A New Year, A New Team, and New Challenges

“Be thankful for each new challenge, because it will build your strength and character.”

It’s the start of the new year, and for me it’s the start of a new assignment, with a new team.

I met with the team for the first time today.  Some of the members I know from years supporting mission operations for the shuttle – we’ve worked on console together, played golf together, or worked in the same area for years and years.  Some of the members I met for the first time today.  I find it exciting to bring together talent from across the organization onto a team that will be tackling a very challenging project, given the nature of the project itself as well as the uncertainties and ambiguities in the future of human spaceflight we’re facing at the moment.  Each of the members was nominated by his/her managers for this assignment because the managers believe firmly that each member understands the business of his/her department while being capable of looking out for “the big picture” – what is best for mission operations, NASA, and the American taxpayer.

In kicking off a new team, what did I do?

First, I had the top leadership in our organization share their thoughts on the organization’s vision and key factors that will influence our project.  Call this “The Boss’s Expectations”, about which I’ve written before in Ask for Directions.  I see this step as being important to bootstrap our dialogue later in the week, when we will craft our shared vision and goals for our project.

Next, I shared my perspectives and background on the project.  I did a lot of impromptu talking, taking a page from my Kolbe analysis that encourages me to “wing it” and to place trust in my ability to share myself in a free-form manner.  I had each member introduce himself/herself, then I followed that up with my introduction and the reasons why I believe in our organization’s vision, and how I got there, which  I wrote about previously in The Journey.

Periodically, I stopped to gauge the members, reading body language (“nodding off?”, “crossed arms”) and to ask questions.  I realize that at this time, the members are unfamiliar with the details of the project and thus are dealing with a lot of “unknown unknowns.”  As our dialogue continued and confidence grew, a few “known unknowns” surfaced as reflected by questions from the team.  Right now, most of the team is in Quadrant 1 of the awareness-ability matrix (“I don’t know what I don’t know”), which I wrote about in Awareness-Ability Matrix and Achieving Mastery. That’s perfectly OK.  As demonstrated by the progress from “unknown unknowns” to “known unknowns” today, the team will move through the quadrants of the awareness-ability matrix in the coming weeks.

Another important dialogue we had today was when I shared my expectations.  Here, I framed my expectations around several cornerstones.  First, I shared my expectation that we will demonstrate good decision-making behaviors (about which I wrote in Behaviors That Help/Hinder Good Decision Making) and that we would apply the best of the six types of decision making processes to the situation at hand (which I wrote about in The Six Decision Making Processes).  The important point is that although much of our decision-making will be through consensus, not all of it will be.  When appropriate, we will use spontaneous agreement, one person decides, and multi-voting.  In extremely rare cases we may use compromise and majority voting.  Next, I shared my expectation that we will function as a team as opposed to a group, and defined the differences between the two (covered here).  I also shared my expectation that we will have the four different types of conversations at various times – information sharing, planning, problem solving, and relationship building (which I wrote about in The Four Types of Team Conversations) – and that the latter is extremely important to build the currency we need to enable effectiveness in the other three.  I think I saw some positive signs when I defined relationship building conversations being as eating lunch together, or taking off an afternoon to catch a ballgame this spring!

We covered a few logistics and schedule items, and before I knew it, the end of the afternoon arrived.

As you can see, I made a lot of use of lessons learned and work product from my most recent team leading experience.  I found this blog to be an invaluable resource for me to reinforce the learning I went through a year ago, building upon that experience to start this team right.  Sure, it was some “drinking from the firehose” for the team members, yet I believe that we’re off on the right foot and will build upon today, to achieve the shared vision and goals we’ll set for ourselves later this week.

As always, stay tuned…

A New Year, A New Team, and New Challenges