Monday, October 15, 2018

How do leaders build successful teams? - part #1

We were sitting down over a good cup of coffee when he shared that he had been hired years ago by the Board to transform the organization. “I was tasked to change the structure, quality, focus and culture.” Years later, we were discussing recent successes and I pointed out that many of them reflected back to the commitment by the Board to four transformational strategies. I noted that these recent successes also reflected that he had brought in people of high quality and experience who became the team to lead the entire organization through the process. As he continued to share about how current projects would build on recent successes, I was reminded of the following phrase: “Better people make better All Blacks.” James Kerr in his book, Legacy: What The All Blacks Can Teach Us About The Business Of Life (Constable, 2013) wrote about the transformation of the All Blacks, the New Zealand national ruby union team, into a champion level team. The leaders of the All Black during this transformation noted that better people create a better team.

Upon reflection, I also remembered a conversation I had years ago with an insightful leader.  He asked me the question, “What comes before you build an effective team?”

I responded, “I don’t know. That’s a good question. What does?”

He explained, “I think it is having a healthy community at work. A healthy community is the foundation upon which teams are built. And once a team is done doing what it needs to do, the members will return and strengthen the community. I wonder if we need to be focusing on community building as much as we are focusing on team building?”

I have pondered this insight for years. It reminds me of John Maxwell’s insight in his book, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001) when he wrote “The Law of the Bench: Great teams have great depth.” As Maxwell explains, today's bench players may be tomorrow's stars. Furthermore, the success of a supporting player can multiply the success of a starter. Therefore, there are more bench players than starters and a bench player placed correctly will at times be more valuable than a starter, In short, a strong bench gives the leader more options

With the above in mind, I think leaders make a big mistakes when they compose a team. First, they assume “the more the better” and therefore put too many people on the team. As Patrick Lencioni writes in his excellent book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business (Jossey-Bass, 2012), “Becoming a real team requires an intentional decision on the part of its members…. teamwork is not a virtue. It is a choice - and a strategic one.” As he continues, “A leadership team is a small group of people who are collectively responsible for achieving a common objective for their organization…. anything over eight or nine is usually problematic.” As he points out, “a large numbers of people cause communication problems.” On a team, Lencioni notes there are two forms of communication. The first is advocacy communication, i.e. the stating your case or making your point, and the second is inquiry communication, i.e. the asking of questions to seek clarity about another person’s statement of advocacy. As he explains, the main problem when teams are larger than 8-9 people, they tend to do advocacy communication more than inquiry communication.

This week, sit back and think about your team. Are you seeing more advocacy communication or inquiry communication? And are you building your bench strength? These questions are important and worth the time you invest in finding the answers.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, October 8, 2018

What is the foundation for long term, successful teamwork? - part #3

In the world of team building and team work, nearly every leader I visited with during the last two years, tells me that there are four stages to the process, namely, forming, storming, norming, and performing. Our challenge is that this original research was created by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. From my perspective, I do not think this analog model works well within the digital era. Instead a new model needs to be created.

What follows is a high level description of what I see are the new stages of team development in the digital era. The first stage is Forming. Here, the team meets and learns about the opportunity or challenge. People behave independently. The goal or goals are defined. Urgency is created. Discussions around the scope of the work and role clarity begin. The keys to success are to find the right people with capacity for the work of a team, build urgency, create SMART goals and avoid the default of becoming a single leader work group.

The next stage is Norming. Here, people take responsibility for their work and focus on getting things done. Team performance improves until fear of conflict, personality differences, and artificial harmony surfaces. Remember 4-D teams are prone to the problems of “us vs. them” thinking, breaking into several sub-groups, and working with incomplete information. Therefore, the keys to success are to unpack the strategic nexus and create alignment with it, promote “structured unstructured time” to build common perspective and shared experiences, continue the development of clarity about the context for team action, and make sure individuals, subgroups and the team as a whole feel valued for their contributions toward the team’s overall goals.

The third stage is Transforming. Here, team issues related to trust, pace, conflict, and inconsistency in work arise. The team has to learn how to evaluate ideas, give feedback, and avoid group conformity and groupthink. The team also has to learn how to support people individually and the group collectively. The keys to success are to institute routine coaching or check-in sessions, deal with spatial, relationship, or strategic blindnesses, deal with individual or organizational resistance related to the execution of team based goals, and prevent coordination neglect related to staff time, training & resource management. 

The fourth stage is Performing. Here the team re-establishes group norms, creates realistic timelines and re-defines role clarity and expectations. Team members commit to team decisions and plans of action, hold one another accountable, and focus on the achievement of collective results. At this point, the keys to success are to implement routine pre-mortems to temper optimism, define and track lead performance indicators, and integrate data based decision making into team meetings & actions.

The fifth stage is Improving. Here, using key performance indicators, the team improves their performance and refines their ability to work collectively. They also collaborate better with internal partners and external stakeholders. Now leaders must utilize a balanced scorecard approach to performance management, and implement routine strategic reviews to build personal and team accountability. 

The final stage is Adjourning/Mourning. The goal or goals are accomplished and all tasks are completed. The team dissolves until a new team is needed. Now, all involved must implement in-depth after-action reports in order to improve future team action and organizational resilience. 

With the above in mind, I believe we have evolved from forming -storming - norming - performing into a more realistic model for the digital era called forming - norming - transforming - performing - improving - adjourning/mourning. This week think about your best teams and reflect on the stages they went through to get to this point. I believe you will find some common ground with the above model.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, October 1, 2018

What is the foundation for long term, successful teamwork? - part #2

In a world where the digital economy is having a big impact, we as leaders need to understand the 4-D team development journey if we are going to be successful. However, the first in this process is to step back from focusing on 4-D teams and understand somethings about “analog” teams.

Analog teams were created and became successful because of the following factors. First, there was daily face to face communication. This happened because everyone worked in the same office. Second, leaders role modeled key behaviors before, during and after teamwork. Some of those behaviors were social and others involved more technical skills. For the most part, task focused behaviors often trumped relationship oriented behaviors on analog teams. Third, heritage relationships, i.e. ones built over a long period of time, often impacted success. Furthermore, there were limited opportunities for networking outside the office location. Finally, qualitative measures were valued as much as quantitive measures of progress. The “feel” of success was valued as much as the facts around getting it all done. In short, analog teams generated success through mutual trust, shared values, and a clearly defined mission/purpose, all of which resulted in collective pride. What we do not recognize is that the above required lots of self-discipline plus a degree of self and group awareness

On the other hand, 4-D teams are more “global, virtual and project-driven.” 4-D teams struggle because they have limited face time and are dependent on digital communication which often prevents the ability to understand nonverbal and contextual clues which often provide insight into what is going on.

Next, 4-D teams rarely hold in-person meetings which removes the ability for an understanding of individual and collective moods of the group. This, in combination with a limited number of heritage relationships, means that leaders have a limited level of role modeling due to distance between team members.

Furthermore, 4-D teams are routinely multi-office based and they involve people who are highly networked through out multiple circles of individuals, inside and outside the company e.g. Face Book & Linked-In. Therefore, people are more consultation or coordination focused rather than typical teamwork focused. They also have more social network connections rather than technical, and analytical connections. There is more data-based decision-making involved and they use a series of dash board measurements to make these decision. Many have multi-level definitions of success.

Over time, it has become clear to me that 4-D teams generate success through transparent performance measures, where everyone is able to see the “dash board results.” These transparent performance standards with their clear tracking of results by everyone assumes that all team members know what is expected of them, know how performance is measured and know why it matters. 

However, there is a rising problem in the 4-D team model, namely that communication about “why the team needs to work as a team” is rarely done and often is the main cause for why most 4-D teams fail. Furthermore, this in combination with not knowing how to “read” the data and transform it into useful information is causing many teams to struggle quite deeply in problem solving and execution.

This week, reflect on the differences between 4-D teams and analog teams. Are you equipping your people and your teams to be successful in the 4-D team model?

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257