Success Builders Inc. Article of The Month
Summer, 2000

(Note to readers: I'm taking my own advice here and taking a bit of a vacation break, so this article is for the summer season rather than a single month. Please enjoy. We'll return to monthly articles starting in September!)

Teaming Up For Success
By Barbara Poole

When it comes to the issue of teams in business, you would think that somebody, somewhere would have covered everything that is remotely relevant, by now. Utilizing teams of people to get work done in organizations is a concept that has become firmly entrenched in the business environment. So why is it that so many teams still aren't working very well?

If you look up the textbook definition of a business team, you'll see it described as a group of people who come together to accomplish a common purpose. We assemble teams to develop new products, manufacture precision parts, create marketing strategies, and lead organizations. While this common purpose is essential, it often results in an orientation that is focused solely on the external objective, rather than providing sufficient attention to the team itself.

Strong teams don't just happen. They are developed intentionally, strategically, and with careful consideration for both sound design and good chemistry. Unfortunately, in their rush to address the pressing needs of the business, many teams fail to get their own acts together before they charge off to slay the dragons in their path. The results are frequently, and predictably, disappointing.

I once worked with a client organization that was undergoing a radical change in the nature of their core business as a result of changes in technology. Resignations and replacements of several key manager positions had resulted in a leadership team that was essentially thrown together and charged with figuring out how to move the business from where it was to where it needed to be in order to compete in the new arena. At first, these folks took the position that they couldn't afford the luxury of time needed for team development. After all, they were a bunch of grown ups and very seasoned leaders who should know what to do. The problems started showing up almost immediately: conflicting priorities, false starts, communications snafus, bruised egos. It didn't take long for them to realize that they were busy running around like the Keystone Cops.

What got in the way for this team? Plain and simple: they hadn't taken the time to focus on themselves and how they would work together before they dove headfirst into the deep end of the pool. So what are the critical questions that a team needs to address if it is to be powerful and effective in moving an organization forward?

1. Why do we exist? – What are the mission and purpose of this team? What will our contributions to the overarching mission of the organization consist of?

2. Who are we in relationship to one another? – What are our similarities and differences in terms of leadership style, values, skills, strengths and weaknesses? What do our style patterns say about what drives us, what we need to be effective, and what our areas of vulnerability look like?

3. What structure will maximize our effectiveness? – What should our respective roles and responsibilities consist of? Who will be accountable for what? What are the explicit and implicit assumptions that govern our interactions with one another?

4. What are we trying to create? – What is our vision of what's possible for this team? What strategic opportunities in the marketplace will we choose to pursue on a short term/long term basis? To what extent are we aligned in terms of direction and priorities? What really matters for us?

5. What will our team processes look like? – How will we share information, make decisions, and solve problems? What will our meeting arrangements consist of? How will we collaborate in a way that adds value while respecting one another's individual domains? What kinds of issues will require team input and consensus?

6. How will we keep ourselves honest? – What will we do to ensure that we are truly communicating on a deep and meaningful level? How will we resolve conflicts when they occur? How will we create an environment in which each team member can honor his/her individual needs and values in the context of getting the team's work done?

7. How will we measure our progress? – What will our metrics consist of? How will we regularly evaluate our own performance as a team?

8. How will we celebrate our accomplishments and provide for renewal? – What will we do to ensure that we stay fresh, cutting edge and energized?

Teams that take the time to grapple with these critical questions head-on are the ones that are able to create and sustain world-class results. Does this mean that a new leadership team must take weeks to deal with these issues before it can even get started, or that an existing team should take a major sabbatical to get it all nailed down? Of course not. In a dynamic business environment, time is of the essence and customers won't wait for a lengthy round of team development to gel. But it does mean that a team must make resolving these issues as much of a priority as any other critical business need if it wants to retain a high performance edge. And in today's competitive arena, that's the key to true success.

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