This week I’ll be speaking to two separate groups about teams: the Capital Region HR Association on Executive Teams and the Saratoga Economic Development Council on Cross-Cultural Teaming. Both are looking for ways to improve the functioning of their teams during economic times when the ability to maximize human potential is critical for success. No longer do organizations debate about whether to work collaboratively; it is now the way things must be done. So, let’s look at a few quick tips for teams.
1. Break down the silos. Organizations today need to be highly interdependent. No single person has enough knowledge or experience to understand the challenges in today’s complex world. The team must define and agree on cross-functional goals. Team players have to break out of their own areas of expertise and offer ideas, insights and suggestions across the functions. “How dare you play in my sandbox!” is no longer an acceptable response. Those goals then form the basis of the team’s charter – or agreement on how the team will function.
2. Agree on approach. Learning how to agree on an approach is probably more difficult than getting the goals set. We can come into alignment on desired results fairly quickly, but defining the methods and processes to get there can trip up even the best team. Most teams are good at “tasks,” but weak on processes. When the processes break down, they impact the relationships. High performance teams work as hard on process and relationship as they do on tasks because they realize they are all inter-connected.
3. Scan for unused skills. Most people are under-utilized in organizations, often not even realizing competencies right in their midst. By conducting a “skill scan” of the team member competencies, the team can encourage members to use those competencies whenever the need arises. For example, a team member may have learned how to “think outside the box” through his/her mountain climbing hobby. Encourage the use of that same skill when the team is stuck and struggling to invent some new approaches. On cross-cultural teams, we have an entire array of new skills that can be tapped into if we encourage sharing.
4. Learn how to make decisions together. When it comes to decision making, we are used to either a spontaneous model where a few heads nod and we’ve made a decision, or the command-and-control model where we look to the most senior person in the room and wait for his/her position. Teams use a more participatory, consensus model of decision making that encourages divergent thinking (lots of different ideas shared) and then moves to convergent thinking (ideas are combined to achieve the best possible answer). Most people are good at divergent thinking (saying what they think) and are very poor at convergent thinking (listening for common ground and developing something everyone can live with).
5. Increase the teaming competencies through training. One of the fallacies we have is that teaming is natural, and therefore, easy for us. In fact, the opposite is true. Teaming is a group-oriented culture, while we have been raised and live in an individualistic culture. The two are not always compatible. High performance teams typically offer about 40 hours of training per year in team-based competencies (both process and relationship-oriented skill sets). This training is often best done as the team develops and can put the skills into practice immediately. Again, it’s a fallacy to think that a team will learn teaming competencies without any training. It simply won’t happen.
Teams are capable of terrific increases in productivity (20-40% in one year), improved engagement, reduced accidents, continuous improvement and greater commitment to quality. But it’s not “about holding hands and singing Kumbaya.” Teaming is a choice to develop and use the hard skills of working together for the good of the whole.
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