Authors: Han Juch and John Shewfelt
Our work organizations are dynamic settings. Every day, teams of co-workers collaborate to produce results that are well beyond what any individual could produce alone. They brainstorm innovative ideas, hand off tasks and share the load, all the while overcoming tough challenges and cheering each other on. Or maybe, that’s how it is supposed to be.
In contrary to the common phrase that ‘people are our greatest asset’, we at RLG claim that competent people who are willing and able to work together are at the core of high performing organizations. These people work as highly functioning teams. Let’s look closer at these teams.
- We know that effective teams produce high results, but why, or how?
- What makes a team perform well and produce superior results?
- How do we replicate effective teams across our organization?
Effective Teams Behave Differently
We work at recognizable, leading organizations around the globe. When effective teams occur, sometimes due to our creation and coaching, we see four consistent behaviours:
- Focused:The team members are deeply focused on and care about the same promise, that is, what results they are to produce, when and at what standard
- Accountable:They commit to ‘play and stay in the same game’ to fulfil that common promise
- Involved:They remain confident that their contribution is valuable and essential, as is continuous collaboration with others on the team
- Responsive:They are willing and able to engage in generative conversations* to play well together.
Without this set of FAIR™ behaviours, we cannot expect teamwork and high performance. In our opinion, it is a main responsibility of the team leader to ensure this culture is created, through awareness and through team structure and orchestration. The leader’s goal is to build up and maintain these four behaviours within their team.
Effective Teamwork is Often About Opposites
When we look closer at effective teams, we also notice four apparent opposites.
- Members of an effective team hold and share different perspectives on current reality and issues; yet, they remain aligned around and focused on the common team promise, result and challenge. Basically, this implies ‘staying on the same page’
- They have their own individual and functional responsibility to do what is expected and required from their capability/expertise in contribution to the common result. Yet, they all are (and feel) jointly accountable for the progress and overall results, and thus step in when needed while engaging with others. Basically, this means ‘maintaining a high sense of personal accountability’
- They don’t shy away from having constructive internal disagreements in service of an effective team result. Yet, they remain aligned as one face in communication to others outside the team. This implies ‘having trust and open discussions while staying generously loyal’ to both the team and the common promise
- They put their best personal and functional ability into their work; yet, they are willing to accommodate other objectives, methods, and team members, even if it slows their individual progress. This means ‘being a team-player’
A contractor crew talk on an LNG mega project
Building Effective Teams is about Enabling Effective Conversation
Following this understanding how effective teams behave, we can turn to the topic of how we can build and maintain an effective team. Of course, there is a role for the traditional approaches of training, workshops, online courses and books, which are the common answers and practices one can expect.
We will share a different view here. When we take a closer look, we notice what builds a team, and what holds it together, is the conversations about the work, the coordinated actions and the team way of working. Like leadership, teamwork implies a good setting of conversations and the ability of the members to engage in these.
In effective team conversations, team members:
- share their understanding and perspective on current reality
- give honest assessment about what they have done and where they are
- declare slippages and breakdown when needed
- share possibilities and ideas going forward
- commit to coordinated actions
- request and offer mutual support
- clear up misunderstandings; and
- recognize and celebrate completions and results.
The four apparent opposites of teamwork mentioned above all apply here.
These conversations serve as the glue that holds the teams, thus an organisation, together and effective. Yes, a list of actions generates results and is therefore considered by many as the ‘real work’, yet generative conversations define which actions are required, when, why, how and when to fulfil the result-promise. Without these conversations all the well-intended actions will or could be uncoordinated, counterproductive, without learning and improvement, and so on. Without good conversations before, during and after the ‘real work’ (i.e. actions), we cannot expect effective team work.
So, the way to build and maintain effective teamwork is by putting teams in a good setting of conversations that evoke good team behaviours. Hence the importance of a well-established and dynamic Operating Rhythm™ as a set of recurrent interactions with generative conversations in your organisation. Operating Rhythm™ is thus both the source of coordinated actions and the setting in which teams are built and nurtured.
The frequently held Operating Rhythm™ meetings:
- ensure that people remain on the same page and stay focused on the common promise
- enable conversations which enforce personal responsibility and the sense of joint accountability
- involve team members in constructive conversations about slippages, breakdowns and other obstacles to progress, and
- provide space to respond to performance, discuss standards, give recognition, celebrate achievements and provide mutual support and learning.
Operating Rhythm™ becomes a setting of promoting required behaviours of effective teams. Furthermore, it will promote desirable team behaviours at various parts of the organisation.
In summary, the claims we make are that:
- Effective team work is key for high organizational performance
- Effective teams are the ones that deliver superior results and are to be characterised by having a common promise, commit to the agreed game and engage in generative conversations
- Effective team work is highly conversational
- Effective teams are not build and maintained by training, workshops or some spare moments of reflection on how the team is doing (possible a common notion/practice in most organizations)
- Operating Rhythm™ is more than a meeting schedule/cadence. Effectively deployed, it serves as a setting for having conversations for coordinated actions (perhaps a new notion for many), as well as an excellent setting where teams are built, maintained and thrive).
If you are interested in learning more about Operating Rhythm™, visit our Operating Rhythm™ page to watch videos or read more. We welcome you to reach out and talk to us too.
* Generative Conversation is dialog focused on learning, engagement, accountability and commitment. It contrasts with typical organizational dialogs which are transactional, emotional and based upon telling. Generative conversations are about listening, sharing ideas, perspectives and questions to produce mutual understanding and common sense of direction. With our coaching approach to implementation, we introduce Generative Conversation into organizations as a foundation of our Leadership Capability Development programme, called Leading Well™.
A project team optimizing a schedule critical path on a five-year major shutdown project