#199 from R&D Innovator Volume 5, Number 2           February 1996   

How to Grow Dream Teams
by William Lundin, Ph.D. and Kathleen Lundin

Dr. and Mrs. Lundin are business partners at Psychological Dynamics, S.C., in Whitewater, Wisconsin (608-883-2229), helping companies through workshops in team building, culture change, and presentation skills.  They are authors of The Healing Manager (Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1993), Building Positive Relationships at Work (HRD Press, Amherst, 1994, Working With Difficult People (AMACOM, New York), 1995, and Three Values of Leadership (Worklife Productions, Whitewater), 1996.                          

Your vice president attended a two-day retreat on team building.  During the flight back he tingled from the good-fellowship and stimulating ideas.  He hummed themes from the rousing musical finale--the 1812 Overture.  Back at work he announced, "We need teams.  We're being left behind."  You are appointed a team leader.  Great things are expected of team leaders.  The retreat promised dream teams.

A week after the vice president's return, corporate matters were in his face, the tingling had disappeared, and Tchaikovsky was forgotten.  But you still had the assignment to develop a dream team, make the members tingle and inspire them to produce. 

So How Do You Get From Memory to Reality?

It works this way.  The vice president has to stop long enough to observe his own behavior and save you a lot of heartache.  You can't copy another team's inspiration.  It wasn't you who tingled or heard the inspired music.  In addition, 

     •  Inspiration wears off.

     •  It's the doing, not the speeches, that matters.

     •  Flags don't always snap.

     •  Musicians get tired.

     •  There's a long time between peak experiences. 

Please don't give up though if you have a team-building assignment.  There are ways to create dream teams, although few know how to do so on command.  It’s possible to accomplish what the vice president assumed could be easily created if you know the pathway to the dream team.  The pathway's always been there, but like all things natural, bountiful and free, it's overlooked.

The pathway to a dream team will lead you through those grinding, grating, often frightening, sometimes smooth and harmonious, uplifting interfaces of life--the emotions.  Some will say through our souls, others through our hearts.  We prefer “through our relationships,” a more neutral concept.  But most leaders, many of whom are trained in finance, marketing or the applied sciences, are more comfortable with the analogs of relationships--diagrams, charts, topologies--than the real thing with its irregular outlines and messy edges. 

Others will tell you team building is a question of the right process, rules, regulations and the "what-to-look-out- fors."  They present case histories of best and worst examples.  What they don't tell you is that imitation is flattery, not creativity.   

Successful team building rests upon the proper handling and employment of positive emotions--of feelings and relationships.  That's the secret—if it can be called a secret—and here's how we rediscovered it. 

Relearning the Obvious   

During the past 30 years we've observed the evolution and dissolution of teams--dream to pseudo--in many different organizations.  Some dream teams last a few weeks, months or seasons.  Others go on for years running large companies, yet unable to replicate themselves.  A brief look at the life and death process of dream teams in particular can teach us something.  Take note of some of the structural elements we've discovered: 

     •  Random combinations of people with grossly unequal talent seldom become dream teams.  Change the mix.

     •  Combinations of people with equal modest talent (very significant for organizations to know) can become a dream team under conditions of caring, democratic leadership.  Autocratic, bullying leaders will not work here.

     •  If the mix of people isn't producing quickly, the chances that they will grow into a dream team is slim.  Change the mix. 

     •  A functioning dream team within the context of one corporate culture may not do as well if the corporate culture changes through events such as a new CEO, drastic downsizing or restructuring, mergers or sales.

There have always been dream teams, most accidental and some  designed on purpose.  For a time you may even have been part of a dream team.  We'll ask you to recall and hold that experience in mind--paying attention to the emotional and relationship elements--because they will serve as a model along with one other, the creative person who is a dream team unto him or herself.  

To deserve the label dream team, the individual or the group should be able to do one of the following:

     •  Change the way a project is usually carried out.

     •  Change the way a problem is usually solved.

     •  Change the function of a component or product.

     •  Find a new way to create a process.

     •  Find a new explanation for an accepted concept or belief.

     •  Dream an idea that leads to a useful object. 

As you read those words you may be able to associate to things you've done, been part of, read or heard about. 

History tells us one person working alone can do all of the above.  But put a group of specialists together and too often they seem to become dumber than any one of their members.  Part of the reason can be accounted for by the structural elements previously listed.  Let's look at the paradox more closely. 

One person working alone--Thomas Edison is the paradigm example, others are Galileo, Jonas Salk, the Curies, too many to mention--will suddenly find harmony between the right and left brain, between inspiration--a new insight, and application--how to get something to work.  Harmony within a radical freedom to recombine the old is the key concept.  Rules and habits of social and internalized regulation are transcended. 

Some think of such an experience as spiritual--the writer watching phrases appear as if on their own, the hunch being followed against all odds--the mind pulled forward by some kind of out-of-body force.  Others have referred to it as diligent application, perspiration, trying over and over again.  But whether serendipity or a bolt of lightening, teams seldom produce the sort of miracle we associate with the individual artist, inventor or scientist. 

Yet that is what organizations are hoping to see--and need--in all departments.  The new product or marketing idea, be it a drug, software, electronic time and brain-saver, toy, fast food or beverage.  That is the miracle they expect a team to deliver, but few do. 

The approach we recommend is this: try and duplicate for the group what happens to the individual.  Here are some clues on how to make a dream team appear for you.  

If a Dream Team Could Talk

The "team" inside the brain of the solitary creative person has talked through memoirs.  We hear about trusting one's visions and hunches, determination, of internal conflicts and doubts, of a search for truth, and of course, luck.  We hear about a driven, almost super-human purpose and eventually about personal fulfillment.  

Athletic dream teams have also talked, through their coaches, individual players and sports writers.  But they are not our best examples for the following reasons.  Coaches are too dominant a force, superstars are necessary to perform the function of a spark plug energy center for team members, and high economic rewards are motivators which are seldom duplicated in the workplace.  Nevertheless, when common core qualities are searched for and finally found they turn out to be these simple human expressions--trust in team members, faith in one's self and optimism about the future (the next game).

These are qualities we've personally observed among dream team members in the workplace: 

     •  leaders come to like the team members as people

     •  members trust each other's behavior and intentions

     •  they care about one another

     •  they identify with a team member's achievement

     •  they cooperate

     •  they take pride in belonging

     •  they have high expectations of one another

That being said about the creative person, the athletic team and the work team, the question is now squarely before us.  How to make it happen?

The Dream Team Elements That Must be Jump-started

By jump-start we mean preparing team members to behave toward one another in ways that facilitate the emergence of dream-team behavior.  Team members will need lessons in learning how to live with and trust one another before they tackle problems that management throws at them.  Most leaders are uncomfortable with what's just been said because relationship factors are seldom given serious recognition as motivators of behavior.  When it's discovered that teams aren't working right, the panic response only confounds the problem.  If teams disappear for lack of the right start, the organization will suffer.  Recent data shows that bureaucracies reemerge when teams don’t produce. 

The topics to master and lessons to learn in advance of undertaking team assignments are these:

                         ANGER

                         MISTAKES

                         AFFECTION

                         TRUST

                         CARING

                         PARTICIPATION

                         HELPING OTHERS GROW

                         COOPERATION

Workshops are useful to induce members to:

     •  develop game rules to promote dream-team functioning

     •  rehearse relationship interactions they would want to see occur during actual team meetings

     •  discuss the benefits and liabilities of each topic  

     •  explore how they feel about each topic

     •  create scenarios which give practical meaning to each topic

     •  observe themselves and team members experiment with different ways of handling each topic in work situations  

Ideally you should employ an outside facilitator to conduct such workshops.  Or you can teach yourself through various books and manuals on the market, two of which are ours.  But even without outside catalysts, any group in a pre-team mode can help itself toward dream team status by discussing and arguing about each of the topics listed above.  The very experience of coming to grips with these topics will go a long way toward preparing your group for better-than-average performance.  All you need to do is convince management that the time it takes to rehearse for dream-team excellence is a better alternative than wheel-spinning in the format of a pseudo-team.

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