Are Your Teams Setup for Success?
I had the opportunity to work closely with two teams this past week. The team leaders of both teams invited me to support their efforts at launching (or re-launching) their respective teams. These team leaders took the initiative to engage me as an external facilitator – their organizations did not require it. No one told them they had to do it. Both teams have incredibly smart team members. Both teams have unusually complex problems to solve. And, both team leaders understand the value of paying close attention to setting a team up for success. They know it is first about WHAT work gets done well, but they also realize it is about HOW they get the work done that leads to sustainable performance and organizational impact.
A team that does not invest time to maximize HOW they work together is like planting a garden that looks great on day one, but if neglected, will wilt and never grow. Every great team will spend time on the process of working as a true team.
There are three things a team can do, early in their tenure as a team, to optimize their chances of getting the results of a high-performance team.
The goal is that every team functions as an expert team, rather than just a team of experts.
Define the Desired Team Culture
First, the team must define or envision the desired team culture. Teams have culture, just like organizations. Here are some critical questions to explore with the team. Given what they must accomplish as a team:
- What does success look like?
- What is the team’s collective vision of ‘an expert team’?
- What does the team want to be known for?
- What is the desired team member experience? That is, how does it ‘feel’ to be working as a part of this team?
- What experiences does each team member have from past teams that they want to build in this team? What experiences do they want to avoid on this team?
The conversation can be free-flowing, but to get at the best ideas from everyone, there are valuable facilitation techniques, such as ‘silent brainstorming’, multi-voting, and small-group work that can fuel the process. In this step, the team defines the desired culture of their team and the team member experience. This is only the first step. If a team stops here, it is unlikely the desired team culture will be realized.
Establish Team Ground Rules
Actions speak louder than words, right? In this step, you turn those statements of desired team culture into actionable, observable, behavioral statements. Ground Rules is a common phrase used in teams referring to the principles the team will follow within the context of a meeting, when they interact with each other between meetings, and how they will interact with those outside of the team. Given the agreed upon statements of the desired team culture, the team must work through the process of answering the following questions:
- What will we see happening in our meetings when the desired culture is realized?
- What will we NOT see happening in our meetings?
- What have we seen work in other settings that we could try in this team?
- What will it look like when we interact with each other in a way that reflects our desired culture?
- What will it NOT look like when we interact with each other?
The goal of this step is to get a manageable number of guiding principles that are behavioral in nature, observable by all. It is critical that every team member is aligned on these behavioral commitments. As you work through this step you may find you have to revisit the culture statements to keep everything aligned. This is such an important step, but again, if a team stops here, it is unlikely that these behaviors will be consistently realized.
Make Personal Commitments to the Team
In this step, the team turns the committed ground rules into personal commitments. Good teams hold each other accountable for deliverables and results. Those are the outputs of a great team, but that can’t be the only step. Great teams hold each other accountable for personal commitments, teamwork processes, and the way they get work done. There are two parts to the commitments – personal commitments for action and how the team will hold each other accountable.
Personal commitments reflect an individual team member’s promise to behave in a specific way – it may be something they already do well that will continue to contribute positively to the team effectiveness. Or, it may be an old habit the individual needs to break to make positive change in the team. Sharing these commitments out loud, in the context of a team meeting, goes a long way to build personal accountability. No team member wants to break a commitment that was made to the team in a public forum!
This is where the second part of commitments helps. Once the team has made personal commitments that are observable, how will the team hold each other accountable. Old habits die hard. Personal work style is part nature, part nurture. It will take time to change embedded behaviors. Team members need to be held accountable. And, every team member needs to feel comfortable holding someone else accountable when a promise is comprised. As a part of the commitments activity, have the team respond to these types of questions:
- What signal will we use when we are headed down a path that is unproductive as a team?
- What will we do, as individuals, if we observe behavior that is inconsistent with our desired team culture?
- How will we let someone on the team know we see inconsistency in their personal commitments and their actions?
These are not always easy questions to answer, but they are the key to sustained change in a team.
Any team that leaves a meeting aligned on these three critical questions is on its way to becoming (or continuing to be) a high-performing team. This level of concrete and observable attention to how the team will ‘behave’ is critical in teams that are made up of incredibly smart people who all bring their own perspectives to the table. To maximize on the collective intelligence of a team, there must be clear expectations of how everyone will work together to get to the best end-game. I have such confidence both of the teams I worked with this week will do great things together! They have been setup for success!