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Are We Missing the Boat on Teams? Suzanne Elshult/Your Executive Coach with HRNow


Last week a small group of HR executives  (about a dozen HR Executive Forum members) braved the snowy road conditions in Seattle and spent a chilly morning discussing teams. Our discussion catalysts (Sandra Gilliland, Google, and Ben Bratt, Team Effectiveness Project) shared some interesting stats to get the dialogue going such as:

• 97% of teams are ineffective (Patrick Lencioni, Advantage, 2012).
• Top executives consider Organisation Design (the rise of teams) as being their most important priority while only 14% say they are ready for the structural shift that is underway (Bersin by Deloitte 2016).

We discussed a recent Google study on team effectiveness. This research project showed that team effectiveness is impacted less by who is on a team and more by how a team works together. Specifically, and in order of importance, it was found that the following five factors were most critical to team success (in order of priority):

1. Psychological safety. Perception by team members that they can take interpersonal risk – respectfully share differences and opinions, speak their voice and do in a constructive, not aggressive way – without running the risk as being viewed as being incompetent, ignorant, negative or disruptive by other team members. Asking questions and not fear that they will be viewed as stupid.
2. Dependability. Team members do what they say they are going to do and do it on time.
3. Structure and Clarity.  There is a clear structure and process for making decisions.
4. Meaning. Individual team members find meaning in the work they do on the team.
5. Impact. The team understands how what they do fits in to and contributes to the organization’s goals.

Here are some of our takeaways:

1. Understand the difference between a group and a team. In a team you will find a clear common purpose and many interdependencies. If we have a clear vision of what we want to achieve,  the rest follows. Teams today tend to be more dynamic and less static than in the past.
2. Carefully examine how many teams you are on. Are the right players on the team and in meetings? Are you making a value-added contribution. If not, why are you on the team?
3. Is your team/your org challenged by death by meeting? Do you know why you are meeting? Is a meeting driving action or sharing information? If the latter, is a meeting the best venue? We were intrigued with Google have a three-week once quarterly no meeting ban, and the expectation at Zumiez that no meetings ever take place unless there is a clear purpose and understanding of what action will be taken as a result.
4. Shift the format of meetings to reflect the various stages and challenges a team needs to address at different times. Mix things up to keep things dynamic.
5. Accountability. Do we need to change the language – accountability  comes loaded with “here comes the hammer.” How do we upgrade our discussion around accountability and encourage adult to adult dialogue and the expectation that we keep each other updated on status – not to control and punish, but to learn from mistakes – “fail forward” – identify barriers and be able to request the support we need.
6. In order to change a team, you typically need a catalyst, perhaps a new leader, a crisis, a “big win” or ”big fail.” If the pain is not big enough for dramatic change, you may have to focus on finding workarounds: build on small wins, baby steps.

Favorite Quote: Are you missing the boat on teams?


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