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How do I get my team to go from Good to Great?

March 12, 2010 by Jonathan Gilburg

Why would any team make the effort to go from good to great? What is the motivation?What will sustain and drive the team members to higher levels of performance with each other? Once this question is answered it is easier to explain and understand how a team might go about elevating its performance.

Let's look at sports teams for understanding:great teams know what their greatness is for to win a championship. This sense of shared purpose provides the motivation to do all the practices, drills, meetings, and all the other small disciplines that elevate performance and lead to greatness. The pay-off is unknown and in the future, but enough of the individuals on the team believe in the possibility of success to maintain their investment and commitment to the team disciplines. And greatness is ultimately the result of adherence to routine, focused disciplines.

The same formula needs to be applied to non-sports related teams.The team must discover what their greatness is for: what is their highest, most virtuous and important purpose as a team? What possible future outcome/success (e.g. championship) will provide the motivation and sustenance to members to embrace and endure routine disciplined behaviors aimed at being great (e.g. practices, drills, meetings). This work is not easy, because more often than not, the vision of success, purpose, etc. is not shared or understood by all team members, therefore their commitment and adherence to disciplined behavior is inconsistent at best.

The following process is how we would approach this work.

1. Identify the Team's Shared Purpose

  • Ask individuals to share their perspective by answering a question like: What do I think this team's highest, most virtuous and important purpose is and why is that important to me?After all have shared their perspective, note where there is common language by asking, "What was common or shared about our responses?"
  • After all have shared their perspective, note where there is common language by asking, "What was common or shared about our responses?"
  • Record the common themes: they are the reminder about why our investment is important

2. Identify and Prioritize Relevant Team Behaviors (20 minutes)

  • The thematic question around this part of the process is, "What team behaviors will support us in realizing our highest, most virtuous and important purpose?"
  • Ask the group to decide which behavior they want to work on
    • Consider prioritized list after voting, and look for "easier", more attainable behavior that will create early wins for the group
    • Seek consensus (everyone is willing to work on this particular behavior to start with)
  • Brainstorm a list all the possible behaviors that might elevate team performance
    • Brainstorming guidelines: all ideas get recorded, not a time for debate or consensus
    • Capture all ideas on a flipchart
    • After all have shared to completion, look for overlapping comments and create one complete list that is devoid of overlap
  • Prioritize the "complete" list
    • Look at your "complete" list and count the number of items up there. Divide that number in half and add 1 (e.g. if there are 20 items, you should get to 11, if 17 you should get to 9)
    • This number represents the number of votes each team member gets to cast (you can use sticky dots or just give everyone a marker to make a check with)
    • Ask each person to vote on the behaviors they think are most valuable and beneficial to team performance.
    • Encourage folks to vote based on value not preference: E.g. I know feedback is valuable, but my preference is not to do it
    • They can distribute their votes however they like: all 11 on one item, one vote each on 11 different items, etc.
    • After votes have been cast, you will have a subjective team priority of what behaviors will be most beneficial to team performance

3. Create an Agreement Around 1 or 2 Behaviors

  • Have the group consider what success with this behavior looks and feels like how adherence to it improves team performance. Example of behavior: speaking directly to someone with whom I have frustration, concern, or anger, etc.
    • What does success look like with this behavior? E.g. team members are dealing with the little frustrations routinely and not letting them build up or boil over. Trust is increased not decreased because of our transparency and honesty with one another
    • How will adherence to this behavior by all team members improve our performance? E.g. folks are more present and engaged with one another, bringing their best thinking and contributing more fully. Our work product is more complete and thorough
      • Allow each person to speak and then let the conversation flow as long as it is productive
      • Capture highlights of the conversation on a flipchart so it can be referenced in the agreements segment
  • Ask individuals to talk about resistance, obstacles, challenges:
    • What about this behavior seems hard, challenging, etc.? E.g. not enough time, limited face-to-face opportunities
    • Why might I be unwilling/unable/hesitant to do this? E.g. I don't want to ruin our relationship
      • Allow each person to speak and then let the conversation flow as long as it is productive
      • Capture highlights of the conversation on a flipchart so it can be referenced in the agreements segment
  • Have the group consider what mitigating actions, ground rules, or support (training, professional facilitation, etc.) might help individuals in overcoming the obstacles listed above.
    • What can the team/individuals do to mitigate these challenges? E.g. utilize a communication tool or process that limits the likelihood of upset feelings
    • What is needed by me or others to overcome this resistance? E.g. a sub-agreement about claiming ownership of hurt feelings, etc. as my own issue, of my own making, rather than being the fault of someone else
      • Again allow each person to speak and then let the conversation flow if productive
      • Capture highlights
  • Craft an agreement that incorporates the best thinking about getting what you want (the behavior) and mitigates the resistance/obstacles
    • An agreement is:
      • Behaviorally specific:
        • E.g. I will only speak to team members directly face-to-face to share frustrations, concerns, etc. about anything that is troubling me that involves that person. I will use the communication wheel to plan and deliver my message (behaviors that can be measured)
  • Clear about who is responsible for what and by when:
    • E.g. If I am aware of my frustration with you, I will raise the issue with you within 24 hours of my becoming aware (responsibility is on the person who is aware of the issue, not on the other person, and there is a reasonable time frame attached to taking action)
  • Written down and agreed to by all parties:
    • Everyone is willing to live with, support, and/or demonstrate this behavior
  • Create a plan for accountability: team decides how and when it will evaluate the team's adherence to this agreement and what to do about infidelity to the plan
    • What do I do if I become aware of another team member (or myself) who is not following the agreement? This is where you create a sub-agreement about how to call folks on their adherence to an agreement
      • Since there are likely going to be slips and mishaps as we take on new behaviors, this is where we recommend a lighter touch: a reminder, a conversation, etc. vs. a heavy handed punishment
  • "When and how do we, as a team, want to evaluate our adherence to this agreement and its effect on our performance?"
    • At the next retreat, ask the question, how are we doing? What is the result?
    • Celebrate and/or course correct as needed

A starter list of high performing team behaviors

Accountability: improving how the team makes agreements, decisions, action plans, etc. and how they follow up with each other about the status

Team Feedback: giving and receiving performance feedback to one another: e.g. sharing with individuals what you think they are doing well that is supportive of you or the team and areas they could improve

Engagement/team process feedback: small disciplines that allow the team to routinely assess how the team is performing: the quality of the their process, engagement, meetings, etc.

Speaking the ground truth: even if the current reality is bleak, uncomfortable or filled with conflict, teams agree that the current reality is the only reality where there is power to act and change things

Exploration before problem solving: ask clarifying questions before jumping into problem solving

Learn together: Read articles, share ideas about leadership, conservation, etc. Bring articles/ideas back to teams to create a learning culture

Uncover assumptions about self, team and Organization: our beliefs or assumptions guide how we perceive the world and interact with it. Making those (usually) unconscious assumptions conscious gives us a chance to assess their validity. Common assumptions that undermine success are: either/or mentality instead of both/and. In addition, some beliefs are connected to fears that might inhibit our best creative thinking. For example, believing that budget cuts will lead to lay offs might be true but it also might be true that budget cuts are an opportunity to prioritize goals and fine tune delivery.

Dream Big: make sure that your team not only has yearly goals but big outstanding goals. The worst thing to happen is to aim low and resoundingly achieve it.

Encourage skunk works and pilots: Figure out how to draw forth ideas and even allow small projects to be implemented. Learn from them, take what works and keep the risk low.