High-Performing Teams: Fate, Chance, or Choice?

Friday night we went out with our neighbors to shoot pool and play pinball.  At some point during the evening, the conversation turned to how we’d met our partners.  My husband, Paul, is from Perth, Australia, one of the most remote cities in the world, and we met while he was working on a short-term project in Chicago.  Since neither of us was available or looking for a relationship at the time, we have often marveled that the statistical odds of us ever meeting, let alone ending up together, were slim at best.

Not long after we met, Paul’s company transferred him to California. He asked me to come with him which was exciting and scary! For him it would be his 3rdinterstate move since arriving in America a year earlier.  For me it meant moving away from family and friends, my career in advertising, selling my place, and taking a huge leap of faith on just about every level.  We took on tons of change in a short amount of time.  Even though we didn’t know a lot about managing change, we found ourselves talking about early on, and taking steps, that would help us create a solid foundation.

When you are find yourself in a new team, whether that’s by accepting a new job, getting re-orged, or similar, strong foundations rarely just happen.  They take thoughtfulness, investment, and time.

We’ve begun iterative releases on a toolkit for highly effective teams, called “90 Days to Greatness.”  It’s a series of plays you can run to get a new team up and running effectively in about 90 days or less.  It also offers pulse checks for established teams to diagnose what’s not working with plays designed to improve things.  Teams can conduct a DIY roll-out or we offer light consulting support with a “before” snapshot, collaborative facilitation of key plays, and “after” metrics on what’s changed and areas for continued focus.

Why 90 Days?  It takes time to form or change habits.  In a recent study, it took individuals an average of 66 days for a new habit to become automatic.  We coupled this data with the science of change, knowing that change has an expiration date: it’s about 90 days.  If you aren’t starting to see progress by then, people will either go back to what feels familiar (business as usual?) or a few will seek to make their own path forward.

If you are starting up a new team due to a reorg, new project or similar, consider these steps as a sneak-peek to get you started:

Create a shared vision:  Do your best to understand the changes that are being made so you can articulate them to your team.  Set vision – as little or as much as you know at this time.  Be open to a conversation and dialogue, not just a telling.  Don’t fake what you don’t know.  If it all seems brand new, brainstorm with your team what it could be.  Be prepared to take questions for follow up and actually do the follow up.  Or, tell them if you won’t be following up on something and why.

Build relationships:  Get to know people in your team via 1:1 meetings, smaller group sessions, team meetings, or via an all-hands for larger groups.  Host both formal and informal gatherings for people to get to know each other and any new leaders.

Learn about each other:  This is crucial and much better than guessing and making assumptions.  Sure, you won’t learn everything you need to know in 90 days but you’re MUCH MORE likely to get off to a good start.  There are simple and robust facilitation methods for helping people share things like the value they bring to the team; to create self-awareness of communication preferences; work styles and more!  For preferences, styles, and team dynamics we like Insights Discovery or the Pro.file tool.

Set expectations, create norms:  If you are newly leading a group, we recommend conducting a New Leader Assimilation process and creating some team norms.  What are team norms?  They are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules for how a team intends to function when they work together.

Google’s work on highly effective teams found that “the right norms could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if, individually, all the members were exceptionally bright.”  What we often see in lower performing teams is that diminishing norms came about unwittingly, almost by accident.  With a bit of early focus and intention, teams can establish great, purposeful norms.

Here are some examples of team norms you might consider:

  • Team members’ opinions will be thoughtfully considered on matters that affect the team;
  • We keep our commitments to the agreed upon due date;
  • When individual behavior or delivery does not meet agreed upon norms, we speak to the individual(s) first as a course of action;
  • We speak respectfully to each other;
  • We listen and avoid interrupting others;
  • We hold one conversation at a time during group meetings (not side conversations);
  • Agendas will be posted 1+ business days before meetings and are used to help us manage discussions and make good decisions;
  • We make team-affecting decisions by consensus; the majority will rule if a timely consensus is not reached.

For more help on how to create a high performing team, check out our website or get in touch.

The Best of Awesomeness! 
I get nothing for these recommendations except the joy of sharing! 

The Power of Eight:  Lynne McTaggert reveals her remarkable findings from 10 years of experimenting with small and large groups about how group intention can change the world for the better. here.

TedX Portland: This year’s TedX PDX is April 21st with a focus on building the future of Portland as an equitable, hopeful, and prosperous city for all. Learn more here.

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