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What Kind of Team Player Are You?

January 3, 2018


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




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




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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Is Your Team REALLY a Team? Why Instant Pudding Doesn’t Cut It

December 3, 2017




Teamwork is talked about widely in organizations, but often with little understanding of what it means. Management typically wants immediate results—teams that are formed and ready to go overnight–something like an instant pudding.
This post looks at the six basic elements of teams. First, here’s one definition of a team (from Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith):

A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

Think about that definition for a moment. What’s your reaction?

There are two key prerequisites to becoming a team. One is that the group of people involved has a shared, common purpose; the second is interdependence among the members. Without BOTH of these present the group will never become a team. It’s impossible.

It’s essential that the members of a team be committed fully to their common purpose and performance goals. A common purpose takes time to develop, but it gives the team an identity. Remember this: team purpose = team performance. They’re inseparable.

To determine if your group is a team, or has the potential, answer the following questions.

1) How large is your group?
• Is communication frequent?
• Do you meet often, and are discussions constructive?
• Do people understand their roles?

2) Are their sufficient, or potential, skills to achieve your goals?
• Are the three types of skills present: interpersonal, technical, and problem-solving?
• What skills are missing?
• Are people willing to learn new skills and to help one another?

3) Is there a clear and meaningful purpose to which people will strive to reach?
• Is it a team or organizational purpose?
• Does everyone understand it the same way?
• Do people think it’s important and inspiring?

4) Are there specific performance goals that everyone agrees on?
• Are they organizational, team, or the leader’s goals?
• Can they be measured easily?
• Do they allow for small wins along the way?

5) Is there a commonly accepted approach to work?
• Does it maximize the contributions of people?
• Does it allow open interaction among people to solve problems?
• Are new ideas encouraged?

6) Is there mutual accountability among people?
• Is there individual and mutual accountability for the group’s performance and results?
• Are people clear on what they’re accountable for, individually and mutually?
• Is there the view that only the team can fail?

These questions need to be asked and reflected upon to determine whether any elements of teamwork are present in your work setting. Pseudo teams abound in organizations. However, what we’re striving for is a common purpose and interdependency of effort as the key ingredients. The rest will come with dedicated effort.

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision, the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.
— Andrew Carnegie

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Lessons in Teamwork: Winning Despite Trenchfoot, Leeches and Hunger

November 26, 2017

Malaysia 1.jpg

Many years ago, I watched Eco-Challenge 2000 on the Discovery Channel (a show that ran from 1995 to 2002), a fascinating event encompassing teamwork and leadership. This was my first experience watching Eco-Challenge, the highlights of which were broadcast over five evenings. I was skeptical at first about what I would get from this program. However, my interest in outdoor learning and team dynamics drew me to it.

Eco-Challenge was created in 1995, billing itself as the world’s premier expedition race. The first event was held in Utah, with subsequent ones being held in different countries. In 1996, for example, British Columbia hosted the event in Pemberton. Eco-Challenge 2000 was held in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The theme was Malaysia’s wildlife. Of particular significance is the very strong conservation ethic that accompanies Eco-Challenge. For example, participants who do not adhere to the event’s strict environmental rules are forced to withdraw. As the saying goes: Pack it in, pack it out.

The event consisted of a brutal 500 km (300 mile) course involving sailing, hiking, biking, swimming, scuba diving, rappelling, and canoeing in indigenous craft. People from around the world participated, for a total of 76 teams. Canada sent four teams. Each team consisted of four people, with at least two females. For a team to have officially completed the race, it must have remained together throughout. If one member withdrew (e.g., injury), the team was disqualified. This set the stage for a high level of teamwork if all of the members were to succeed. Of the 76 teams, 44 completed the race, but of these some were disqualified for various reasons. However, they were permitted to continue in order that they could experience the course.

The top finishers completed the course in six days. However, many teams took up to 12 days to reach the finish line, the last of which was a 40 kilometre open-sea canoe paddle. Of special note was the decision to allow for the first time what could be called “non-professional” teams to participate. In the past, the participants were individuals who engaged in extreme sports, and who were “ranked” in terms of the likelihood of their winning an Eco-Challenge. Consequently, the mixing of neophyte and experienced teams in this event provided some illuminating contrasts and lessons.

It’s amazing what the human condition can endure in incredibly difficult circumstances. Virtually of the participants suffered from trenchfoot, some horribly. Persistent and aggressive land leeches proved to be one of the most taxing factors contributing to the mental stress of the participants. While physical conditioning and preparation was obviously a critical factor to the success of teams completing the course, perhaps more important was the mental stamina of the participants and how they supported one another.

This leads me to share seven key lessons that I saw emerge from Eco-Challenge. These lessons have direct application to the effective functioning of organizations. Here they are:

Malaysia 2.jpg

1) Park your differences; focus on what needs to be done.
Those teams that ranked in the top few that completed the course in six days refused to argue among themselves, even when the stress became almost overwhelming. They parked their differences and focused on the task at hand. This contrasted with many teams, some that were new to this type of event and others with some experience. In these cases, differences of opinion or viewpoint emerged, along with interpersonal conflicts. This led to these teams wasting time arguing and bickering. For example, at the check points, the high performing teams spent only a few minutes before moving on. However, other teams sometimes spent up to several hours deciding how to proceed.

2) Take time to share in the joy of your experience.
Teams that let themselves get sidetracked through in-fighting not only performed poorly (in some cases dropping out of the race) they also lost the opportunity for sharing the positives of their experience and in learning as a team.

3) Don’t criticize other team members behind their back.
In some cases, shown through one-on-one interviews with the participants as the race unfolded, team members criticized a particular team member. A case in point is Carlo, who constantly whined about his foot blisters (which were actually mild compared to most participants) while one of his team members became very ill for a few days. This led the three other members to ostracize Carlo and speak negatively about him. But it didn’t appear that the three members made a strong effort to bring him into the team and re-orient his behaviour.

These types of incidents contributed to a high level of team disfunctioning and very hard feelings. Whatever joy and team learning that could have occurred was overcome by a high level of negativity. The team members not only had to endure the toughness of the course but also the stress caused by their behaviors.

4) Commit to the team.
Although some teams were disqualified during the race (e.g., getting lost and then found, injury, and illness), many decided to complete it for both personal reasons and commitment to one another. This was the real learning in Eco-Challenge. While it was impressive to see, for example, the team from France finish in the top few, it was the novice teams that most impressed me. They refused to let the many hardships and obstacles they faced diminish their spirit. This meant carrying a team member on one’s shoulders at times because their trenchfoot had become so severe. And what’s remarkable is that these teams were not attempting to rank in the race. Their shared purpose was for the entire team, all four members, to complete the course together, even if it took 12 days.

5) Maintain a sense of humour, even when everything seems lost.
The teams that maintained a sense of humour were able to deal with the adverse conditions they faced. Although they suffered from dehydration, diarrhea, trenchfoot, sprains, hunger, and aggressive leeches, they still managed to laugh. Team members found humour in their situations, cracking jokes. Humour helped them to ease the pressure they felt, which was often overwhelming.

6) Celebrate your wins, however small.
Teams celebrated their small victories along the way, such as reaching the top of a mountain after a gruelling climb, or after making it through white water rapids without capsizing. Celebrating served to create the necessary energy and resolve for the team to tackle the next challenge.

7) Support one another, in both good and bad times.
When a member became ill or was injured, the others on the team supported him or her, both physically (carrying extra gear) or mentally (words of encouragement). Moreover, team members hugged one another when a member was having a particularly bad day. These effective teams did not criticize the sick or injured members. Poorly functioning teams, in contrast, did not provide the necessary support to those members who needed it. The consequence was that it became much more difficult for these teams to regain their spirit, sense of shared purpose, and collective energy.

Of important note was the presence of shared leadership in the well functioning teams. Although each team had a designated leader, leadership was indeed shared at the appropriate times. One case in point was when one of the team leaders, a male in his fifties with many years of experience with Eco-Challenge, was unable to walk due to severe trenchfoot. The team’s members rallied around their leader, sharing the leadership. While the team was eventually forced to withdraw from the race because of the seriousness of the leader’s condition, they persevered until the end.

Leadership in a well functioning team is not a dictatorship. Leadership must be shared. And when placed under pressure it is remarkable from where leadership often emerges from a team’s members.

Malaysia 3

Final Thoughts
The lessons learned from Eco-Challenge have clear applications to organizations: how people learn, collaborate, share leadership, achieve results, and celebrate. The team from France, one of the top finishers in the race, could be called a high performance team (characterized by two key traits: shared common purpose and inter-dependence of effort). The members of this team were focussed through a shared purpose and inter-dependence of effort, two cornerstones of strong teams. They were well organized and prepared, committed to one another, cared for one another, and enjoyed themselves (but intent on winning the race).

For those teams that didn’t enter the race to win but rather to have the experience of pushing themselves to their limits and to share in the joy of completing this odyssey together, Eco-Challenge proved to be the ultimate challenge.

Some questions for team reflection
1. What can we do to bring joy back into the workplace, where laughter and smiles prevail?

2. What can we do to ingrain a deep sense of commitment to one another, not only in the sense of accomplishing our work but also in our learning and the fulfillment of our personal growth and development?

3. Connected to #2 is how do we begin to show a mutual caring for one another, especially in times of stress and crisis (a hallmark of high performing teams)?

4. How do we reestablish what is important in our work, with respect to value-added to citizens, and get off the treadmill of “doing” and move into the realm of “being?” And from there, how does this contribute to our achieving mastery in work-personal life balance?

5. From the above, how can we begin to translate this into team and organizational learning, and subsequently into the creation of new knowledge that is then diffused throughout our organizations?

Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.
— Casey Stengel (Baseball outfielder and New York Yankees coach)

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Are YOU a Passionate Leader? Creating and Inspiring Your Followership

November 19, 2017


In this post, we’ll look at why passion is a key ingredient of a leader’s effectiveness and success. Having a broad repertoire of leadership styles is important if we’re to meet the needs of our followers.

One specific area that’s vital in our personal leadership is organizational “know-how.” This refers to the small “P” politics (how work gets done), a good understanding of the organization, and the big picture of where it’s moving and the key external influences affecting it. However, to achieve a high level of performance as a leader, it’s next to impossible if we don’t have a passion for a cause that relies on the collaborative efforts of people.

When we speak of “walls” that inhibit collaboration, we’re referring typically to the functional silos that separate people–physically and emotionally. At a deeper level, we may even be referring to the unconscious, shared assumptions that contribute to these walls.

But there’s another level to this, and that’s the personal one: what we perceive as the safe and familiar routines with which we’re accustomed. Breaking through our personal barriers to take that leap of faith to openness, inquiry and acceptance will lead to new insights and practices.

To propel an organization forward, it’s not structure and process that are key. Rather, it’s the core values and purpose of the organization. As passionate leaders, our role is to inspire and enrol our co-workers by sharing our passions and visions. What’s most compelling about this is that it has nothing to do with compliance. Instead, people feel part of a cause, but at the same time they are free to choose.

This is an extremely important leadership lesson: the subtle yet distinct shift from compliance to enrolment. But to achieve this requires a very different approach to leadership. Having a burning passion is a prerequisite to instilling a sense of mission among your followers.

Take some time to reflect upon the following questions as you proceed on your own leadership journey:

1) When am I most energized?

2) How could I spend more time in this “state?”

3) How can I infect my followers, superiors and peers with my energy and enthusiasm?

4) When will I take the first step to live my passion?

I have never seen results accomplished without passion. –
- Peter Drucker

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