Your team able to hit the ground, running?

Why they need to be ready and how to prepare them.

It is a real rarity to only belong to one team these days instead we belong and contribute to many. Moreover some of these teams - project teams as an example - may be short lived. No longer is there a settling period instead the whole forming, storming, norming, performing process happens at pace. -Therefore in today's cross-functional, multicultural and matrix teams  do  top performing executives have to be ready to hit the ground running. So how can this be best achieved?

Anyone who suggests there is one simple answer to this question is either deceiving you or themselves. But there some 'fundamentals' which, once in place, can ensure that teams have a firm foundation and are better prepared for the challenges they will face.

1. Team values. Culture is one of the most powerful predictors of team performance. However, even when a team has clearly stated values they are often unclear as to how, these translate in behavioural terms. For example, if those 'mystical phrases' of mutual support or trust are stated by a team as values of importance then what behaviours will identify these?

This is why we encourage teams to spend some of their valuable time in getting specific about those critical behaviours that represent what they stand for. As a part of this it is also useful for teams to explore and examine clusters of values, e.g. trust, honesty and respect, which can be usefully considered together. Such clusters help teams to establish both who they are and how they work together as well as holding individuals to bringing the best of themselves to their work.

2. Meta programmes. Some behavioural analysts suggest that performing teams must have a balance of 'types' but profiling isn't always feasible or practical, especially when teams have to come together fast. So what can be done?

One powerful insight is for team players to understand that they will have distinctive strategies they bring to work. For example, some people work better with big chunks of information while others prefer small chunks. Some people have avoidance strategies while others have attraction strategies. Some people always like to open up possibilities while others like to know that there is one 'best' way of doing things.

These are known as 'meta programmes' and people use different sets of programmes in different contexts. Awareness of your own meta programmes and those of others is incredibly useful for the team because once individuals know how they and their colleagues respond to given situations they can work with each others' strengths. And of course with awareness comes flexibility, which is also extremely important if individuals want to develop their own personal effectiveness.

3. Responsible relationships. Generating and maintaining positive working relationships is the third central concern for performing teams. Just imagine for a moment someone coming into your office whom you have a poor relationship with. What effort do you make on their behalf? How much information do you tend to share? What does their presence do to your own energy? Yet in most teams relationships this is often given limited regard.

This needs to be changed. Team leaders and team players need tools at hand to help them negotiate more productively, see each other more positively and to resolve conflict when it occurs. Everyone in a team needs to take responsibility for relationships if a team is to maintain its momentum.  We employ simple yet effective tools which allow a team to understand the 'dynamics' at play and more importantly provide the right environment where the effects can be discussed without personalisation.

4. Two way communication. The fourth fundamental for teams is communication. This includes how individuals can develop rapport, how team players need to speak, ask questions and listen to one other and how they can see beyond their own assumptions and paradigms.

It is a widely used statement that 'the meaning of any communication is in the response you get' and this points to the need for people to pay much closer attention both to how they give out and receive information. Take the following anecdote for example which highlights what happens when communication is assumed: This event occurred while a group of managers where engaged in an experiential learning exercise which involved teams helping each other to negotiate a particular set of obstacles. During this exercise a female delegate was being supported by her colleague who looked at her and asked: "OK?" "Yes," replied the woman at which point her colleague let her go and she was left dangling from the safety harness.

So what had gone wrong? The problem was with the communication. What he really meant was? "OK? Because I'm going to let go now,"and what she really meant was "Yes - so long as you keep a hold of me!" As you can imagine this incident showed them both how important it is for clear communication to be both given and received.

5. Learning form experience. For team building to be effective time must be given over to reflection. As firm believers that people learn from experience however it is through reflection and review where real understanding develops.

That's why our interventions have, as much time for group discussion as there is given to any other part. We have all probably taken part at some time in team building activities yet what time was given over to the process review and transfer of learning. If this is not a fundamental part of a programme then you may as well do your 'team- building' at the local theme park or pub.  

There is one final and crucial point to make here, these skills are not only important, they are also enjoyable to learn.