Why Doesn’t Your Team Work?

All of us get to spend time on teams.  Some of us spend all of our time on teams. There are terrible teams, good teams and great teams.  Most of us rarely get to spend much time on great teams.  For one thing, it takes time to build a great team–more than a few months, usually.  Few of us know how to build a good team, though, even with enough time.

Let’s talk about what makes a great team.

Unlike the common assumptions, great teams are not made up of friends, or people who are the same.  The best teams have lots of different kinds of people, with different temperments and skills.   Meredith Belbin, a British researcher who focuses on teams, started his research with the assumption that if he created a team of the smartest people–”A” players–then it would be a high performance team.  What he found was that intelligence itself was not enough.  A high performing team needs team members with a variety of skills and perspectives.  He identified the following roles necessary for a high performance team:

  • Plant:  Someone who is creative and who brings ideas to the table. (For my non-British readers:  think of this as someone who is embedded in the team who is a source of ideas.)  Someone who looks at things differently and is the team problem solver.
  • Resource Investigator: Someone who is the networker of the group.  Someone who is ‘connected’ in a way that helps the team find the resources and/or sources for whatever they need to be able to deliver team results.
  • Chairman (called the  Coordinator after 1988): Someone who ensures a balance among the members of the team–making sure that they all contribute to discussions and decisions. Someone who makes the goals clear, and ensures that the roles and responsibilities are clear.
  • Shaper:   Someone who challenges team members and who pushes them to overcome barriers.  Someone who pushes for agreement and decisions.
  •  Monitor-Evaluator:  Someone who is able to point out the challenges to other people’s solutions.  Someone who sees all the options, asks questions, points out the issues.
  • Team Worker: Someone who focuses on the interpersonal relationships within the team.  Someone who is sensitive to the nuances among the interactions of the team members.  Someone who helps ensure the long-term cohesion among team members.  Someone who helps deal with conflict, the group mediator.
  • Company Worker ( Implementor after 1988):  Someone who can figure out how to create the systems and processes that get the team the results they want.  Someone who is practical and pragmatic.
  • Completer Finisher:   Someone who is detail-oriented.  Someone who sees the defects before anyone else.  Someone who is clear on where the team is in relationship to its deadlines.  Someone who focuses on completing tasks, finding errors, making deadlines and staying on schedule.
  • Specialist: Someone who brings specialized knowledge to the team, like someone who is the Finance expert, or the Supply Chain expert or the Contract specialist.

Remember, these are ROLES, not people.  One person can potentially fill more than one role, but ideally not more than two.  We are more naturally comfortable in some of these roles than others.  The Plant (the idea person) is usually not good at being a Monitor–figuring out all the problems with the ideas.  Many of these role-fillers drive others crazy.  They balance each other out and reduce the risks of rushing to decisions or dragging to decisions or running people off or being too focused on deadlines or too focused on people or too focused on details.  Belbin has written several books on his research on teams.

When team members are presented with Belbin’s Team Role Assessments® it is amazing how they stop being irritated with each other and start appreciating the traits that had previously driven them all nuts.

Let’s Talk About the Work of Being a High Performance Team

The “who” of a team is only half the battle, though.  The other part of a high performance team is the work that teams have to go through to become great.  There are two models that help describe that work.  The first is the Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing stages of Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development.  Most of us have heard of this one.  It is useful to acknowledge that group behavior goes through stages and movement through these stages is necessary to develop the trust and authentic interactions necessary to be a good team.

The other model is less well-known, but is the one that I’ve taught to my graduate management classes.  It is the Drexler-Sibbett Team Performance ™ Model.  The Drexler-Sibbett Model acknowledges that team development is dynamic.  Teams have set backs, add people, change goals, get new managers, have failures, traumas, successes and constantly need to back up and ‘re-do’  some stage in the team’s development.  It is this focus on dynamic/interactive progress and re-setting that seems to me to be extremely realistic.  The Drexler-Sibbett stages are:

  • Orientation:  Why am I here? (Note–it isn’t why are we here–if you don’t answer for each and every person why s/he is there, they won’t even begin to engage.)
  • Trust Building: Who are you? and you? and you?  (Most ‘team building’ activities are focused on this stage.
  • Goal Clarification: What are we doing here? Few teams get very clear on goals.  They rarely get past the goals of all the individuals to the team goal.  The person from finance is there to protect finance’s interests, the person from IT is there to protect IT’s interest.  It is only when the individual goals are replaced by the team goal that the team begins to move to high performance.
  • Commitment:  How are we going to do it?  This gets into the messy part of resources, who, when, how.  This is when the theory and planning turn into reality and the trouble really starts.
  • Implementation:   Who does what, when, where and how.  The real stuff.  Things start to be hard.  Things start to get delivered.  Things don’t work and have to get fixed.  Misunderstandings and mistakes are uncovered and dealt with.  The struggle and the payoff happen in this stage.
  • High Performance: This is where things really hum.  People cooperate and trust and do and finish things.
  • Renewal:  This is where it all starts again.

The important concept of this model is that teams move forward and backward as the situation warrants.  New people come in, the Orientation and Trust Building stages may need to be done again (sometimes in an abbreviated way).  If Implementation isn’t working, then Commitment may need a refresh.

A Powerful Career Tool

Getting teams to high performance is hard work.   It can’t be done through a team building exercise, or through the boss announcing what the goals are.  Learning to build great teams, however, can be enormously helpful in getting you to the next level of your career.  People who know the mechanics of building great teams can do it over and over and over.  They can do it in different organizations and they can  deliver different kinds of goals.  They can do it at all levels of the organization and in all sizes of organizations.  Well worth learning!

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Filed under Books, Career Development, Career Goals, Diversity, Executive Development, Teams, Trust

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