Ever watched a really brilliant idea meet with resistance
and die? Or been involved in the battle of wills created
when two people (or two departments) meet head on with their
independent agendas? Equally painful perhaps, have you ever
sat through one tireless and non-productive meeting after
the next? Believe it or not these issues are simply
different sides of the same coin. Getting the right people
talking together effectively and generating desirable
outcomes is what high performance teamwork is all about. And
it doesn't just happen. Think creatively about how to
empower teams and reap the rich benefits of people's
"Dilbert, Put together a team to decide who'll be on the
strategy council," his boss tells him. "You want me to form
a committee to create a committee that will produce a
document that will be ignored?" Dilbert responds. "No, it's
a team to create a council," his boss tries to clarify. But
one of Dilbert's colleagues knowingly jumps in to ask, "Can
I be on the team that ignores the document?" Ah, the team
experience: there's nothing quite like it!
Words of wit and wisdom often remind us that if we want something to die, send it to committee. Yet, if so many have endured the insanity of the process and the frustration of the outcome, why do we continue creating teams? After all, the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over expecting different results.
I would contend that we continue to create teams for two very rock solid reasons. First, people only support what they help to create. If they're not involved in the process it doesn't matter how brilliant the strategy or product, it's doomed to fail--or at very least gasp and struggle to survive amid a sea of resistance.
Secondly, processes and goods that are created without the
benefit of all stakeholders' perspectives will almost always
lack some genuinely needed shaping. For those involved,
whatever is produced may appear flawless, but that's only
because they lack the vantage point of the missing team
players--and they don't know what they don't know. The
bottom line? Active participation and diverse opinions are
important ingredients in both the development and the
implementation of nearly anything that is going to be more
immediately successful--and at some level we all know this.
Unfortunately, for all of their value, we still struggle to
figure out how to get the buy-in and collaborative wisdom
we're seeking. Our dilemma is so great that involvement with
teams has led many to adopt the mantras of our day: "I'd
rather do it myself!" and "Not another stupid, meaningless
meeting!" So how do we reap the benefits we know are there
without making ourselves crazy in the process?
Contrary to the popular teachings of the day, and perhaps even
counter-intuitively, my observations and involvement with
teams have taught me that a team's effectiveness comes from
an appropriate dose of "I"--creating the space and
invitation for individual voices and perspectives to be
heard and explored. I emphasize the word "appropriate"
because, as any chef will tell you, too much or too little
of a key ingredient will always spoil or alter the intended
outcome. Consider the swing of the pendulum to an extreme in
either direction. Too much "I" results in endless battles of
ego, an exhausting process that produces inferior or no
Yet those who adhere to the admonition that "there
is no 'I' in team" are beginning to recognize that without
strong, creative, divergent, and independent voices
(especially early in the process), meetings are
frustratingly fruitless. Striking that all-important middle
ground is imperative to success. Strong teams begin with
strong membership and build from there. Managing these
strong teams requires deliberate preparation and excellent
How do you create a high performance team?
Start with a clear and compelling purpose ? A powerful mission is more than a goal. It is the broader sense of purpose that supplies meaning and the emotional energy people need to
make their involvement on a team a priority.
Establish specific goals (collectively when possible) ? To maintain ongoing energy the team will need to be able to track their progress. Well-stated goals invite members to focus their efforts, provide leverage for actionable strategy, and serve as mile markers that clearly communicate that the valuable time they are investing in the process is producing a
Ensure that team members feel like vital participants ? Telling people that they are important to the process isn't enough. Get the right people gathered for the task and then be attentive to inviting every voice forth. Members must feel heard and see their ideas contributing to the end product/s produced.
Have effective facilitation and shared agreements about process ? Effective teams need effective facilitation. Whether that role is assigned to a team leader, is undertaken by a company executive, or is contracted to a professional facilitator, the entire team needs to make some decisions about how meetings will be conducted and decisions made. The facilitator must then be able to orchestrate the many voices accordingly--managing but not getting enmeshed in the process.
Encourage different points of view ? In order for each voice to be vital, it must also be unique. Rather than getting frustrated by differences or simply tolerating them, high performance teams count on them. When the various ideas emerge, each is explored fully before it is compared or disregarded. The group seeks synergy, a higher level of idea formulation,
without resorting needlessly to the diminished returns that
compromises often reflect.
Acknowledge conflict and resolve it within the group ? Dynamic tension is a wonderful catalyst for brilliant ideas. Exceptional teams create space for keeping dissenting views or intense feelings within the group process. When there is "an elephant" in the room, the group talks about it and makes decisions about what to do with it.
Supportively confront members when necessary ? As
people with very distinct perspectives or different roles
within an organization come together, teams of excellence
ensure that there is no tolerance for finger pointing,
inflammatory accusations, or the shirking of responsibility.
With the support of the facilitator, constructive probing
and clean, direct communication ensure that all issues are
addressed thoroughly and respectfully.
Manage time well (with some allotted for laughter!) ? Start and stop meetings on time. At the beginning of each meeting be clear about what is to be accomplished and manage the flow accordingly--always with an appreciation that some of a team's best work often emerges after a good laugh! Before
dispersing, summarize what has been accomplished, clarify
with members the tasks each has agreed to undertake
following the meeting, and establish what happens next for
Expect an outcome without controlling the outcome
? Although a team's purpose and goals provide direction,
specific outcomes must not be prescribed. It is one thing to
develop a cross functional team with the intent of creating
a seamlessness between departments, but in the design stages
it is important that no assumptions be made about exactly
how the team will achieve that goal. High performance teams
are about an unleashing of creativity. Honoring and acting
upon that creativity is the fuel needed to ensure ongoing
productivity and commitment to the process.
High performance teams are high-energy, collaborative process
groups. Never could they be mistaken for informational
meetings or as groups waiting for their marching orders!
They are the playground and work center for capable people
with strong, respectful voices who understand and appreciate
the power of aligning diverse perspectives. When designed
and facilitated effectively, there is no need for hype or
outside motivation, the team process is intrinsically
rewarding for all members and the results produced are far
superior to what any one individual could possibly generate.
Susan J. Schutz founded Highest Vision in 1999. Highest Vision services ? executive coaching, leadership development, and team building -- reflect her deep conviction that professionals can be attentive to their "bottom lines" while also creating lives worth living and businesses that contribute to the good of all. For a free subscription to VantagePoint, Highest Vision's free E-zine for trailblazers in life and business, go to http://www.highest-vision.com.