Some Final Thoughts

20151104_145237Chances are you’ve recognized some of your team’s behavior in 10 Good Reasons to Hate Work Teams. If you haven’t, you are either on the most amazing team in the known universe or you’re choosing not to recognize things too well. Teams are a fact of life in organizations. Perhaps there was a time when a single ‘heroine’ or ‘hero’ could manage everything and tell people what to do and they would gladly or otherwise go do it but that time is long gone. Life, and organizations are too complex, too busy and too big for mythical roles of leadership and management anymore. We really do need others in our organizations if we are going to succeed. Many leaders and managers still trying to play those mythical roles are finding this out the hard way as they become more and more irrelevant with each passing day and their teams and organizations become more irrelevant as well.

Maybe you were able to laugh at your team a little too, as you recognized behavior that described it pretty well. All teams experience similar problems and the only problem that’s really unacceptable is not trying to do something about them. That’s when teams become horrible, time-wasting, resource sucking monsters. Perhaps in the midst of your laughter you were also able to see, or try some solutions that will work for your team.

If you look back over this e-Booklet you will notice a couple of words that have been used a number of times when describing what is needed to dig your team out of the hole it might find itself in. The words are courage and honesty. Some situations are just darn ugly and some are wonderful. In order for a team to be effective both these states need to be honestly recognized to be able to continue to move forward. It takes courage to be honest and honesty to be courageous. It also takes courage to share honest information with your team so it can do the work it is supposed to do. All the bells and whistles ever invented to help teams be more effective are useless if you don’t have the courage and honesty to apply them. It can be pretty tough at times. Good teams do their best to ride the roller coaster of good times and bad and press on. Amazing teams learn to love the roller coaster. They learn from each up and down and press on just a little bit better.  Or perhaps even know when it’s time to get off, which can be the toughest choice of all.

There are choices to be made. Do you choose to have a useless team you can’t stand being a part of or do you choose to push yourself and your teammates to be amazing?

Which choice will you make?

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. What are some of your final thoughts (on this initiative, not your final thoughts ever!)?

Reason 10 – Ideas to Try

They Involve You in Team Building Exercises

Some key questions to ask yourself and your team.

Basic, really important ones:

  1. Will this exercise really do anything to help us perform better as a team?
  2. What usable links and learning back to our work has this exercise surfaced?
  3. How do we intend to transfer this learning into work performance?
  4. How will we practice these new skills and learning?
  5. Is the application of this learning a performance objective?

Interesting ones:

  1. Do we have the capacity to skip the metaphorical exercise and jump right into a debrief of a real work experience and think differently or deeper about that experience?
  2. Why do we need to think differently or deeper?
  3. How can we push and surface honesty in the debrief of this exercise?
  4. Is this exercise really more of a fun diversion from a design and potential perspective?

Key points of this reason to hate work teams:

  • The debrief of a team building exercise is ALWAYS the most important part of a potentially good exercise. Squeeze every ounce of learning out of it by asking for and giving honesty.
  • Activating the ‘potential’ of a good team building exercise depends on demanding the learning be applied back in the workplace in the form of changes in behavior. You need to design in lots of practice for this new behavior. The team should take accountability to sustain this practice.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. Why do you think so much emphasis is put on team building exercises/workshops to change behavior?
  2. How do you bring honesty to a debrief?
  3. How do you think behavior changes?
  4. What’s your best transfer of learning story?

Reason 10

20151104_144313They Involve You in Team Building Exercises

It’s inescapable. Sooner or later someone will inflict a team building exercise on your team. You will survive a mythical plane crash in the desert, fall backward into the loving arms of your teammates, dissect your personalities, climb ropes, perch on platforms, build models and solve puzzles. If you’re really ‘lucky’ you might get to brave the real wilderness for a few nights! Every team building exercise ever invented is designed to get the members of the team to do two things:

  1. Look at things differently.
  2. Look at things more deeply.

The reason we grow to hate these exercises is that we really don’t want to look at things any differently than we do right now. It’s too hard and we’re too busy and we’re not convinced it’s really necessary.

So step one in making these things matter to the rightfully skeptical team is making a connection to something that does matter; performance. It never ceases to amaze how many team building exercises are concocted and inflicted without any consideration of performance.

Team building exercises typically fall into one of three categories:

  1. Fun diversions
  2. Potentially good
  3. Transformational

Fun diversions are the one category where a link to performance doesn’t matter. They are activities that the team normally doesn’t do together. You go bowling or out for dinner and have a good time. No one brings a flip chart to record ‘takeaways’ or ‘next steps’. No great learning or change is expected. These are valuable since you see different sides of people. It’s nice to be on a team that does this sort of thing (well, unless you haven’t dealt with Reason #9).

By far the majority of team building exercises fall into the second category, potentially good, which consists of activities designed to enhance the potential and performance of the team. So keep in mind, if you can’t answer why a team building exercise will enhance performance, you are doing a fun diversion.

In order for potentially good exercises to work, the learning MUST transfer back to the workplace. And this is where most of these exercises fall short. Transfer of learning requires two things:

  1. An exercise and debrief that make sense in the context of the teams work.
  2. A process for practice and application outside of the exercise (i.e. once back at work).

To point one, the best team building exercise ever designed is the debrief of an actual piece of work the team has done. The problem with this is that the team is often so immersed in the work the debrief does little to help the team see things differently or deeper. So an exercise that is somewhat abstracted from the work and then applying the learning back to the work scenario is potentially good. This means the debrief of the exercise is of primary importance. Who really cares if your teammates caught you when you fell into their arms? Did you really think they’d let you fall with everyone watching? In the debrief, someone has to say, ‘Sure, you caught me here but when I made that mistake last week at work you let me drop like a rock!’ That takes more courage than it does to depend on your team to catch you physically. Without the courage to speak the truth in the debrief the necessary links cannot be made back to the work world and the potential for improved performance is lost. And it’s easier to find this courage if the exercise is meant to improve performance.

To point two, a team building exercise in itself is never enough. People and teams see things the way they do because they have a pattern of seeing things that way. That pattern has developed and been sustained for long periods of time. To actually change such a pattern requires incremental change over extended periods of time. Practice, and lots of it. That’s why you need a process for practice and application of what was learned in the exercise. You can do this by making the use of learning a performance requirement and by building in real-time practice over time. Do both.

Transformational team building exercises are so rare you’ve probably only read about them in books. Never expect, or design for transformation; you will be disappointed. And be rage-fully skeptical of those that promote their transformational exercises. If transformation takes place, let it be a wonderful surprise, a gift. Transformation is 99.99% dependent on the person, or team being ready. When this occurs almost any exercise will work.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. In your experience, is more effort, from a design perspective, put into the team building exercise/workshop or the process for practice and application outside of the exercise workshop? Why?
  2. What’s the most effective team building exercise you use?
  3. What’s the most effective design for practice and application that you use?
  4. How have you dealt with the challenge of getting teams to see things differently or deeper?


Reason 9 – Ideas to Try

They Make You Work with People You Can’t Stand

Some key questions to ask yourself and your team.

Basic, really important ones:

  1. Have we looked after all of our task issues?
  2. Are interpersonal issues really affecting the performance of our team?
  3. Do the people involved in these issues want to resolve them?
  4. Who can we ask for help?

Interesting ones:

  1. Why do people not get along on our team?
  2. Are the interpersonal challenges we have caused internally with the team or externally?
  3. Are YOU the common denominator in the interpersonal challenges?
  4. Do we engage in conflict effectively?

Key points of this reason to hate work teams:

  • If you are working with category 1 interpersonal issues, keep in mind you are in essence learning a new language. It takes practice and your team is accountable for that practice.
  • Most category 2 interpersonal issues will be deeply rooted in some kind of a power dynamic and are complex and personal. Get help.
  • For the rest of the organization, team performance matters more than if the team likes each other.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. How have you effectively dealt with a team where interpersonal issues override any other focus?
  2. Do you have one good ‘I can’t stand my team mate’ story? Go ahead, VENT! (Names will be edited out, except for the poster’s name)
  3. Have you experienced a situation where fixing a task issue has resolved what seemed to be interpersonal issues?
  4. What’s your best tip on dealing with style or preference issues?

Reason 9

20121022_105221They Make You Work with People You Can’t Stand

Of all the reasons to hate work teams this is one of the most obvious and the least talked about. We all have people we can’t stand. How is it that they inevitably end up on a team with us?

Teams are supposed to be cohesive units of highly effective individuals. Admitting you would like to rip the face off your teammate would only prove you are not a good team player which would likely put you at odds with one of the ‘core competencies’ of your organization. So it’s better just not to admit it, or go underground with your comments and slander the individual that way. Feelings however, have a nasty way of leaking and finding outlets. You might find yourself disagreeing with everything the person says, dismantling with flawless logic every idea they have, deviously and subtly pointing out how  they are the barrier to effectiveness but never, ever admit you can’t stand the sight of them.

Guess what. No one really cares if you like everyone on the team or not. As long as the team is effectively meeting its objectives, the seething rage you feel at the sight of your teammate is your problem. Maybe you’ve heard that if the people on a team don’t get along, the team can’t be as effective as it might be. Who can argue with that? It’s obvious and that’s the problem. Too many teams go through elaborate measures to address pretty obvious interpersonal problems and have done very little to understand what task they should be working on. A team whose members hate each other, but nevertheless work on a clear objective will be much more valuable than a team that does group hugs and has no idea what they’re doing. Get your task stuff clear first and then work on the interpersonal stuff. You’ll encounter fewer interpersonal issues if you go about things in this order, since a lot of interpersonal issues are really task or performance issues in disguise.

One exception. On occasion a team will have such problematic interpersonal issues that nothing else can be effectively focused on.  Every time you try to focus on the work issues the interpersonal black hole just sucks that focus into the blackness.  It’s not often that teams get to this point but if they do then you do need to sort out this mess before moving on.

There are really two types of interpersonal issues:

  1. Those based in style or preference.
  2. Those based on weird stuff.

Both require one critical factor to resolve them – all parties must want to resolve them. If this is not the case, not only do you have an interpersonal problem, you have a performance problem; with the person(s) not wanting to resolve it.

In the work world probably 95% of interpersonal issues fall into category 1 and can be effectively addressed without too much trouble. Thank heavens category 2 is only 5% because they are weird enough that it can be a big challenge to deal with, especially if they play out with someone in power.

Category 1 interpersonal issues usually require some version of better understanding the style or preference diversity in a team and how to best work with that diversity. There are countless ways of going about this and in essence the team is learning a new language to understand behavior. Like learning any new language it takes time, application, repetition and context. Often an external resource is helpful, just like with learning any language. A half day workshop won’t do the trick. It might get things started but the team will have to keep it going.

Category 2 issues are complex, often loaded with baggage that is hard to surface and likely harder to resolve. That’s why they are weird. Go get outside help. Your not learning a new language here, an old language is being forgotten and a new one invented.

Keep in mind 95% of interpersonal issues are category 1; don’t assume category 2 until all else has failed, including dealing with the issue as a performance issue.  Also, even when you are dealing with interpersonal issues, don’t take your eye and focus off the task at hand. When it comes right down to it, no one else in the organization cares about the interpersonal issues on your team. They care about the team producing results.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. How have you effectively worked with interpersonal issues on a team?
  2. Have you ever worked on a team where members really didn’t like each other? Tell us the story!
  3. Have you ever seen an interpersonal issue resolved by making it a performance issue?
  4. When interpersonal issues go underground, what things have you done to deal with this?

Reason 8 – Ideas to Try

They Take Months to Make a Decision That Could Have Been Made in Minutes

Some key questions to ask yourself and your team.

Basic, really important ones:

  1. How important is this decision? You might want to use the following scale as a rough guideline.Importance scale
  2. Does the time it is taking to make this decision match the importance of the decision?
  3. How much time do we have to make this decision? Is it an appropriate amount?
  4. Is this a ‘what’ decision, a ‘why’ decision or a ‘how’ decision?

Interesting ones:

  1. How do we keep our objectivity in determining how important a decision really is?
  2. Would we like to be making decisions further to the right of the scale above or not?
  3. Do we have a good balance in using or not using team tools?
  4. Are we using team tools and simply not naming them as such?

Key points of this reason to hate work teams:

  • If no more relevant information concerning an issue is likely to come forward, then make a decision. Don’t wait longer for information that you either won’t get or doesn’t matter.
  • Decisions about ‘how’ to do things are just as important as decisions about ‘what’ to do.
  • Surveys are notorious time wasters. Make sure you REALLY need one before you go to the trouble of using one.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. How have you handled situations when 1 or more people on a team really believe a decision that needs to be made is way more important than the rest of the team does?
  2. Have you ever dealt with a situation when a stakeholder affected by your decisions thinks the decision is way more important than the team does?
  3. How have you either sped up or slowed down decision-making on a team?

Reason 8

20151104_145419They Take Months to Make a Decision That Could Have Been Made in Minutes

This fate awaits any team that is bound and determined to apply every team tool and toy ever invented. Fresh from the latest team training session they brainstorm, fishbone, mindmap, vision, right brain activate, neuroscience themselves, SOP, input/output, listen with sensitivity, scenario plan, survey, prioritize and analyze everything in sight. They read the latest guru’s book on team Zen, rise to higher levels of consciousness and are at one with the universe. Their karma is amazing. All this to decide what soap dispensers to install in the new bathrooms. By the end of it you are ready to pull out your hair and scream for someone, anyone to just make a decision, any decision. Admit it, you’ve been part of this haven’t you? We all have.

The obvious question that is too often missed in the enthusiasm of using new techniques (or imposed techniques) is ‘How important is this decision?’ For the answer, the team needs to:

  • Consider the big picture context of the decision,
  • While at the same time focusing on solutions.

There is a direct, positive correlation to the importance of the decision and the amount of time needed to reach that decision. The more important the decision, the longer the time required, even though many teams do just the opposite. If your team can determine objectively how much time and energy the decision warrants, your decision making process will speed up considerably.

One particularly time consuming activity to be wary of in the decision making process is the survey. Sure, survey’s can be of value but way too often they are poorly done and are more of an excuse to avoid making a decision. Red warning lights should go off as soon as you hear the word survey. Surveys might be valuable to determine what issues are out there but are typically much less valuable in determining what to do about those issues. That’s why we have teams; to figure out what to do about those issues.

Basically teams have two general areas of value.

  1. They often make better decisions than a single individual (especially if you address all these reasons to hate teams!).
  2. They help in the implementation of decisions.

The second point is often of greatest value and this should not be ignored when determining the importance of the team’s decisions. Most teams take far too long figuring out WHAT to do and not nearly enough time figuring out HOW to do it. Interestingly, most of the team tools out there deal with figuring out the WHAT rather than the HOW. But that’s ok, because a lot of the work on the HOW will depend on the team’s environment, context and people, so it’s hard to have a set process for the HOW. It’s up to each team to invent the HOW that best suits their own environment.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. What’s the most overused team tool?
  2. What’s the most effective team tool you have used?
  3. What’s your favorite book on teams (you can include this one!)?
  4. How do you know when you need some tools or when they are being overused?