on their team performance or their individual performance? What would make that work? See if you can find consensus on that! Remember, no voting allowed. Consensus comes through discussion, not elections. To get your team consensus-conscious:

Explain how consensus works: This may be a new skill to some team members. They need to understand what to expect. Check the consensus decisions that the team makes: These exercises should reveal that the team can come to strong agreement on an outcome, one that everyone can stand behind. See if that is true. Reward consensus behaviors when you see them: Let the team know when it is being open, revealing, listening and cooperative. Bear in mind, when the team faces real business problems, these behaviors may need to be dusted off.

“It is not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” —Roy Disney


Avoid disagreement

✓Use disagreement People don’t like to confront disagreement. Disagreement and conflict to most means an uncomfortable emotional encounter, something to be avoided. So, why is embracing and using disagreement an important team attitude? A team is a group of people working together toward a common goal. The fact is that people are different; everyone on the team is starting from a different place, different education, jobs, experience, likes and dislikes. What is important to someone may be unimportant to you. What is clear to you might be vague for someone else. However, it is the differences between people that make the life of a team vibrant, interesting and ultimately rewarding. The trick is to deal with the differences without becoming emotional. An efficient team harnesses the power of differences and focuses them on solving a problem or making a decision in a deliberative, supportive and respectful manner. Through the healthy process of listening to other perspectives and clarifying why people hold opinions as strongly as they do, team members start to see ideas emerge. By exchanging ideas, we have insights and new perspectives of what will work and what won’t. Imagine trying to make a decision in a team that doesn’t involved some disagreement and conflict. You’ll see differences minimized or overlooked. Creative and unusual ideas get brushed aside. People who you know have something to say keep quiet. When ideas are asked for,

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not many are offered. What is happening here is that differences are being avoided. On the other hand, on a team where conflict is mismanaged, expect to see lots of yelling, accusations and wounded egos with not a lot to show for it. Here are some ideas for beginning to use disagreement conflict:

Recognize that disagreement is expected: Teams thrive on people’s ideas. Get used to people questioning what other people say. Expect members to probe why others have a certain viewpoint. Be prepared to backup your opinions with facts and logic. Put the emotion away and listen: Your team needs to see that having a different idea doesn’t diminish other people’s ideas. Confronting differences is not a personal attack; it is an attempt to open up thinking. If you are getting hot under the collar, walk around the block and come back ready to open your ears. When you see a conflict, label it: If you can calmly state that there is a difference of opinion around the table, it helps alert the team that everyone has to be on their best, most adult and professional behavior. It helps avoid the slide to arguing as well as encourages quiet members to contribute.

“Truth springs from arguments among friends.” —David Hume


Let conflict fester

✓Squash conflict viruses While your team might be effective at handling conflict, wouldn’t it be more efficient to minimize the potential for conflict on your team in the first place? After all, conflict does tend to slow down progress and, despite best efforts, stir up emotions. How can an alert team spot conflict flashpoints before they become a problem? Let’s examine a few places to look. See if the team’s performance objectives support or undermine an individual’s objectives. For example, there might members of your team who feels they are “giving some time” to the team or “helping out” while their real work—and real rewards—awaits them in their cubicles. In other words, they aren’t truly feeling a part of the team. Without commitment to being on the team, conflict is inevitable. People are not going to feel as dedicated to the team if they feel their individual responsibilities are more important or more potentially rewarding than their team performance. This is an unnecessary conflict. Team members should be accountable for their team work and should be rewarded for the team’s success. Another avoidable source of conflict is that some members naturally adopt a win-lose perspective. Long-established rivalries between people, departments or geographic locations undercut the give and take of team discussion. Trust issues, competition for resources and other factors that existed outside the team could make progress difficult. Deal with this by creating clear expectations of team behavior as well as reinforcing the benefits to all of achieving the team goal. 31 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

Finally, some members are perceived as annoying when they constantly ask questions or challenge opinions. After a meeting or two, other members tune them out. This is the gadfly phenomenon, and the potential for conflict here is high. Remember, on a team, contrarian views are extremely valuable; they force the team to closely examine its process and its decisions. Instead of discounting those who ask penetrating and even embarrassing questions, they should be brought into the heart of the discussion. Instead of getting frustrated, the team should practice some careful listening. Here are some tips for avoiding predictable problems:

Ensure that everyone accepts the team goal and their role on the team: The common goal is literally the glue that holds the team together. Team members need to believe as well as the fact that they are going to be on a team working towards that goal, which will take time and commitment. Ask members to forget the past and focus on the future: Past rivalries and politics should be parked at the door. Practice listening: When all is said and done, excellent listening skills go a long way in managing potential conflict. Listen closely to what people are really saying and make an effort to see things from their perspective.

“A good manager doesn’t try to eliminate conflict; he tries to keep it from wasting the energies of his people.” —Robert Townsend


Let it slide

✓Actively manage


Once engaged in a conflict, the team has a number of choices about how to resolve it. Some of these are better than others in terms of the quality of the outcome and the residual effect of the process on the team. Examine each to see how you might use them. Try voting to break a deadlock. This is the parliamentary approach. Be advised there are winners and losers in a vote. And, a team might not have whole-hearted and enthusiastic support based on a vote rather than one derived through consensus. One way to decide if a vote is appropriate to break a conflict is to ask: Is a vote appropriate here? If it is, make sure your question is clear (“Should we do this or this?”) and, when it is all over, ask the losers how they feel. Bargaining—most people are familiar with this approach. “I’ll agree to this, if you agree to this.” It’s the wheeling and dealing approach to solving problems. As long as each side of the conflict feels they have gained or retained what is important to them, then bargaining can work. On the other hand, if one party comes out feeling like a loser, the process of give and take is just a poor compromise. Problem solving is by far one of the most effective approaches. Both parties examine the problem from a number of perspectives, identify alternatives and select the best one. The key ingredient here is to get both parties to recognize specifically where their opinions or facts differ. That could be the heart of the problem. When a team finds it has been discussing opinions with few hard facts, the answer might be to do research to settle the conflict. There 33 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

are many forms of research—survey, focus group, interviews, review of historical documents. Pick the best that fits the problem. The team has be fairly skilled at interpreting the results. Third party mediation is the last resort for those involved in a conflict. Both parties plead their case before a neutral and unbiased observer who makes the decisions. It may be the only way to go if team members have become inflexible. A good mediator will try to engage the parties in problem solving as opposed to making a judgment one way or the other. Regardless of what method you choose, pay attention to these principles:

Deal with facts and data: Opinions have a limited utility in resolving differences. In fact, different opinions are behind lots of conflict. Get down to numbers and analysis if you can. Ask probing questions: Both parties in a conflict should be asked to disclose what is behind their positions. What are they really concerned about? If this is discovered, the parties can decide how to address the concern. Leave emotion out of it: Once conflict becomes emotional, resolution becomes more difficult. Make it a team rule to handle conflict without the heat.

“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” —Walter Lippman


Be wary and protective

✓Trust each other As most people are aware, when trust between people is lost, it becomes difficult to work together. When that happens, team members tend to hold each other at a distance, not readily sharing information, closely scrutinizing each other’s comments and generally avoiding honest and frank interaction. This is not a good situation on a team. Before team members can effectively manage conflict, they need a basic level of trust. Without that, life on the team can be pretty unproductive and grim. Team members can do things to build trust—activities and actions that will lead people to be inclined to trust them. Some of these ideas may contribute to rebuilding trust once it has been eroded. How can a team build trust among its members? Here are some ideas: ■

Do what you commit to do. Deliver on your promises without hesitation or wavering. Don’t let the team down by not doing your part. Missing a commitment can be a sure-fire way to break the chain of trust. Make sure what you say—the information you bring—is accurate and up-to-date. People can begin to distrust others because the quality of their information is suspect. If this becomes a pattern, then members of the team will discount what another member is saying. Do what you do skillfully. People tend to trust people who are 35

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competent and self-disciplined. Tasks and projects are delivered with quality and accuracy; presentations are complete and compelling; meetings are conducted efficiently. Demonstrate care and proficiency in what you do, and people will notice. Show an interest in others. Would you trust someone who tends to be self-interested, who doesn’t care about creating relationships with team members, who doesn’t seem to relate to individuals? Reach out, make friends. Work with people in making decisions. Demonstrate flexibility and creativity. People trust members who do their best to make wise and balanced decisions. Drop the extreme viewpoints when circumstances seem to indicate that’s not productive.

Remember, trust is a make-or-break factor on a team:

Work on trust: If there is a hint of trust issues on the team, address it—find the source and manage it. Trust can be regained if, and only if, all parties work on it. Resolve conflict: Unresolved conflict breeds distrust. One way to quickly erode trust on a team is to let unresolved conflict go on and on. The team has a responsibility to deal with this. Recognize trust when you see and feel it: Telling team members that it seems everyone has reached a level of mutual trust can feel rewarding and gratifying to a team. Celebrate the trust you have.

“Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.” —Booker T. Washington


Let meetings ramble

✓Run good meetings The work of a team takes place in meetings. Individuals may complete discrete tasks or even work with team members on projects outside the meeting setting, however, when it comes to making critical decisions and solving big problems, the team meeting is the place. How well meetings go is often a barometer of how sophisticated a team is. Meetings that consistently run poorly—aimless discussion, no clear agenda, no sense of accomplishment or progress—can dampen the enthusiasm and commitment of team members. Teams that conduct efficient meetings with a clear agendas and an orderly process of discussion and decision making actually build a sense of achievement and mutuality. How do good teams run meetings? Whether your team has a daily, weekly or quarterly meeting, there are some clear steps to take to make the meeting work. A meeting needs an agenda. The agenda is simply a list of what the team will be talking about. The reason an agenda is important is that it serves to focus attention as well as provides as indicator of how much progress the meeting is making. Spending 90 percent of the meeting on the first agenda item is obviously not terrific progress. So, regardless of what kind of team you are on, you need an agenda. What does an effective agenda look like? Here are some common agenda items to consider. At the beginning of the meeting, make announcements that update current information that people need to know. Then, each team member can report progress on processes or projects. A 37 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

progress report consists of results, problems, assistance needed, ideas to consider, and the next milestone. Other agenda item are problems the team as a whole has to consider. If there are overall results that are falling short, what can the team do? If the team is not working effectively with another team, what ideas can close the gap? Problem solving often leads to making decisions. The team has to decide whether to do one thing or another. Should we implement a new customer contact system or not? Should we bring out the new manual online as well as providing hard copy? Finally, the team has to plan and revisit the tasks to be accomplished before the next meeting. Remember, when it comes to team meetings,

Think good meetings: Meetings are where the work of the team takes place. If they are efficiently run, it indicates the team is working well. Use the agenda as the engine of the meeting: With an agenda, the team knows where it is and where it is going. No agenda, no focus, no progress. Ensure participation: What really makes team meetings work is inclusion and contribution. The more team members speak up at meetings and offer their opinions, the higher the quality of decisions made.

“Meetings should be short and to the point.” —Mao Tze-Dung


Assume people feel valued

✓Reward each other What motivates people in a work setting? People often think its money, but research has demonstrated over and over again that money is not the most important motivator at work. The number one factor that motivates workers is the feeling that they have made a contribution to interesting work. Their efforts have made a difference in improving a process or product, achieving results, and implementing ideas. When a team takes time to recognize individual contributions of team members, it is adding to the self-esteem of these people. It makes people feel good to be valued. It also builds a sense of community and mutuality within the team. One way to recognize individual contribution is to send a “love bomb” to each member. After a major project is completed or when difficult work has been tiring the team, get the team together to celebrate its members. Here is how a love bomb works. Each team member is supplied with a sheet of paper with the name of another team member on the top. The member writes a brief comment about a quality, characteristic or specific contribution of the person whose name appears at the top and what that has meant to the writer. After everyone completes their comment, the papers are passed one person to the right. Now, the team member adds his or her comment to the one already on the page. When completed, the paper is passed again to the right until each team member has comments on each page. 39 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

The leader of the team can read these “Love Bombs” and present them to the team members. When this is followed up with a lunch on the company or a trip to the ballpark, then the feeling of being part of a community which values each member is reinforced. How to recognize team members? There are many additional ideas that don’t cost anything:

Give team members a choice of assignment for the next project: Additional responsibility is a sign of trust and confidence. Post pictures of the team in a public setting: Include their families in the picture. The result is a more personal view of the team member. Say “thank you” for the work: As simple as this sounds, saying thank you is a powerful motivator, especially when it comes from a senior member of the team or organization.

“A sobering thought: what if, at this very moment, I am living up to my full potential?” —Jane Wagner


Keep moving ahead

✓Regularly size up your


One of the most common problems teams experience is complacency. A team will work together for weeks and quarters, sometimes enduring typical team problems without doing anything about them, usually repeating the same pattern of meeting behavior. When this happens, members start talking among themselves about how much they’d like to avoid going to a team meeting or they would roll their eyes at the prospect of having to make a team decision. For example, one tip-off that a team is having problems are meetings without disagreement in making decisions. That might indicate that the team is accepting ideas with minimal discussion or even avoiding confrontation. That is not a good sign. What about when team members start to skip meetings or start coming to meetings late or unprepared? There is a potential commitment problem here. It may be time to revisit the team’s goals. What if the meeting produces flat, unoriginal ideas? What if members seem satisfied with minimal efforts at creativity? The team is missing opportunities to express diverse ideas needed to address difficult problems. Revisit the team’s collaboration skills and remind members how important it is to think outside the box. What if arguments crop up and team members become inflexible and defensive about their points of view? Clearly the team needs to think about how it is evaluating ideas and processing conflict. Use consensus skills to gather peoples’ opinions and clarify where they are coming from. 41 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

What if the team doesn’t wholeheartedly implement the decisions of the team? What if work goes on unchanged, if decisions aren’t put into practice? Perhaps team decisions aren’t clear or specific enough. Perhaps members need to revisit the goals of the team. And finally perhaps members should ask themselves if they can continue to support and contribute to the team. Effective teams will set aside time to see if they are experiencing these kinds of problems. If they are, then the team can revisit its team constitution and create new ways of managing itself. Here are some things to do to keep your team well oiled:

Size-up the team: Self-assessment is a team’s secret weapon. Occasionally, the team should add an agenda item that asks each member to reflect on how the team is doing as a team. Revisit the team’s goals and team constitution: The process can be revitalizing. If the constitution needs an update, add amendments, create new ground rules, inject reality into the team process. Celebrate progress and improvement: If your team has become more effective, signal out the change, point out how it has made a positive impact on the team and encourage the team to keep it up.

“The voyage of discovery is not looking for new landscapes, but looking with new eyes.” —Anonymous


Closely control the team

✓Lead without


What is the role of the team leader? The answer is a resounding, “It depends.” Some teams, like newly formed project teams creating a new product or running a process, probably should have a designated team leader. That person needs to coordinate activities with other teams that are involved with different elements of the process or product. In addition to coordination, that role also includes establishing direction and priorities for the team, based on how the project or product is proceeding with other groups. Since a team leader is usually personally accountable for results, that individual might monitor the progress of individuals, providing coaching and feedback on performance. A designated team leader may or may not conduct each and every team meeting; in fact, it is a good idea to encourage other members to lead at least parts of team meetings. Depending on the designated team leader’s expertise, he or she may be involved in deciding how things should be done. In that case, they can play the role of expert along with the other experts on the team but with the added perspective of what other teams are up to as well as how the budget is performing. On the other hand, some teams need a leader who is more of a facilitator than a manager. Even on so-called leaderless teams, someone has to play this role. This person is a catalyst, getting people together to have meetings, keeping notes, sending out minutes or asking members for agenda items, making suggestions to individuals 43 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

and seeking to create coalitions. The facilitator leader might be found on any kind of team that chooses to be leader-less. The caveat is that the facilitator leader has to be good at encouraging consensus and getting the team to move ahead. A lot of discussion takes place on leaderless teams. One thing is for sure, if a team leader tries to be a “boss” by giving directions, demanding performance and getting in team members’ faces, then that’s the end of contribution and input. A work team is not a football team, and a team leader is not a hard-nosed coach. Here are more ideas for being an effective team leader:

Share power: If you are the team leader, decide how comfortable you are in delegating decisions and responsibilities to the team. There are probably some decisions, at first, that you will be reluctant to share, and others that the team can grow into. Develop individual team players: Make your team members effective at being team members. Teach them team skills, encourage their participation, and remove whatever obstacles there might be for them to do that. Learn how to control without directing: Suggest, steer, ask probing questions, summarize points of view, point out consequences, let things happen.

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” —Ken Blanchard


Tough it out

✓Ask for help There is a tendency with any group of achievement-oriented people for them to want to excel, putting a lot of pressure on themselves and their teammates to perform. While achievement is an admirable characteristic, a potential risk is that high performers might not ask for help when they need it. Why? To some team members, asking for help, even asking for clarity, can be interpreted—from their perspective—as a sign of personal weakness. After all, aren’t they supposed to know how things are done? Isn’t that a reason why they have been included on the team? Haven’t they always known the right answer in the past? Instead of asking for help, some high performers either avoid doing a task or do it the way they think it should be done. Either way, the pressure to perform without asking for help is going to cause problems for the team. How can a team make it easy for people to ask for help? The team leader can encourage asking for help; in fact, he or she might model that behavior by asking for help when faced with a problem he or she can’t solve alone. In addition, teams can build coaching to match the way the team works. For any given assignment or project, team members can talk about how things should be done—the steps, the concepts, the techniques—as well as provide examples of different ways of doing things. In a way, the team is simulating a step in the work process and learning from the experience, providing all members with a clearer view of how-to. 45 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

What if the team itself is stumped on how to do a task or execute a project? What if no one on the team had ever done anything quite like what was being asked for now? The answer is finding another team that has been successful at a similar task or which has an expert on-board who can provide coaching and examples. Many teams even go outside their own organizations to study how another team or group in a different organization has accomplished a task. This process, called “benchmarking,” is an effective way of asking for help. Obviously, not every organization is going to be willing to share their hard-earned methods and techniques, but, if the team approaches a non-competitor, chances are information will be willingly shared. Here are some more ideas for solving problems and improving:

Run simulations: Walk through steps in a process or how a report is going to be generated. Put an emphasis on describing how something will be done before the team actually does it. Find experts: A team that expects to do everything on its own, is simply going to reinvent the wheel. Surely, someone, somewhere out there has done it already. Learn from them. Give permission to not know all the answers: Team members should feel comfortable saying they need help. The team should consider making asking for help a ground rule.

“People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy.” —Oliver Goldsmith


Give it a couple of honest tries

✓Don’t give up Sometimes teams face extremely difficult tasks with long odds against success. Consider teams that have to develop a new technology under time and budget pressure, or teams that have to produce a creative solution to what seems like an intractable customer problem. What about the team that is fighting for a little-known or unpopular cause? Of course, a team can give up and admit defeat, but that option should only be reserved when every possible avenue of ingenuity and resourcefulness has been exhausted. But, sometimes, giving up shouldn’t even be considered. Instead, a team facing a difficult and even overwhelming task has some things it can do to energize its workers. First, the team has to clearly see why the goal is so important—so vital—to reach. Remember, a common goal is the energy force of any team. If the goal was significant and essential enough to establish in the first place, it is worthy of trying to accomplish. Consider the consequences of failure. Are those consequences acceptable? A team can also focus on how it is trying to reach the goal. Are the resources reasonable? Are the steps in the process logical and clear? Are the stakeholders—people who will be affected by the goal who are not on the team—willing to cooperate and even change their expectations and behavior? Are the right people on the team? An inward look and frank self-assessment might open up new opportunities for movement. 47 Copyright © 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Click here for terms of use.

Creativity is the most powerful tool of the team. When resources are constrained or there is pressure to achieve a goal, creative ideas can quickly lead to new approaches and elegant solutions. Consider using brainstorming and being truly audacious in developing completely novel approaches to problems. The answer to what seems like an impossible dilemma might suddenly emerge from nowhere. Courage is the final ingredient to teams facing challenging goals. Whether the team is contemplating a new business venture or fighting for a non-profit cause, being committed to achieving the goal sometimes takes courage. That means not letting setbacks shut the team down, learning from failures and persistently moving ahead. Remember these ideas:

Refocus on the goal: What does achieving the goal really mean? What will change when the goal is finally achieved? Assess how and what the team has tried: Is the team using old ideas and outdated methods to tackle new and more challenging situations? Time to shift gears and do things differently. Creativity and courage are strong medicine for difficult team problems: Remember, ideas are free, they just take time being born.

“Never give up, never give up, never give up.” —Winston Churchill


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“Differences in team effectiveness can be traced to how team members take responsibility for the work of the team. An effective team has members who are skillful at being team players.”

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“Team players have to become comfortable with conflict. Oddly enough, if teams are working well, conflict will be part of many discussions. The trick is to view conflict as a by-product of having diverse thoughts around the table. The trap is to see conflict through an emotional lens.”

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