It’s never too late to reform your team

It’s never too late to reform your team
Article appeared in Corridor Business Journal, May 30 – June 5, 2016

“We just don’t seem to be rowing in the same direction.” “Too many people are putting their own needs ahead of the team.” “No one is communicating openly – there is too much gossip.” “The main thing you hear in our meetings are the crickets.”

Do any these comments seem familiar? Most teams go through some storming on their way to becoming a performing, cohesive unit. Unfortunately, some teams get stuck there and the results are low productivity, poor morale, high turnover, missed opportunities and less than optimal results.
Just like a house needs a solid foundation to withstand the storms that Mother Nature brings, teams need structure to achieve high performance. The first stage of development is forming which is so important and yet often overlooked when launching a team.

There are six important steps in setting a team up for success. As you review each step, give your team a report card grade (A, B, C, D or F) for each. Where your team is average, below average or failing, consider what positive actions you can take. It is never too late to reform a team.

The first step is creating an inspiring purpose that gives the team emotional energy, and it isn’t about money. Why do we exist? What motivates us to be a part of this team and want to perform at our best each and every day? This is especially critical in virtual teams where members are not physically together. A shared purpose keeps everyone aligned and focused on the greater good.

Along with a purpose, teams need shared performance goals. We win and lose as a team. Every member contributes to and owns the goal. There is collective responsibility and mutual accountability. Many working groups call themselves a team. However, all the members have individual goals. It is impossible to be a team without a shared goal – everyone has to have skin in the game.

Second, team members need to commit to a well-defined working approach. Some refer to this as rules of engagement or operating guidelines. Do not let team norms happen on their own. It is critical to discuss, in advance, how the team will communicate with one another. For example, when is email appropriate and when is a phone call a better option? How are we going to handle conflict when there is disagreement among members? What do we need and expect from one another to have productive meetings?

A key activity in establishing team norms is creating core team values. These are the behaviors members agree they cannot live without. Usually less than 10, they clearly identify what is most important to build trust and positive working relationships. Examples include accountability, cooperation, positivity, trust, commitment and openness. Each value must be followed by specific behaviors that can be observed by others in the team. Trust builds when everyone is more trustworthy.

Next, team members need to review roles and responsibilities. What is expect- ed of me? How do I contribute to the team and the bigger picture? What strengths do I bring to the team? How do my duties align with others on or outside the team? Clarity in roles reduces redundancy and increases productivity. Teams also need flexibility to do what is necessary. “It’s not my job” is not in the team’s vocabulary.

Clarifying decision rights and establishing limits is another important team building block. How much authority does the team have to make decisions? What is in bounds or out-of-bounds? Who owns the right to make the decision versus who is providing input or making recommendations only? Miss this and you will have a lot of frustrated team members who feel disempowered.

Lastly, teams need to define how they will measure and celebrate their performance. When it comes to measuring team performance, less is more. Select the process and result metrics that will help the team make good choices in solving problems and taking action. Recognize progress, not just results. Celebrate the behaviors you want to see more of.

If your team is struggling, there is a good chance you have an average or failing grade on any of the above formation steps. Take positive action now to give the team a solid foundation. •