In this article, we turn a true light on the process of “team building.” This is about team building from the leadership perspective.
Team building gets a lot of lip service in leadership circles. But practical steps sometimes get lost in a maze of details.
4 Steps and 5 Tips
When a team can look at itself honestly, and then regularly reflect on all four of the steps discussed below, they will have the makings of a top-performing team of leaders from every chair.
The simple steps to building and maintaining effective teams are:
- Creating its Context
- Engaging Insights and Values
- Determining Outcomes
- Aligning Best Practices
1: The Context
Everything Happens in a Context
Organizations have a context in which they exist, operate, and grow typically referred to as corporate or organizational culture. And every organization exists within a larger frame: our shared socio-economic context. The “team” is a context embedded within both of those larger contexts.
“Leaders create and invent the context in which their teams operate. It is one of their primary responsibility.”
This means that most teams exist within a context already created for them. So it is keenly important to understand the EACH team member has to operate effectively in the environment that you create, otherwise it becomes toxic to their productivity.
Team-Building Tip #1:
Support your team to be awake to the contexts within which they are embedded. Offer them the opportunity to shape context. This sets up the individuals of the team as powerful actors in their team culture.
2: Insights & Values
Engaging Team Members Directly
This allows the team to generate their own buy-in, building huge capital for the team and the organization. People like to feel connected to each other and purpose of the team of which they are a part.
If you simply feed values to the team and try to get by in, you will get some compliance and some obedience. But sadly you will not often get the real alignment that drives top performing teams to succeed.
Have team members speak about their values and core organizing principles.
By allowing team members to actually voice their values and have them register int the larger context of the team, this allows the team to do the work of aligning around a cluster of shared values. Remember that each person on the team is actually a real person. They want to help the goals of the team. So use their values as a starting point for their motivation, and grow them toward the values of the collective.
Ask questions such as:
- What do we care about?
- What matters?
- What are our guiding principles?
Team-Building Tip #2:
Give people the opportunity to grapple with their individual values and team values and you get them in the business of culture creation. You will get them leading!
3: The Outcomes
“Where are you going? And what results are you playing for?”
Distinguishing outcomes seems obvious and many leaders and their teams spend the most time working in this domain. But that is like building the second floor of the house before pouring the foundation.
Every effective leader must write down the expected outcomes for the team and communicate broadly, effectively, and continuously these expectations to the team. This defines the destination for the team. This will also help establish “mile markers” along the way to help gauge progress and relative results.
Team-Building Tip #3:
Establishing context and values first and you can play for big results with the wind at your back!
4: The Practices
“We are what we practice and we are always practicing something.”
It’s just that so often we are practicing things that will not have us win the game we want to be playing. This is true individually, at the level of team, and at the larger socio-economic level too. After we established where we are going, we need to establish and document the practices and procedures that will get us to our destination.
If we fail to know the effective tools, procedures, and protocols for success, then we will surely fail.
Team-Building Tip #4:
Integrate regular reflection into the team culture using the practice of inquiry:
- What habits do we have around communication, e.g. email, or other core practices?
- What assumptions do we have about each other – our competencies, limitations, etc.?
- What needs to be said to come back into re-alignment?
Anatomy of a Team Breakdown
Here’s a typical example of a team that has a stated goal of winning an award for excellence for their division (outcomes). It is clear that they have to coordinate action impeccably, meet their deadlines, and communicate across multiple departments (practices).
If they are not communicating effectively about breakdowns or not holding each other accountable for promises made (practices), they will be much less likely to perform at a level that will ensure their ability to produce their goal.
“Many teams have identities about how they operate, that are not actually accurate.
They say they are straight talkers, that they value clear communication and honesty (insights/values) and that their organization has a stated commitment to being award winning every year in their field (context).
They may think their context supports their outcomes and their values are aligned with the practices they would need to produce the result. But their theory in use – not communicating clearly and avoiding conflict – will not produce the intended result.
Final Team-Building Tip #5:
We are all leaders, even when we are part of teams.
Anyone can make an intervention in a team, not just the designated team leader. Subtle inquiry and group reflection can be the beginning to turning the tides of context in the direction of desired outcomes.
So what are you doing to insure that you are properly building effective teams? How are you establishing environmental context for your teams? Are you including personal and team insights and values in your mission statements? How are you building a road map with a clear destination and mile markers? And are you applying effective practices and procedures that will yield the expected results? I would love to hear your thoughts!
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