Towards the end of last week I participated in a conversation involving my old team that led me to do some reflection. The conversation involved teamwork on the team – or rather a perceived lack of it – and a need to intervene. Without the intervention, the team risked fracturing.
As I look forward to leading a different team on a new assignment, I examined the situation with the old team and identified actions I will take with the new team.
With regards to maintaining teamwork, I see the role of the leader to be threefold: 1) Leading the team to create a set of norms or rules of behavior; 2) Facilitating team conversations to achieve maximum effectiveness; and 3) Intervening when necessary to redirect undesired behaviors that risk fracturing the team.
As I wrote earlier in the year (see Groups versus Teams), a team creates a set of norms or rules of behavior that defines the agreement on how the team members will interact with each other. While a group may be run by a chairperson, a team runs itself by norms created by the members. In reflecting back on this year, we did establish team norms in one of our earlier meetings. Yet with the passage of time, familiarity, and perhaps laziness, the team and I allowed the norms to erode. I even had to hunt around to find a copy of the norms we made. Therefore, I identified the following key lesson learned: Norms out of sight are norms out of mind. What I will do differently with the next team: Post the norms where everyone can see them. Periodically revisit to reinforce and refine as part of the act of facilitation, which I cover next.
In the same earlier post, I wrote about another characteristic that distinguishes a team from a group: team members aren’t out to gain personal victory, but to arrive at the best solution for the good of the whole. When team members have differences of opinion, they tend to have a dialogue about the ideas rather than argue points of view. When conversations become unbalanced, the role of the leader is to rebalance through facilitation. Besides guiding the team to the established norms, the leader can rebalance conversations and ask questions that redirect and refocus the team. The key action for the future: Watch team interactions very carefully for signs of imbalanced conversations and facilitate immediately.
Finally, the earlier post addressed that team members cooperate to plan and coordinate roles. Their work lives are linked together, and they depend on each other. When a team member is perceived not to pull his weight or to cooperate, the role of the leader is to intervene. Intervention takes three steps: Step 1, identification: “I’ve noticed that…” and state facts. Step 2, impact: “I’m concerned that…” and state the impact. Step 3, next steps: “I expect…” or “I decided that…” and state the expectations or decision. Intervention was the action taken late last week with the team.
In looking through all of the above, I came to a realization. One is not sufficient. A leader needs all three in his/her toolkit. This is a valuable lesson learned, and relearned, for maintaining teamwork that I will carry forward to my next assignment.