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TEAMING: Key Mile Markers on the Road to Top-Notch Teaming

- a recap of the 2010 Bright Ideas with Presenter Lisa Dunbar -


lisa 1.1webTo round out our month on teaming, I thought I’d share some highlights from my presentation “The Road to Top Notch Teaming” from the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce Bright Ideas Conference.




Choose the right vehicle to get you where you are going. Not unlike choosing what vehicle you’ll use on a road trip, managers have to choose the right “management” vehicle to meet their departmental goals. Wanting more participation and better working relationships among staff, a manager might be attracted to using teams as the vehicle. I’ve gotten calls from organizations that talk about how they use teams and when I do some probing I find out that their teamwork involves meeting with staff on a regular basis, asking for ideas on achieving departmental goals and gathering input on solving problems. While they are indeed promoting teamwork, the management structure has not changed from a traditional approach

It’s helpful to look at the definition of teaming to differentiate. A group is typically “a small group of people, led by a leader, who are committed to the leader’s goal and approach and held accountable by the leader.”  A team is “a small group of people with complementary skills and abilities committed to their common goal and approach for which they hold each other accountable.”(Wisdom of Teams

Many managers form “groups” and then call them “teams.” They have a leader who sets the goal and approach and answers to senior leadership for achievement of that goal.  Members see themselves as accountable only to the leader, not to each other. Decisions are made by the leader with input from the team, not by consensus of the team.

The choice whether to use teams or groups lies in the type of management culture the organization wants to create. If there is no flexibility in goal or approach, a short timeframe, and a desire for one person to be accountable for results, use a group. If the answer isn’t obvious, creative solutions are needed and maximum buy-in and ownership are imperative, then it’s worth building a team.  If your answer is yes to teams, read on.

Start off right.  Take time in the “forming” stage of team development (the beginning) to get very clear about what the team is to accomplish and the behaviors required to make it happen.  Lots of team documents can help with this:   team charter, help/hinder list, role and responsibility definitions, team meeting roles, agendas, scribe sheets, action item lists, conflict resolution protocol, decision making protocol, and team meeting protocol.  Teams need great resources to get them started on the right foot. There is much to learn from other teams’ successes and failures.

Understand that teams balance task, relationship and process. As much as we want to launch right away into accomplishing the tasks the team was designed to achieve, there is work to be done on relationship building among the members and agreement on processes – or the approach team members will take to achieve the tasks.  When one of these gets ahead of the others (usually that’s the task element that gets ahead), the team will experience problems with the other two elements.  Then it’s time to slow down and let the other elements catch up. 

Have champions for teams and well-trained sponsors. The coach or team sponsor needs to be well-trained and experienced in how teams work, the stages they go through and how to direct and guide them to high performance. Just as employees in traditional supervision need different levels and types of coaching for different stages of employee development, teams need that same guidance – even more so.

Get the “right people in the right seats on the right bus.”  Teamwork provides the opportunity to utilize so much more of the talents and abilities people have hidden inside of them.  Whether it’s accepting the facilitation role in a team meeting, or being a Star Point Coordinator for a team task, or a Subject Matter Expert, teaming will ask for it all.   In the training, I ask participants to complete a skill scan to encourage them to think beyond their “titles” and “silos” and focus on what skills they are willing to bring to the team (download Star Point Role article).

Be prepared for the “storming” phase. Don’t be surprised when team members start disagreeing and have conflicts. We shared at the conference that during storming, teams need a coach or sponsor that can assist them in working out differences, reaching solutions and recommitting to the goal and protocols. All of those earlier documents will be put to the test. This is the stage where teams are often abandoned because people see the team as failing, instead of realizing that the team is actually moving forward through a vital stage in its development. 

Evaluate all along the way.  Build in a process throughout the life of the team that evaluates the meetings, the work of team, the interpersonal relationships, etc. and require the team to work through their own course corrections as needed.  Sharing feedback and communicating in ways that are open, honest and direct are vital to healthy teaming (download our free Team Meeting Assessment Tool).

Define appropriate celebrations for the team. The sponsors of the team need to define what celebrations are allowed for the team and give recognition and reward as the team meets its goals. Team members can come to expect a grandiose celebration that the organization is in no way prepared to give and then be hurt at the end when they don’t get what they expected. They also can feel like all their hard work goes unnoticed when there is no mention of recognition of milestones met.  The wise sponsor puts realistic boundaries around the idea of celebrating at the very beginning, so expectations are clear.

I realize that there is a lot to share from what has worked and what hasn’t over the years. It is a journey – a road – that can lead to tremendous success and reward for every size and type of team in your organization. Teaming allows companies to use their best resources to their best advantage. What’s the saying? “Together we do more.” Teaming isn’t for the faint-hearted.  It takes work, but the rewards are amazing. 



Note: I want to thank all our NDC community members who participated in this month of team-building.  Between our contests, raffles, videos, papers, and blog posts we hope we have been able to assist you in understanding the art of team-building more.  Please let us know if you have any remaining questions around team-building or if you particularly liked any part of our Month of Teaming.  We wish you luck on your own personal road to creating top-notched teams!

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