Alex was asked to lead a team which would develop a sensitive recommendation on whether to consolidate two facilities into one.
The first meeting had been scheduled to begin ten minutes ago and five of the seven new team members were gathered in a conference room. One or two were on their cell phones, a pair was engaged in a lively conversation near the back of the room, and the other sat quietly at the table, glancing at his watch. One of the two missing participants was known for habitual lateness; the other was simply unaccounted for. Alex fidgeted with a white board marker, then cleared his throat. “I guess we’ll begin,” he said…
Mary’s team had been meeting for six weeks, wrestling with issues related to reorganizing staff functions to improve processes and increase efficiency.
While the team had made some progress, it was bogged down because team members were torn between completing team assignments and the pressing priorities at their day-to-day jobs. The effort was in danger of simply fizzling out, and Mary was expected to deliver a final presentation in two weeks. As someone began yet another speech about being overworked, Mary thought to herself, “I guess it’s time to read them the riot act…”
Spencer’s team had developed three proposals to address a thorny customer service problem, and were meeting to choose their final recommendation.
The team was deeply divided and people were beginning to get irritated, interrupt one another, or simply withdraw. Consensus seemed doubtful. Spencer let the dialogue continue for as long as he could stand it. Finally, he stood up, faced the group, and said, “I guess I will make the final decision since we can’t agree. Any of you have a problem with that?” There was a palpable silence in the room…
What do these three team leaders have in common?
They were under pressure, they felt stuck, and they didn’t really know what to do. So, they guessed. In the absence of knowledge, skills or experience people have to guess what action to take. If we’re lucky, everything will work out. Far too often, however, when we guess, we guess wrong.
Let’s take a closer look at some differences between guesswork and teamwork.
- Choosing a coincidental group of people based mostly on availability and hoping for the best
- Getting a vague sense of the team sponsor’s objectives for the team and jumping into the task
- Having no idea what the team effort will cost the organization or what impact its effort may have on the bottom line.
- Frequently urging the team to do more with less, and to work smarter, not harder
- Assuming that everyone who’s been chosen for the team wants to be on the team
- Wondering what it takes to get people to really commit to the team goal
- Reminding team members that “there is no ‘I’ in teams”
- Ignoring, denying, overlooking, or out-shouting team members in conflict
- Running meetings without a plan, clarifying agreements or action items
- Relying on one or two methods to make decisions: the leader decides, or everybody votes
- Relying on organizing principles which practically compel a team to pull together for high performance
- Creating a team charter which can be used as a performance metric and team motivator
- Being able to calculate the investment and the bottom line ROI for the team’s effort
- Positioning the team to get maximum resources, effectiveness and impact
- Galvanizing people who often report to different supervisors and who come with unique personal agendas
- Having a proven methodology to take a team with average performance to a substantially higher level
- Creating opportunities for team members to have individual achievements and a sense of belonging to a team
- Eliminating counter-productive tension and conflict between team members
- Skillfully facilitating effective, productive, action-oriented meetings
- Making rock-solid, reliable, committed team-based decisions using a methodology that fits the situation
Great teams are mostly “made,” not born. That is, they acquire skill sets that equip them to meet the challenges of working together. But far too often, team leaders are chosen for the wrong reasons – their technical skills, or by the happenstance of having a lighter workload for the moment, or because no one else was willing or available.
Compounding the problem, they often are given a coincidental collection of employees who may also have been selected for inappropriate reasons – mere availability, slack workload, even as a way of getting a poor performer away from his or her supervisor for a while. The result can be a team leader who is asked to do the impossible with the unwilling or unable. And when problems arise, inadequately prepared leaders are given little choice but to guess how to handle them.
I’ll post tomorrow on ways for leaders to take the guesswork out of teamwork.