Anyone who knows me (or at least reads this blog) knows that group work is something that can destroy my soul. Part of that is due to my introverted tendencies, part of is it my control issues (self-awareness will set you free), but I think a big part of it is how ridiculously ineffective it can be. I mean…picking a team name alone takes a good 20 minutes of ideas and recriminations.
Collaboration is good. Hopelessly stumbling through a forced group activity is excruciating – and is not very good business.
The reality is, teamwork IS a vital component of work. None of us can be successful by ourselves. We rely on the expertise, time and effort of those around us. Different tasks and different projects require teams to come together and break apart all the time. Remember Tuckman’s stages of group development? With the pace some businesses run, there often isn’t even time to name all four, let alone move through them. And it’s exactly this frenetic pace that can sabotage the success of teams.
You’ve probably noticed that some teams are remarkably successful and others are a trainwreck from the first meeting. And while there are many variables that factor into the success or failure of a group, there is one thing teams can do shift the odds in their favor:
Talk about how the team will work with each other.
Think of it as establishing the rules of engagement – how you’ll communicate, how you’ll make decisions, how you’ll disagree with each other, how you’ll resolve conflict. Everytime I see a team take as little as 5 or 10 minutes to have a quick conversation about this, I have seen that team do well.
My belief in the importance of this step is solidified whenever I see teams go head-to-head in some way. What follows are two examples – one from real life, and another from “reality” TV:
Real Life: I’ve facilitated a team-building/communication exercise a number of times that involves the recreation of a Tinker Toys sculpture. Each member on the team is only allowed to do a specific thing in this exercise and talk to only certain people. It’s quite convoluted feeling and teams get frustrated because the person who can see EVERYTHING is not allowed to share anything – they can only answer yes or no questions. The twist is that anyone on the team at any time can call a team meeting so they can talk about HOW the team is working together. Every single time I’ve facilitated this exercise, the team who takes the time to establish – and review – how they will work together successfully completes the sculpture. The team that does not do this descends into frustration and passive-aggressive sabotage.
Reality TV: I absolutely adore Face Off, a special effects makeup competition show that is now, sadly, ended. Depending on the season, the challenges change week to week in being either individual or team competitions. Sometimes the teams are chosen, but more often than not, they are randomly assigned. Time and again, the teams that take a few minutes at the beginning to establish how they’ll make decisions and are intentional about sharing their thought process out loud so the others understand it win the challenge. It shows in the final product.
While both of these examples are from an artificial environment, I have seen this play out in business projects time and time again. Think about the BEST project you’ve ever been a part of. chances are you had clarity in communication cadence, clearly defined decision-making authority, and the understanding that disagreements could be aired in team meetings without people taking it personally.
So the next time you find yourself on a team – ad hoc or otherwise – focus on the step that will make the biggest difference.
And no…picking a team name doesn’t fit that bill.