Volume 11, Number 3
to Get Teams to Achieve
Avery, of Partnerwerks in Comfort, Texas (www.partnerwerks.com),
is author of Teamwork Is An Individual Skill: Getting Your Work
Done When Sharing Responsibility (Berrett-Koehler, San
and cooperation are not opposites as traditionally supposed.
This is a notion which has created problems for a new way
of doing business. We
have created a work culture where we tell people that if they do a
good job, do as they’re told and keep their noses clean,
they’ll be rewarded as individuals.
And now we’ve changed the game.
Now the game is to work in a networked economy,
cross-strata, cross-level, cross-functional, cross-organizational
and in teams.
people have not yet been trained for this “new game” of
working in productive, individual-driven teams. They still see cooperation as something that diffuses
responsibility and subsequent rewards.
This misconception—that working in teams is incompatible
with working for yourself—is behind a lot of biases against
working with others. We
think: If I help you
get more, then I get less.
long as we believe that teamwork is a group skill and continue to
focus people’s attention on someone else being responsible for
the effectiveness of that group, then professionals are going to
continue to suffer. The
idea is to continue to contribute as an individual who is now part
of the team. In other
words, in order for me to win, you and I have to win together.
is simply a set of messages successfully shared among a group of
individual can easily learn and practice teambuilding if she
often use challenge courses, personality inventories, and other
games and exercises to provoke groups into sharing this set of
messages. But when
such tools are used without understanding exactly why, critical
communication skills can become hidden and results can appear
who want to get their work done through interaction with others
must learn to make their wants and desires known without ambiguity
and without magical thinking. To maximize team performance I recommend that team members
engage in the following five conversations as the first order of
business after the team has been formed.
on the Collective Task
you are assigned to a team, or just want to create a team
atmosphere at work, the first thing you should do is establish
shared clarity about what the team was formed to do.
Teambuilding starts with clarifying the reason for the
team. It does not
start with getting people to like each other better.
The task itself, not the people performing the task, is the
reason for the team. When
work has specific beginnings, ends, deliverables, and results,
people can get more focused on it.
By the nature of its task focus, then, a team is temporary
because that task has a beginning and an end.
first conversation for any new team should be how to work together
to accomplish something larger than any one member of the team.
If you think about it, you will understand that the move
from independence to interdependence begins with asking for or
second conversation concerns members’ individual reasons for
contributing to the collective task (commitment to other members
is a by-product of having an individual stake in the collective
outcome). Making sure
everyone is at the same level of motivation is far more important
to successful teamwork than matching appropriate skills.
Skill mix is an important issue for project management, but
it isn’t necessary for teamwork.
members don’t have the required skills, a high performance team
will improvise. The
same is not true for motivation, however.
Every team performs to the level of its least invested
member. Because this principle of group behavior is not widely
taught, most team members don’t know how to respond when it
manifests itself, and it manifests itself frequently.
do recognize one element of the principle, however, and that is
who don’t do their part. Freeloaders
are actually an invention of institutions.
Naturally forming teams don’t have them; freeloaders only
show up in institutionally sanctioned teams with assigned members.
If not for the bureaucracy protecting each freeloader’s
membership, the team would unload him immediately if he didn’t
quit on his own first.
professionals aren’t equipped to align motivations or confront
freeloaders, but it isn’t difficult to do. It isn’t so much a lack of skill as a lack of perceived
permission and responsibility.
The most common excuse for not addressing issues of low
motivation and commitment on teams is “that’s management’s
job.” You can make
it your job if you want to get more done.
Behavioral Ground Rules
widely used four-phase model of team formation (forming, storming,
norming, and performing) suggests that norms don’t develop until
phase three. You can
accelerate the development of norms, however, by initiating a
conversation about appropriate and
inappropriate behavior in your collective effort and then
enforcing those agreements.
the operating agreements are made must be policed by the team.
Members must be equipped to “call” each other on broken
employees learn the distinction between tall and flat
organizational structures, and how it is in their individual and
collective interest to provide behavioral feedback to teammates,
most won’t “call” teammates on behavioral issues.
They won’t because most of them believe “It’s
management’s job.” But
you can make it your job.
Bold Goals and Anticipating Conflicts, Breakthroughs, and Synergy
they have experienced it a number of times, few employees
appreciate and anticipate how their work on a team can lead to
real breakthroughs. This
lack of understanding contributes to resistance toward team
fourth conversation you must have with colleagues at the beginning
of team formation then is about setting bold goals, the
anticipation of conflicts in working toward such goals,
breakthroughs, and synergy.
it comes to productivity, team performance corresponds to the
first half of the classic S-curve.
Due to the team’s flat organizational structure (shared
responsibility without authority), members require time to orient
themselves with each other and to the task.
Thus, performance is frequently flat for the first half of
the team’s investment of time and energy.
After this initial period, however, breakthroughs will
occur and the team’s performance turns up rapidly.
If you understand this pattern, you can anticipate it.
The “high performance” part of teamwork is always
temporary, not sustained. Teams, unlike institutionalized departments, do have
beginnings and ends as their collective tasks begin and end and
the high performance part of the cycle is at the end.
Individuals and Their Differences
in perspectives are powerful, especially when they are aimed at a
collective task in an environment of trust.
Team members must create explicit opportunities for each
team member to participate and add value.
The goal is to produce synergy through the discussion and
appreciation of different perspectives.
Two types of behavior kill synergy:
people saying more than they know, and people saying less
than they know. The
fifth conversation, then, should be designed to discover what each
member brings to the task and to honor differences in perspective
and approach. From
this utilitarian viewpoint, diversity is not about morality.
It’s not even about equal opportunity as an end to
itself. Diversity is
about productivity, breakthrough, and synergy.
contributors must learn how to stay engaged with each other under
time and performance pressures. They must expect that their interactions will lead to
breakthroughs that create results beyond their imaginings.
More importantly, individuals must learn how to talk about
these dynamic relationships in ways that create breakthroughs
rather than breakdowns.
Principles for Creating Powerful Partnerships
you struggle to get what you need from the people on whom you
depend at work? Do
you feel that you’re on each other’s side?
Make every work relationship a true partnership by applying
with others to determine what’s in it for them.
It’s smarter and easier to tap into others’ motivations
rather than to try to dictate them. Ask what’s in it for them to work on a particular team
until they come up with the personal benefits that motivate them.
helpful to others (it’s in your best interest).
Learn as much as you can about others’ goals, then look
for opportunities to help them achieve them.
Don’t subordinate yourself or give up your own pursuits
to help others exclusively, but understand that you gain greater
access to their ideas and motivations when you are helpful to
others’ interests. Playing the role of “integrity cop” makes others
uncomfortable, but it also contributes to the strength of the
team. Record and remember the explicit agreements and implicit
expectations made within your team and sound the alarm when one
team member’s actions threaten to violate other members’
interests and boundaries.
“efficient gifts.” Efficient
gifts—favors that cost you little or nothing, yet provide great
value for the receiver—often add more value than traditional
gifts include giving a heads-up on an opportunity or threat,
proofreading a document, or making an important introduction.
Give them often and ask for favors with the same principle
Envying the success of others reinforces the assumption
there’s a limited amount of success in the workplace.
Fertilize the ground to grow unlimited success by
celebrating the wins of others.
team disagreements as an opportunity to learn.
Give others permission to express their viewpoints or
dissatisfaction and remember that any upset, fear, or conflict
disappears once it’s thoroughly confronted by the group.
criticism from feedback.
“Constructive” criticism is still criticism and should
be replaced with “compassionate revelation”—or telling your
truth with compassion. Feed
the consequences of others’ actions or behaviors back to them
truthfully and compassionately.
And when you find yourself about to give criticism, stop
yourself until you can compassionately “feed back” your
thoughts and feelings.
“tit-for-tat.” Tit-for-tat makes others aware of their responsibility for
your relationship. Derived
from game theory, computer science, and evolutionary psychology,
this simple strategy has two rules:
1) always cooperate on your first interaction with someone;
and 2) follow his lead on each successive interaction.
with the beginning in mind.
As teams come to an end, most members jockey for position,
politick, or blame negative circumstances on others.
Improve the quality of your endings by avoiding burning
bridges, harming reputations, and being inhumane to yourself or
bring to mind the best days of the collaboration and envision a
way to craft a more responsible endgame.
Achieve closure. Don’t allow your team to begin ceremoniously, then disregard the value of a ritual ending. Determine what closure activity would make you all feel complete, then design an event that has meaning for everyone.