How to Improve Team Effectiveness

effective team

Teamwork and Effective Teams

I read everything I can about teamwork and effective teams. Simon Mac Rory’s new book, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: The Imperative of Teams, takes us on a journey to deliver improved team effectiveness.

Simon Mac Rory is a team development specialist and founder of the ODD Company. He says that sometimes, when he’s in a room with some teams, he says, “For Pete’s sake will you wake up and smell the coffee” which is how the title of his new book came to be. I recently asked Simon to share more about his perspectives of teams in the workplace.

 

“If teamwork is so important you would think that organizations would treat team performance as a strategic imperative, but most do not.” – Simon Mac Rory

 

What do most people get wrong when they think of the term “team”?

There are so many misconceptions about teams in the workplace that it is hard to choose one or two. If I am to choose, these are my three top gripes in terms of what people get wrong when they think of teams.

The biggest and most fundamental issue is in the assumption that teamwork happens by magic. 90% of what we do in the world of work happens through collaborative effort, and that makes teams and teamwork an imperative and a strategic imperative at that. Yet the majority of organizations have no strategy for teams. Label a group of people a team, stand back and ‘hey presto’ you will have a high performing team. Nothing could be further from the truth. If teamwork is so important, you would think that organizations would treat team performance as a strategic imperative, but most do not, preferring to muddle on with poorly performing teams and accepting mediocracy.

Contrary to popular opinion only 10% of teams are high performing, a frightening 40% are dysfunctional and detrimental to members’ experiences and lives, leaving 50% which are performing at best with small incremental results. This is what most organizations accept. I consider this unacceptable, particularly when delivering high performing teams is not rocket science. It does, however, take effort, it does take strategy, it does take time, it does take budget, and critically it takes persistence and commitment from the organization, leaders and team members. We are not all team experts, we do not operate intuitively as a team, and if organizations want high performing teams, they need to put in the effort and stop dreaming. They need to think and strategize about it and stop making so many ridiculous assumptions.

The assumption about teamwork and fun drives me crazy. Teamwork is not fun. Work is work and fun is fun. Fun is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as “behaviour or an activity that is intended purely for amusement and should not be interpreted as having any serious or malicious purpose.” Now tell me what that has to do with the world of work? The fact that it can be an enjoyable experience to work in an effective team should not be confused with it being fun. Real team development does not happen up the side of a mountain, putting life and limb at risk once a year or completing exercises with no connection to the reality of the workplace. Real team development that delivers sustainable development and effectiveness happens in the work place day-to-day. Give time to tackling real issues for the team and not worrying about how to build a house of straws, how to build a raft or how to build trust by falling backwards into someone’s arms. I come to work to work and I would much prefer to give of my time with my colleagues, dealing with and finding solutions to real work challenges. Team members are much more likely to be engaged, committed and enthusiastic if they are dealing in reality, where their opinions and ideas, and inputs to real challenges of the team are welcome and actually considered—in other words, doing the work they are employed to do. Enjoying your work is important, having fulfilling work is motivational, being challenged is good (most of the time) but do not confuse this with fun. Work is serious and not fun.

And size does matter after all. There is substantial evidence that team size has a very great impact on the effectiveness of a team in a work context.

 

“There is substantial evidence that team size has a very great impact on the effectiveness of a team.” – Simon Mac Rory

 

The issue of team size is linked to how we define a team and indeed to the way the term ‘team’ is used and understood. The term is applied generically and seems to encompass all group activity and often is used to refer to an entire department and in some instances to an entire company. These larger groups, mistakenly called teams, are in fact comprised of many teams. The term team should only be used to refer to a real team, that by definition is:

“A group of people, less than ten, that need to work together to achieve a common goal, normally with a single leader and where there is high degree of interdependence between the team members to achieve the goal or goals”.

There are several issues that have been identified when a team is in double digits – social loafing, cognitive limitations and the communication overhead. These are aside from the issue of larger teams breaking down into sub-teams and the inevitable emergence of cliques which can be very damaging to effectiveness and relationships. The biggest issue in failing to deal with team size is communication overload.  The more members in a team, the more communication channels required to keep the team informed. A team of 5 people require 10 conversations to be fully connected and informed. This rises to 45 for a team of 10 and 91 for a team of 14. The reality of the situation is simply the larger team will not be able to manage or complete the communication required.   Organizations need to get their language and definitions right. A team is not a group, a department or a company if it is comprised of more than ten people. Once you go into double digits, I can assure you that there is more than one team in play.

There are many more assumptions but these three are the biggies.

 

“Teamwork is not fun. Work is work and fun is fun.” – Simon Mac Rory

 

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Phrases to Defuse Difficult Workplace Situations

Defuse conflict

Are you ever at a loss for words?

Do you approach a potentially volatile situation with trepidation because you don’t know what to say?

The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book by Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem is for you.

It’s a handbook of sorts, a reference book, filled with clever phrases and questions all designed to help you in conflict situations.

After reading it, I decided to put it to use immediately. I read a few of the phrases before attending most of my meetings. What I found was that I was asking better questions and was a more focused listener.

I recently asked Barbara more about her work.

 

“Knowing when to fight is just as important as how.” –Terry Goodkind

 

Build Your Conflict Muscle

How do you best build the conflict muscle so that you don’t shy away from it?

Practice, practice, practice!  Many of us are uncomfortable with conflict to the point where we not just shy away from it—we run from it and give in rather than dealing with it. It takes courage and practice to have conflict muscle, but we also want people to know that not all conflict is “bad.”  Having differences of opinion can spur creativity and positive change in organizations and personal relationships.

 

Talk about the power of listening.

Most of us think we’re really good listeners, but what we really do is, while the other person is talking, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say when they stop speaking.  That’s not listening.  Listening is putting your own thoughts aside to focus on the words being said but also observing body language and facial expressions to really get what the person is saying.  Our ever-increasing virtual world makes listening even more difficult, so whenever possible, have difficult conversations face to face. But if you can’t be in the same place, use Facetime or Skype so least you can see each other. A good listener uses techniques like paraphrasing back what they heard to ensure both people are on the same wave length. Listening takes practice—just like any other communication form. We spend a lot time learning how to speak to be understood or how to write well but not much time learning how to listen.

 

“If I could solve all the problems myself, I would.” –Thomas Edison

 

Ask for Clarity

How to Engage in Conflict Without Casualties

Lead With Compassionate Accountability

 

Do you avoid conflict at all costs?

Did you know the biggest change agents in history from Mother Theresa to Martin Luther King, Jr. were masters at practicing compassion while still engaging in conflict?

 

Many people avoid conflict. I’m not one of them. I’ve never been uncomfortable talking about issues directly. In fact, I am most uncomfortable when an issue is hidden and unresolved. That makes my already difficult sleep nearly impossible. I’d rather say what needs to be said, and try to move forward.

But I have long noted how most organizations, and most people, avoid conflict at almost all costs. And how to deal with conflict is something that I’m very interested in mastering.

That’s why I couldn’t wait to read clinical psychologist Dr. Nate Regier’s new book Conflict without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading with Compassionate Accountability. He explains why we avoid conflict, the common pitfalls we fall into, and how to engage in constructive dialogue. I found myself immediately applying his lessons the very next day after reading the book. I’m sure you will find our conversation interesting, and the book immensely helpful.

 

“The purpose of conflict is to create.” -Michael Meade

 

Know the Model: Persecutor, Victim, Rescuer

To those not familiar with the internal drama triangle, would you briefly share the model?

The Drama Triangle was developed by Dr. Stephen Karpman, a psychiatrist who spent a lot of time working with dysfunctional relationships. He was also an avid basketball fan. In fact, he was the first person to identify the triangle offense.

In drama, people play one or more of three predictable roles: Persecutor, Victim, or Rescuer. The Persecutor adopts the attitude that, “I’m OK, you are not OK,” therefore it’s OK to attack, blame, or intimidate to get what I want. The Victim adopts the attitude, “I’m not OK, you are OK” so therefore it’s OK for others to mistreat me. Victims give in and become passive in order to avoid conflict. Rescuers adopt the attitude, “I’m OK, you would be OK if you accepted and appreciated my help.” Rescuers make a living solving everyone else’s problems except their own. They practice what we call non-consensual helping, creating dependence to boost their own ego.

 

“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” -Anais Nin

 

Do most people recognize where they usually operate? 

Surprisingly, no. Many people play these roles habitually, influenced by past experience, upbringing, certain relationships and personality structure. We define drama as what happens when people misuse the energy of conflict, with or without awareness, to feel justified about their negative behavior. Since justification is the modus operandi in drama, avoiding self-awareness is key. Plus, there are some powerful myths about conflict that derail people from using that energy productively. The good news is that people can learn to recognize their drama roles and chose different behaviors, more healthy ways to deal with conflict.

 

“Everybody has a plan until they get hit.” -Mike Tyson

 

You point out that there are strengths behind each of these and that they aren’t all negative. Would you share one and explain?

Yes. For example, behind the rescuer is the healthy counterpart – Resourceful. While Rescuing gives people fish, Resourcefulness teaches people how to fish. Both are problem-solvers, but Resourcefulness goes about it with the intent of struggling with others toward mutual benefit, helping raise the overall confidence and competence of the other person in a spirit of dignity.

 

“If you don’t know where you are going, you are bound to end up where you are headed.” -Chinese Proverb

 

Develop Compassionate Accountability

Why Pixar, Netflix, and Others Succeed Where Most Fail

Build an Extreme Team

 

Teambuilding.

It seems easy enough. Hire talented people who are motivated to achieve something and together the team is formed.

What could go wrong?

Most of us who have been in leadership positions realize that building a team is far more difficult than hiring talented individuals.

It’s a process. From understanding individual styles to improving communication, it’s a constant effort.

That’s why nearly every leader I know is constantly working on the team.

One of the experts I follow is Robert Bruce Shaw. He’s a management consultant focused on leadership effectiveness. He has a doctorate in organizational behavior from Yale University and has written numerous books and articles.

He’s also an expert on teams and has a new book out: Extreme Teams: Why Pixar, Airbnb, and Other Cutting-Edge Companies Succeed Where Most Fail. After I read his new book, I asked him to share some of his research with us on teams.

 

“Extreme teams realize that tension and conflict are essential to achieving their goals.” -Robert Bruce Shaw

 

Elements of a Highly Successful Team

What are some of the elements of a highly successful team?

I assess a team’s success on two dimensions.  First, does the team deliver the results expected of it by its customers and stakeholders (in most cases, more senior levels of management within a company).  Does it deliver results in a manner that builds its capabilities in order to deliver results as well into the future?  Second, does the team build positive relationships among its members as well as with other groups?  This is required to sustain the trust needed for a team to work in a productive manner over time.  These are the two team imperatives:  deliver results and build relationships.

 

What’s an extreme team?

Teams that continually push for better results and relationships are what I call extreme teams.  Most teams work in a manner that emphasizes either results or relationships – and fail to develop each as an important outcome.  In addition, some teams settle for easy compromises in each area in striving to avoid the risk and conflict that can come when pushing hard in either area.  For example, a team that pushes hard on results can strain relationships.  Or, a team that values only relationships can erode its ability to deliver results.  Extreme Teams push results and relationships to the edge of being dysfunctional – and then effectively manage the challenge of doing so.

 

“Results + Relationships = Team Success.” -Robert Bruce Shaw

 

Foster An Extreme Team Culture

How do leaders help foster a culture where extreme teams thrive?

My book examines five practices of cutting-edge firms that support extreme teams.  These firms are unique in how they operate but do share some common practices.  I will mention three of these success practices:

1) They have a purpose that results in highly engaged team members.  This purpose involves the work itself but also includes having a positive impact on society.  Pixar, for example, attracts people who are passionate about making animated films that emotionally touch people.  Patagonia attracts people who love the outdoors and want to do everything they can to protect the environment.

2) They select and promote people who embody their core values.  Cultural fit becomes more important than an impressive resume.  Alibaba looks for people who fit its highly entrepreneurial culture.  The firm’s founder, Jack Ma, describes this as finding the right people not the best people.

3) They create a “hard/soft” culture that works against complacency.  In extreme teams, people realize that they need to be uncomfortable at times if they are to produce the best results.  This need is balanced against the need for people to feel they are part of community that supports them and their success.  Each firm I profile in the book does this to a different degree and with different practices.  Each, however, is more transparent and direct than conventional teams.

 

“Cutting edge firms have a critical mass of obsessive people and teams.” -Robert Bruce Shaw

 

Deciding what not to do is an important challenge. What do the best teams do to focus?

10 Laws of Trust: Build the Bonds That Make A Business Great

Building the Bonds that Make a Business Great

Trust is vitally important to creating sustainable results.

If you’re a leader, you know how important it is to create and maintain a culture of trust. But knowing it and doing it are different. How do leaders at all levels of an organization make this a reality?

 

“Trust is the operating system for a life well-lived.” –Joel Peterson

 

JetBlue Chairman Joel Peterson’s career has provided him a window into the importance of trust. In addition to his role at JetBlue, Joel is a consulting professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and chairman of an investment firm. His new book,The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds that Make a Business Great, is an exceptionally great read.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Joel about all things “trust.”

 

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” –George MacDonald

 

Increase Your Trust

What’s the Joel Peterson definition of trust?

Empowering and turning over control to another person. It takes the same leap of faith as when we trust a pilot to fly a plane or a surgeon to operate on us. We give trust in increments, measure results, assess risks and grant more trust until we find we’ve extended our reach, expanded our horizons and found greater joy in our interactions with others.

 

“Accountability is the requisite companion to empowerment.” –Joel Peterson

 

You’ve seen the inside of many organizations and leadership teams from your vantage point as Chairman, as professor, as an investor, as a CFO, etc. When you first walk into an organization, what signs do you see that would lead you to say, “This is an organization with a high degree of trust?”

Surprisingly, high trust organizations are ones with conflict – with respectful disagreements that are ventilated, addressed and put to bed so they don’t fester underground. The best ideas win, not the most powerful or senior people. And they’re typically places where there’s humor, self-deprecation, stories, traditions and people who genuinely like each other.

 

“A man who trusts nobody is apt to be a man nobody trusts.” –Harold Macmillan

 

Cultivate a Culture of Trust

What’s a leader’s role in cultivating a culture of trust? How have you seen this go wrong?

The leader’s role is vital. An EVP at Cisco once told me that she found she couldn’t be happier than her unhappiest child. In like manner, an organization’s boundary of trust is set by its leader. It’ll never expand beyond the leader’s trustworthiness. If he or she has a big “say-do gap,” the contagion will spread. If leaders compartmentalize their lives and file violations of trust under the “private label,” they’ll be mistrusted. People are smart. They’ll figure it out, and it’s not long before their wariness infects everyone and everything. As fear takes over, people become less likely to innovate, to take risks, to trust. This can either explode in trust-destroying outcomes such as the recent VW scandal or end up in bureaucratic inaction, caution and failure to perform such as at the Veterans’ Administration.

 

“In difficult times, trust is a leader’s most potent currency.” –Joel Peterson

 

How is respect linked to trust? How do you show respect?      

Respect is the medium of exchange between parties that are building trust. A failure to show respect is a trust show-stopper – even if you’re not the person who is being treated disrespectfully. This extends from teammates to suppliers to lenders to shareholders to customer. Nothing shows greater respect for another than listening to them. It’s at the heart of customer service and team-building. I think of it as listening without agenda, listening to understand, not to respond, to agree or disagree, not until there’s a break so I can respond.

 

“In a trust-driven culture, respect is prized at every level.” –Joel Peterson