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Rethinking Teams and Teamwork: Getting Over the Guilt Complex

January 21, 2018

Coaching 4

I’m going to confuse you and pull a 180, not to be ornery but rather to question some of the past (and current) wisdom on teams. The past several posts have focused on teams and viewed them through a more or less conventional lens. So hang on, here we go!

Teams, teams, teams! This has become the refrain since the early nineties when the literature on teams and teamwork exploded. Everyone needed to be part of a team, however small the organization. To most people working in organizations, private and public, the reflex is to refer to one’s ‘team’ when discussing co-workers and work issues. What has happened over time is that the use of the word ‘team’ has greatly diluted what teams and teamwork are really about. And along the way, the cult of teamwork has created scepticism and mistrust – and even guilt – among employees.

Before you conclude that I’m anti-teamwork, I want to point out that in addition to having spent many years being part of a variety of teams that I’ve also designed and delivered dozens of team-building workshops. I’m all for teamwork, but I’m even more keen on collaboration, which is a different beast from being part of an intact team.

Therefore, my purpose here is to do something I occasionally like to do: rock the boat a little and challenge the conventional wisdom that has emerged during the past two decades. My ultimate aim is to widen your perspective on what constitutes teamwork, that it’s okay to enjoy working independently, and that ‘teamwork’ in reality encompasses a broad range of ways in which people come together to accomplish specific objectives.

My own experiences in being a part of teams and various assortments of work groups extend back over 35 years when I first entered the job market. When teams became the method of choice for how work should be organized in the early nineties, it was nothing particularly new to me since that was how I had been working for many years in a service branch. But I recall quite clearly the stress that some of my co-workers in other parts of my office underwent.

Light BulbAt the surface my co-workers were all for teams, the message they wished to be heard saying publicly. But one-on-one, their true feelings were expressed candidly. These were people who preferred working independently, and whose jobs really did not demand the rigours of a team setting. And I confess, too, that as much as I enjoyed working with others, especially initiating projects and bringing people together, I also liked working on my own when the right circumstances prevail.

So what am I talking about–working independently in the face of the omnipresent need for teamwork? It’s essential that one understand what teamwork entails before defaulting to the mantra of teams, teams, teams! As much as a long list of writers has enunciated the characteristics and traits of what constitutes teamwork, at its core are two necessary conditions:

1. Shared common purpose for the team,


2. Interdependency of work among the members.

Remember we talked about this at the beginning of my series on teamwork.
Unless both these conditions are present, one cannot have a team. Yes, there are a number of important features of teamwork, including:

• Size of the team,

• Effective communication,

• Performance goals,

• Respect for one another,

• Mutual accountability,

• Celebrating successes

• Socializing and having fun.

As organizations continue to evolve as a consequence of socio-economic changes, technology, demographics, global markets, virtual distributed work, etc., so too must their internal structures change. Work still needs to get done, regardless of external and internal changes, and sometimes this is by using formal (intact) teams or some other forms of bringing people together.

Most of us have probably been part of working groups at some point in our careers. I spent a significant amount of time working in this manner. They can be very effective at addressing specific problems and issues with prescribed time durations. However, it’s important to remember that working groups exist to share information, delegate tasks and make decisions. The members of the working group take responsibility for their own results. The focus, therefore, is on individual performance. Consequently, the output of the working group is the sum of the individual members’ contributions. The so-called synergistic effect of teamwork doesn’t take hold in this setting.

When it’s necessary to form a team because the conditions call for this type of work arrangement, the challenge to create effective teamwork can be quite daunting. It’s important, therefore, to understand that teams typically go through four main stages (as we discussed earlier in this series):

1. Forming
: This occurs when people are first brought together to form a team. They begin to get to know one another and set out to establish the appropriate rules and behaviours that will govern the team. The members look to the team leader for direction. Interactions among the members are somewhat formal and polite during this phase.

2. Storming: The members are getting comfortable with one another. They start disagreeing and challenging each other. If this stage is missed, the team won’t be as strong because it hasn’t yet learned how to deal with conflict.

3. Norming: The members know each other and have developed rules of conduct. They want the team to be successful. Trust is being established, and the members are having fun.

4. Performing
: In this final stage, the team has a clear, common purpose and direction. The members appreciate their diversity and are building on it. Synergy is taking hold.

Conflict 2

The length to which a team remains at a certain stage varies, depending on the ability of the members to address and resolve issues and to move forward. But the members must work on developing a clear purpose, goals and common approach. They must also agree on mutual accountability.

Given the amount of time, effort and nurturing that the creation of a truly effective team requires, it’s not surprising when you hear cynical comments about teams. Publicly in organizations employees will say what management wants to hear. However, with co-workers in private another conversation is being held.

One expert on teams who rocks the boat is J. Richard Hackman, who has been consulted by numerous organizations over the years on work design, leadership development, and team and group performance. His research runs counter to the popular press, finding that work teams are found clustered at both ends of the organizational effectiveness continuum. While some teams succeed well, others flounder. Underlying this is how management approaches work group design.
Here are some key points to retain for consideration when thinking about forming teams.

First, management should not push teamwork when certain tasks can be done more effectively by individuals. One good example is preparing reports, which Hackman suggests is better done by one person on behalf of the group. My experience in report writing is aligned with this view. Trying to employ a team to write a report is both inefficient and frustrating (if not ludicrous), with the result being an inferior product.

A second example, but in the area of executive leadership, is the creation of mission and vision statements. While a democratic approach may appear appropriate, creating a vision statement with a team of managers can be hugely time consuming. I’ve been there, done that, and finally learned that having the CEO, president or the principal leader of the organization write a draft of a vision is much preferred. After all, that’s why these people are paid the big bucks!

Second, when a group of employees needs to be brought together to address an organizational issue, it’s important to define it for what it is (e.g., working group, planning committee) and manage it accordingly. If teamwork is required (remember the two features of interdependency and shared purpose), then management needs to ensure that the necessary resources are available to help the team develop.

Third, when teamwork is determined as the appropriate route the level of authority for the team must be decided. And tied tightly to this are participative management and clearly defined objectives and timeframes. During my working career in the public and private sectors, I saw teams flounder or go off the rails because management didn’t clearly express its expectations at the outset. In the face of uncertainty and weak managerial oversight teams run the risk of going renegade, producing unnecessary grief for everyone.

Fourth, depending on the maturity of the team and its members (i.e., past experience) the structure supporting it will need varying attention. For example, what should be the size of the team? What are the training needs? Are special physical resources required, as well as budgets? How is leadership within the team to be shared? And how should team learning and knowledge generation be managed?

Fifth, few writers on teamwork address the interdependency among teams. This is a critical aspect of using teams within organizations, but one that is often overlooked. And the issue gains even more significance when self-directed teams are used. Some of my past work in delivering team-building workshops included self-directed teams.

Without adequate managerial oversight, the danger exists of teams forming their own exclusive walls around themselves, driven by such motives as unique identity and controlling information. When this occurs teamwork at the organizational level begins to break down. Product and service may suffer as the guiding light of organizational mission and vision becomes dimmer in the eyes of employees.

Black Woman

The relationship between managerial leadership and the leadership practiced by individuals and within teams, as well as with other assortments of employee groupings, is constantly in flux and being challenged. In effect, there’s a necessary tension between the two. This keeps organizations in the state of constantly learning and evolving. In the absence of this creativity and innovation will suffer, with the consequence being the onset of organizational sclerosis. In a globalized economy characterized by market turbulence and rapidly changing technology, compounded by the entrance of emerging economies, organizations have increasingly narrow windows within which to make corrections.

As organizations in the public and private sectors adapt to the pressures and dynamics of globalization and technological change, one key aspect will be how they approach work design. When teams are determined to be the most effective way to accomplish certain objectives, they will increasingly be virtual in nature. The use of telework, while being applied currently with varied success in the workforce, will add new challenges for managers. And of particular significance is the growing use of contingent workers who have no specific affinity for organizations: they move in and out based on organizational needs.

Finally, a rapidly emerging issue that is shaking up organizations is Generation Y (also referred to as Millennials, from age 19 to 36). Gen Y is especially technologically savvy and possesses a high level of self-confidence. Their approach to work is more fluid, much less hierarchical and virtual-oriented through the use of technology. A major challenge for those in senior managerial positions will be how to organize work efficiently. Teamwork will undoubtedly continue to be an integral part of how organizations function, but the conventional assumption of what constitutes teamwork will increasingly be challenged.

My suggestion to those who are feeling stressed or threatened as a result of the turbulence we’re witnessing in organizations is to follow these simple words: “Be open to outcome, not attached to it.” Maintaining an open mind will enable you to see the opportunities that are resident in change and to adapt much faster and more easily.

To wrap up, I apologize if I’ve caused you any undue frustration or stress in presenting some opposing views to teamwork, after taking you through this series. But with that said, there’s no one right or clear answer to the many inter-connected challenges facing us. What you’ve read over the past several weeks are the views of just one human being, who’s still trying to figure it all out at age 62. Keep learning and, especially, an open mind.

To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a great step to knowledge.
— Benjamin Disraeli


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Turning People On to Teamwork

January 14, 2018

 

 

Flood Teamwork.jpg

My recent posts explored what it means to be a team, the five levels of teamwork, how to build performance, the four major team player types, and the four stages of team development.

It’s important that leaders set the proper context—the atmosphere—for teamwork. Remember, teamwork is not an end to itself. It’s built around the need to accomplish something. A common purpose, mutual accountability, interdependence of effort, and trust serve as the foundation to building a strong team.

In building a strong team, it’s vital in the early stage that people learn about themselves. They need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and what they need to do to respond to the latter. They must develop their own personal visions of what they want to achieve in their lives and how they’re going to realize this. And a key component of this is people taking responsibility for their personal growth and development. This is achieved best by adopting a lifelong learning philosophy, one in which the team member strives to continually improve himself or herself.

Following this approach will enable a team’s members to transcend to team learning. In essence, this is not just about sharing information. More importantly, it’s about the existing boundaries among team members. Interpersonal learning takes place when the members must depend on one another for their own rewards. Of course, this raises such issues as resolving conflict effectively, solving problems collaboratively, and running productive meetings.

Turning people on to teamwork means creating those conditions that allow people to meet their personal needs by performing the work themselves. Instead of motivation, what drives people forward is commitment, in which their energy is directed towards a goal. To build commitment is less a matter of changing the person as it is creating the right conditions.

The team leader requires special skills if he or she is to be successful in fostering team learning and in setting boundaries for the team. These essential skills include: leading the team towards creating a common vision and team goals, communicating clearly and concisely, running productive meetings, and solving problems quickly, as well as anticipating them.

Army Girls.jpg

A great deal has been written on leadership, to the point where it is used loosely without a clear understanding. The distinction between a leader and a manager can be explained this way: One is given management responsibilities–power and control over people and things. Leadership, on the other hand, must be earned.

In a team setting, this requirement to earn the privilege of being the team leader cannot be overstated. The leader’s purpose is to inspire and mobilize the team to higher levels of performance. The leader achieves this by enabling the team’s members. And this can only be done if the leader gives up control. This is one of the most difficult challenges many managers will experience in their careers. Yet it’s essential if the members of a team are to assume greater responsibility and ownership for their work.

Abraham Maslow made this poignant comment on control and authority, and one that should be heeded by aspiring leaders: “When the only tool I have is a hammer, I tend to treat everyone like a nail.”

Don’t forget that an effective team isn’t just concerned with getting work done but also with how it gets done. Process (how decisions are made) is critical. Strong teams with solid leaders don’t compromise or vote. They operate by consensus, guided by their common vision and purpose.

In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly.
— Mark Sanborn


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The Four Stages of Team Development

January 7, 2018

Gears.jpg

Today, we’ll look at the four stages of team development and incorporate the four team player styles that were presented earlier. (Reading team player styles is helpful to understanding this post.)

1. Forming
: This occurs when people are first brought together to form a team. They begin to get to know one another and set out to establish the appropriate rules and behaviours that will govern the team. The members look to the team leader for direction. Interactions among the members are somewhat formal and polite during this phase.

During forming, the Doer wants to know where he fits in and his specific role. He can be helpful by being a catalyst to action and getting the team to move ahead. The Visionary helps by encouraging the members to share their visions and to set goals. The Feeler wants to be accepted by the others and to help people to get to know one another. Moreover, she wants the team to understand its diversity. The Boat Rocker wants openness and the team to have a clear purpose and direction.

2. Storming: 
The members are getting comfortable with one another. They start disagreeing and challenging each other. If this stage is missed, the team won’t be as strong because it hasn’t yet learned how to deal with conflict.

The Doer is getting impatient because he wants results. He can help the team by urging it to move ahead. The Visionary worries that the team is getting distracted from its goals. She can assist by promoting the common good and being open to ideas. The Feeler functions best during this stage. He wants to help his teammates be productive by using effective listening skills. And the Boat Rocker thrives here because it involves high energy. She can help by showing the proper way to challenge people and when to put an issue to rest.

3. Norming: 
The members know each other and have developed rules of conduct. They want the team to be successful. Trust is being established, and the members are having fun.

The Doer in this stage is excited because the team is getting down to real work. He plays a key role here. He can help the leader set standards (e.g., quality) and promote accountability and the effective use of resources. The Visionary wants to be reassured that the team is moving towards its goal. She may be concerned with camaraderie. The Feeler is happy that the team has reached this stage, but wonders if all the baggage has been discarded. He encourages the team to do some reflection. And the Boat Rocker becomes concerned that members are getting complacent and not challenging one another.

4. Performing: 
In this final stage, the team has a clear, common purpose and direction. The members appreciate their diversity and are building on it. Synergy is taking hold.

The Doer is worried about the team not being aware of external changes. He can be a catalyst to setting new standards. The Visionary becomes bored and wants the team to seek out new challenges. She can help by encouraging the generation of new ideas. The Feeler is happy with the team’s progress and wants to celebrate. However, he’s concerned with the potential for regression. He can help by encouraging the team to celebrate and to air problems. The Boat Rocker thinks that the members are not challenging each other enough. She can help the leader by raising external changes that may affect the team.

What’s important to remember is that a team will typically move back and forth between certain stages as it develops. This is normal and should be expected.

Here are two questions for you to think about: what stage is your team at, and what role are YOU playing in helping it move forward?

A boat doesn’t go forward if each one is rowing their own way.
— Swahili Proverb


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What Kind of Team Player Are You?

January 3, 2018

Teamwork

In my last post I talked about building team performance. Today, we look at what kind of team player you are.

An effective team needs diversity in its membership, a combination of work and personality styles. The following four team player styles are not intended to be absolutes but rather preferences that people have towards how they work with others. Each style has a brief description of its strengths and weaknesses.

1. The Doer is very task-oriented and action-focused. Give him a job and he’s happy. The Doer is good at research, reliable, meets deadlines, and produces good quality work. He operates by priorities and pushes the team towards higher performance. He can be effective at teaching technical skills.

The Doer dislikes uncertainty and ambiguity; is impatient; wants results immediately; can be too focused on data; is impulsive; strives for perfection; and tends to avoid risk. If the Doer is the leader, he must be must be especially careful of these weaknesses. One major problem can be a lack of trust in the team’s members. Moreover, he must be aware of others’ feelings and work at interpersonal and communication skills.

2. The Visionary sees the big picture and likes ideas and concepts. She lets the team’s vision and mission be the driver. She doesn’t like getting bogged down in details, leaving these to the Doer. She believes strongly in teamwork and is good at helping others understand where they fit in to the larger picture.

The Visionary is a creative thinker and stimulates others in thinking about the future. She takes a cooperative and flexible approach to working with others. However, she must pay attention to her weaknesses. She has a tendency to ignore work in favour of conceptualizing and dreaming about the future. She can get hung up on process instead of results. And she may over-commit the team to setting too many objectives

If she’s the leader, the Visionary has a lot to offer the team, especially in the area of long-term strategic thinking. But she must be aware of her weaknesses.

3. The Feeler is a very strong context person, making sure that everyone is on board before proceeding with a task or project. He’s very aware of how others feel and is an excellent listener and facilitator. He’s skilled at resolving conflicts and won’t let stronger members dominate team discussions.

The Feeler must be careful not to push the soft stuff too hard (i.e., listening and feedback skills) if the team gets bogged down. He believes that interpersonal skills will solve all problems. And he can become a process fanatic, driving the others to distraction.

If he is the leader, the Feeler creates a participative atmosphere. But his people approach can be over- bearing and he must not lose sight that disputes are normal and healthy for teams.

4. The Boat Rocker is open and direct with the other members of the team. She regularly challenges the team on such issues as methods used, goals, and team values. She won’t hesitate to disagree with the team’s leader or with management. She likes to take calculated risks. However, the Boat Rocker must be careful not to use her style for non-productive use. It’s necessary at times to let an issue drop. Moreover, she shouldn’t push the team to take unnecessary risks.

As the team’s leader, she’s good at promoting an atmosphere of trust and openness; innovation; and continuous learning. However, she needs to watch out for being too argumentative.

The Challenge
Each of us has a personality preference to how we approach work, establish relationships with co-workers, and engage in collaborative learning. In the context of team players, the challenge is for each of us to understand our preferred style and to use it effectively. This means being constantly aware of the shadow (weak) aspects of our preferred style. Moreover, we must strive for balance by using all four styles in the appropriate settings.

Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.
— Stephen Covey


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On the Count of Three, Throw Out Your New Year’s Resolution—Go GLOCO!

December 27, 2017

 

 

Resolutions.jpg

I can’t recall ever making a New Year’s resolution. It’s not because I don’t have good follow-through to making promises–in fact I do. But New Year’s resolutions seem so contrived, doomed to failure as reality sets in, as unforeseen events hit us out of no-where, or as we change our priorities.

Resolutions are actually dangerous. They’re typically off-the-cuff promises that are made to make us feel better, to conform to our friends who make similar promises, or to get the monkey off our backs for the time-being.

With that said what can each of us do in 2018, which is less a shallow resolution and more a deep conviction, is to examine how we lead our lives. Just open the newspaper or turn on the TV to learn about the carnage in Syria, the absence of human rights in China, or the desperate poverty in Africa. We have much less control, if any, of these events than we do of how we lead our own lives.

There’s an expression a facilitator shared with me many years ago, and which I’ve run into a few
 times since: GLOCO–Think Global, Act Local.

It’s easy to become frustrated and angry when we read about horrors in far-away places. Sure,
 there are Americans and Canadians who decide to make an impact by travelling to these areas to help. But there are things we can do at home that help in small ways and which, when aggregated through millions of small acts, produce large-scale change.

Here’s what I can offer for thought and reflection as you enter 2018, a set of six GLOCO principles.

1) Lead your life with integrity–align your words with your actions.

2) Be a promise-keeper. If you don’t want to do something, just say No.

3) Lend a helping hand–even if it’s assisting an elderly person across the street.

4) Treat people as how you like to be treated–with respect!

5) Fill an empty space…and leave a positive mark.

6) We’re on Planet Earth for a nano-second of time–look after Her.

Take a moment to share your own GLOCO principles.

I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’.
—Henry Spencer Moore (English sculptor, 1898-1986)


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How Do You Build Team Performance? (Very Carefully)

December 17, 2017

 

Team Meet

In my last post, I talked about The Five Levels of Teams: Where Are You on the Team Curve? We’ll now move into the really challenging part of creating teamwork. Are you ready?

There’s no ideal approach to building a team. A team must learn as it’s developing a preferred approach to how it will function in getting the work done. What’s important to remember is that performance is at the core of building a strong team. Performance serves, in effect, as the compass to moving a team up the performance curve.

Here’s an eight point framework for moving a team up the performance curve (adapted from Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith, (The Wisdom of Teams).

1. Create a sense of urgency
Everyone on the team must believe that the team has urgent and worthwhile purposes. The greater the urgency and purpose, the more likely that a real team will emerge.

2. Select members by skills, not by personalities
Effective teams need complementary skills. The three broad types of skills are: technical, problem-solving, and interpersonal.
What’s critical for the potential team is to achieve the right balance in skills. But it’s not necessary for members to have all the technical skills immediately. Instead, the key is to have the needed skills at the team’s start-up and the ability for members to acquire additional skills later on. Key skills that should be learned at the start-up include interpersonal, problem-solving, and team skills.

3. Give sufficient time to initial meetings
This is a vital time in a team’s development. The first few meetings involve members getting to know one another. Assumptions are either confirmed or destroyed. Members watch the leader to determine if his or her actions are consistent with what is said. Is the leader control-oriented or flexible? Is the leader sensitive to how members react to his or her style? Can the leader change behaviour?

4. Establish rules of behaviour
A real team has a set of rules to guide it—call it a code of conduct. Without rules, it’s impossible for a group or potential team to transcend to a real team. At the early stage, rules include: attendance, confidentiality, open discussion, constructive disagreement, and fair workload. These rules encourage participation, openness, commitment, and trust.

5. Set some short-term goals
Doing this helps create some momentum to propel the team forward. It ensures that the goals are reasonable and can be reached fairly and quickly. And it acts as a great motivator.

6. Shake them up with new information
This is especially important for intact teams because they tend to block out new information. An example is a management team that’s given new information on employee attitudes and perceptions from a survey. The team reacts in surprise. Giving a team new information serves as a catalyst to the members to help them refocus on the team’s performance. It’s also dangerous for members to assume that they hold all the necessary information collectively.

7. Interact at work and outside
A team must not just spend a lot of time together at work but also time together outside of work. This is especially important during its early stage of development. Members need to have fun, both at work and outside. This promotes a bonding element. Potential teams are weakest here and must make conscious efforts to include socializing.

8. Recognize team performance
Achieving a high level of performance is a team’s ultimate reward. But before that’s reached, it’s vital to recognize the team for its progress and achievements. Doing this keeps the team’s members focused and motivated.

Take a moment to share your experiences on how you’ve built team performance.
If I could solve all the problems myself, I would.
—Thomas Edison


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The Five Levels of Teams: Where Are You on the Team Performance Curve?

December 10, 2017

 

 

Soldiers

In the previous post we looked at the six basic elements of what constitutes a team, and specifically the two key ingredients of teamwork: a common purpose and interdependency of effort.

Now we’ll move into understanding the five levels of teams. Using the questions posed in the first post will help a group determine if it’s a team or has the potential to become one. The next step is to understand the degree of teamwork to which a group of people can aspire.

The five levels of teamwork can be plotted on an X-Y axis to form what Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith call the team performance curve. It’s essentially a J-shaped curve, starting on the Y (vertical) axis, then sloping down to touch the X (horizontal) axis, and then bending back upwards to the right. The five levels of teams are located along the curve.

1) The Working Group

The members interact mainly to share information and best practices and to make decisions. There are no common purpose or performance goals that require mutual accountability. The purpose of this group is only to specify the roles of its members and to delegate tasks.
Its members only take responsibility for their own results. Therefore, the focus is on individual performance. The key here is there is no significant, incremental performance need or opportunity that requires the group to become a team. Working groups are found throughout organizations, whether in business or government.

2) Pseudo Team

There’s a potential for significant, incremental gain here. The team has not, however, focused on collective performance. The members don’t want to take the risks necessary to become a potential team. They are not interested in creating a common purpose or setting performance goals.
The pseudo team resides at the bottom of the performance curve and is the weakest of the five levels. What is especially dangerous about the pseudo team is that the members believe that they are a real team, yet they produce inferior results.

3) The Potential Team

There is a significant, incremental gain in performance with this type of team. The members are working hard to achieve a higher level of performance. However, the members must work on developing a clear purpose, goals, and common approach. The members must also agree on mutual accountability. This form of teamwork is very common in organizations. This is also where the greatest gain in performance comes, from being a potential team to a real team.

4) The Real Team

This consists of a small group of people who share a common purpose, goals, and approach to work. The members have complementary skills. They hold themselves mutually accountable for their results. The performance impact and results of the real team are much greater than the potential team and working group.

5) The High Performance Team

This has all the characteristics of a real team, but the members are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and development. They far out-perform all other teams. An excellent example are special ops teams, such was the one shown in the above photo.

The members of a high performance team form powerful relationships. Moving from a real team to a high performance team requires a very strong personal commitment. In effect, what’s needed is a leap of faith.

So where does your team sit on the team performance curve?

Navy SEALS say when you’re under pressure you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. Train well.
—Jon Gordon (Leadership author and speaker)


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