7 ways to fix your team


If you shine a light on any team you will notice some areas where processes, communication or collaboration can be better. In many cases a team can function well enough even with a few improvement opportunities. Want to do a snapshot checkup on your team? The downloadable tool below can help you identify any specific areas to focus on if you feel your team performance can use a nudge in the right direction.

When teams fail it is usually recognized as a combination of the team not reaching desired outcomes, team members feeling a high level of dissatisfaction and frustration with team processes and other team members and team leaders failing to accomplish their own goals for the team and for their own career growth.

The 7 aspects of teams shown below are classic areas where low performance could lead to team failures.

7 troubles with teams

Taking a closer look

Step 1

The first column to complete is the scoring column. The question would be – how do I know that my team may be experiencing this trouble? The audit list gives you a possible symptom of observable behavior on either side of the scale: desirable (give this a score of 5 if your team shows this behavior) and undesirable (give this a score of 1 if your team shows this behavior). Should your team display behavior that is somewhere between those two opposites select a score between 1 and 5 that you feel is most accurate to describe how far they may be from either end. Perhaps a score of 3 would be appropriate if you see desirable behavior only 50% of the time.

Step 2

Look at the column called impact. When you look at the behaviors defined as undesired and also the other column containing desired behaviors, how much does it impact the outcomes produced by your team when those behaviors are present or not present? Maybe the impact is “high” if you consider how many hours are wasted when that behavior is present? Maybe it is only “medium” which means some time or effort is wasted, but not too much. And it could also be a “low” impact if that particular behavior does not contribute highly to the inefficiencies you experience as a team experiencing a particular aspect from the audit list.

Step 3

Evaluate your results by looking at both the scores column and the impact column. The graphic below shows the way to identify which of the aspects to focus on when it comes to prioritizing an area to address:

The download file above gives you an audit sheet to use in order to capture results for step 1 and 2.

How to fix any of those?

Once you have the priorities from step 3, it is time to take action.

For each of the area that can be addressed, there are some ideas of how to address that area for the team.

The download file above has suggestions for each of the 7 areas that can be addressed.

Remember

Every team has good times and bad times. Just because your team just did very well, it does not mean it will necessarily continue to go well. And just because your team failed last week, it does not mean there is no way to make it a high-performing team!

Use the tool above to take a closer look at your team and I wish you success in mapping out your next steps; helping your team be even better than it was before!

Renewal Exercise for an Existing Team – the journey


journey

Existing teams often go through phases of renewal, which requires that new team members and existing members come together to create a new or changed vision and way forward. This could happen when the project changes from design to implementation or from one conceptual to design. It could also happen if the leader is replaced. There are many reasons when an existing team can benefit from a renewal exercise to remind them of what they need to do, how they will do it and how they will measure success and collaborate.

Elements that can hold the new team back include existing members holding on to the past too strongly and new members not understanding why some things are done in a certain way within the team. Lacking the background and context of the past and a shared vision for the future the team could easily remain divided between the “new comers” and the “old timers” who know everything.

This exercise has two parts and helps to make the past easier to understand especially in terms of how it may have shaped the current belief system of existing team members – i.e. what they believe works and what does not work. The second part of the exercise helps new teams map out the new way forward together, which helps all team members be a part of what they plan to achieve and do going forward.

Tips/Comments:

  • This exercise does not replace any classic team chartering activities i.e. crafting a new or changed purpose statement, or reviewing/creating new roles and responsibilities going forward or agreeing on key team performance indicators. This exercise forms more of a bridge towards renewing the team and its activities and path forward. This exercise can best be followed by some more classic team chartering activities and exercises.
  • Monitor the communication process closely during the first part of the exercise: the sharing that happens has to remain constructive vs existing team members slipping into defensive behavior and/or new team members being overly critical of the lessons learned from the past.
  • This exercise has also sometimes been used as an ice-breaker to start off a one- or two-day team-building activity. It would be good to schedule this just before a natural break to allow team members to spend unstructured social time together as an aftermath of this exercise.

Team building activity – Defining roles and responsibilities


blocks final

A new project is best started by getting the entire project leadership team on the same page. This relates to commercial terms, project scope, key milestones and other important contractual terms and conditions. It is also vital for the project leaders to understand how they will execute this project – who is going to do what exactly to make sure we execute this project scope to the best of our abilities?

The resource I am sharing here describes a process you can follow as part of an early team-building activity to clarify and agree team roles and responsibilities down to individual levels.

In this activity the project leaders are gathered together and a facilitator takes them through this process. (See downloadable process description below).

Additional thoughts:

  • You can use this activity after first running a sub-group responsibility definition activity which defines project interfaces or relative responsibilities for decisions and processes by functional or other sub-groups on the team. (see Defining team interfaces) Using this sequence means you drive home how the overall project outcomes are managed by sub-groups on the team and then right down to individual roles in those same processes.
  • This exercise can also be used when there is a change in phase or focus on the project or the composition of the team changes greatly. At those times it is important to keep the team’s momentum going by ensuring that roles and responsibilities remain clear throughout the changes.
  • Clarifying individual role and responsibilities also supports the performance management process. When individuals receive feedback regarding their performance it is important that they already understand what performance and role expectations are.
  • Having individual roles documented can also support bringing new team members up to speed fast. It helps explaining expected team functioning and who they should talk to while making their contributions to successful team outcomes.

Project teams simply function better when everyone understands how he or she is expected to contribute to the team’s goals. This activity does help greatly in clarifying expected individual contributions. I do suggest you distribute the final agreed pages with the team for reference purposes.

Team Activity – Defining Project Interfaces


Most projects are made up of several sub-groups of people. On a construction project you can imagine there is a group of people tasked with looking after the physical safety of people working on the site. You can also imagine another group that looks after checking that materials and installed units meet quality requirements. These sub-groups of people have interfaces with each other whereby they exchange and share information, documents and outcomes. They also provide and request support from other groups to start, complete and execute a process. Most of the time project inefficiencies occur across the interfaces with internal and external sub-groups or functions.

The best way to ensure efficiency and effectiveness across project interfaces is to increase transparency around assumptions that people have . Test whether they are accurate and understood by others on the project.

Note that project interfaces can also refer to processes that involve multiple functions in the home office environment or the company structure. These “external” groups to the project may be setting high-level processes and goals, which create the environment that the project team needs to operate in. Examples may include HR, Finance, the group that tracks compliance with corporate policies and procedures etc.

This team building activity that I am sharing helps various interfacing groups understand differences that may exist between how they think they should be interfacing with other groups and what the actual expectations from other groups are.

This activity can be used in many different ways:

  • Clearing up interface issues among geographically dispersed groups working on the same processes or projects;
  • Clarifying how different functions should interface with one another on a project;
  • Clarifying any differences in perspective among cultural groups or different shifts of people in the same function working on the same tasks interfacing with one another; and
  • Getting clarity on how multiple projects should interface with each other and/or the corporate groups they work with.

The reason that interfaces with other groups tend to be where delays and frustrations occur is because it is common for people to analyze and optimize processes only for the portion that they are responsible for. This perspective means they often overlook how their efforts impact others or how the efforts of others impact them and they fail to take the bigger picture into account. This activity will support efforts to improve the outcomes of inter-group processes as you work towards greater successes on your projects and initiatives.

Meeting Energizers – Examples


energy

Business meetings or group events can be exhausting especially if they span several days and contain mostly sessions where presentations are made and do not have any or many interactive sessions. It can be challenging to keep meeting participants engaged and energized during such meetings and it is not uncommon to spot people struggling to keep their eyes open during long afternoon sessions. The first session after lunch can be especially tough and don’t forget the impact of jet-lag on participants from other time-zones.

one example: Making rain (see below)

The list which you can download above shows some activities that can be done with meeting participants to help them feel re-energized during a meeting. These short exercises are best done between agenda items and can take anything from 2 to 7 minutes to complete so they are not a major disruption to your planned agenda.

You would typically need an open space where participants can gather for these exercises. This space could be in the front between the projection screen and the first tables/chairs or it could be in the back of the room behind the last tables and chairs.  It is a good idea to mention that you need this space when you arrange the set-up of the room.

As the leader of the meeting or the facilitator you should always have a few of these quick energizer exercises on a sheet of paper or in the back of your mind to use on the spot. When you notice that the energy and responsiveness of the group is dropping you should be able to quickly conduct an energizing exercise to revive the energy and the alertness of the group attending your event or business meeting.

Icebreaker – Advertising boards


posters

This icebreaker works well with new teams or when you have had quite a few new members who recently joined a team.  The time, materials and space requirements are very economical so this is easy to combine with team meetings. Running this exercise can help you lead a new team into the right discussions to break down barriers to trust among (new) team members.

This ice breaker is a simple exercise which requires very limited instructions to get started and completed.

The most valuable part of this exercise is most likely the debriefing questions you (as the facilitator) choose to use: (some options)

  • Did anyone see something on an advertising board that was surprising about team members?
  • What are the strengths you think this team has?
  • Where do you think this team could get into trouble (given these team members and what you now know about them?)

This exercise is fun to do and the creativity of your teams may surprise you!

I would recommend that you use this exercise as part of a series of exercises to help new teams succeed in the long run. The Team Effectiveness Snapshot can be a great follow-up tool to introduce to the new team to help them on their journey of trust building and achieving a high level of performance.

Brand-new teams typically work well since most of the team members are “playing nice” at first, but as the team moves through the various stages of team formation  things can change. A lot of teams never make it out of the Storming phase so early introduction of team orientation, induction and assessment tools to help teams understand naturally occurring team dysfunctions can help them deal with these situations successfully. The advertising board icebreaker is a great way for teams in forming mode to break through the “niceness” and go a little deeper into the “who are you really” and “what do you bring to this team” discussion.

Conflict Resolution between Teams – an Activity


Teams or groups mostly get upset with each other due to ill-defined or badly executed processes or unclear interface issues between them. There are of course other reasons too, but whatever the cause inter-team upsets can cause an overall failure to achieve planned outcomes and a project/location not achieving targets.

Intergroup conflict and effectiveness

This process that can be used to help two (or more) teams/groups work through their issues with each other and how they are impacting each other.

The process and activity is described in the document which you can download above. Estimated timing for each step of the process is also included. The timing is based on only two groups/teams working through the process. If you add teams/groups, do add additional presentation and discussion time to the combined portions of the process.

Each group or team have an assignment to work on independently and when the groups all gather together the results are presented and discussed in the larger group. The objective is to improve everyone’s understanding of exactly where things go wrong, what works and what does not work and how we will move forward with a new agreement of how we will work together.

The process requires at least one facilitator provided the combined groups comprise of no more than 18 people. If you combine more than two groups I would also consider having an additional facilitator to assist in the breakout sessions. The opening and closing sessions should be attended by one senior manager or executive that interfaces with all of the attending groups – to make opening comments to set the scene and establish the importance of the meeting and also to close off the event with encouraging and appreciative comments.

Note this:

  • The process is flexible and it would be up to you, as the facilitator, to make judgment calls along the way. Looking at how you are doing on timing and how well the process is going you may choose to avoid the second breakout session and instead have that discussion in the combined-group setting.
  • This process may not work well if the inter-group/team dysfunctions have been going on for quite some time and the frustration levels are high. In such cases I would recommend that you prepare for the session by first doing a pre-session interview with all or most of the intended participants. That way you can prepare for an intervention having a clear understanding of the issues at hand and the mindsets of those that will be attending. This may cause you to choose for a more comprehensive intervention.
  • If more than one facilitator is involved, do make sure every facilitator is completely aware of how the process will work. This is especially important when you choose to make some changes along the way – i.e. skipping the 2nd breakout session in favor of a large group discussion on the same topic.  It can be quite frustrating for groups/teams when they receive mismatched instructions from different facilitators for the activity they are to complete.

Ice Breaker Questions


meeting (2)

Starting a meeting or dealing with the after-lunch session involving a group of people often requires that you use some sort of ice breaking exercise or activity to help participants get to know each other better, have some fun and in many cases move around the room a bit. Most facilitators have their own set of ice breaking activities and exercises in their mind in case they need it. If you are new at it, you may need some inspiration and this post may be for you!

How would you go about it?

There is a list of questions you can download below. Use them and then you have a few ways to use them for ice breaking activities:

  1. Use it to start the meeting and incorporate the introductions and capture expectations at the same time. Ask each participant to share his/her name, location, role, expectations for the session/day and then answer one of the questions on the list. (There is a reason to ask them to share their answer to one of the questions AFTER they stated their expectations – so you have time to write down their expectations on a flip-chart before the next participant starts sharing)
  2. Use it at the start of the meeting. Ask participants to get up and move around the room while introducing themselves to others they encounter along the way. Sharing their answer to the question you gave the group and asking the other person to share his/her answer to the same question. Let them mingle in this way for about 5 to 10 minutes (depending on the size of your group). Ask them to return to their seats and ask a volunteer (or a few) to share the most surprising response they heard.
  3. If the group is small (12 people or less). Ask each person to provide an answer to the question you selected on a post-in note. Collect all of them. Read out the answer and have participants try to guess who responded in this way. (Rules for this exercise includes that the writer of the answer cannot participate in guessing who wrote it).
  4. If you have more time, you can do this: Give the group a question and ask them to first consider how they would answer it and write their own answers down on a post-it note. Then you ask them to walk around in the room and when they encounter another meeting participant, to guess what the other would have answered then have the other reveal how they really did answer the question. The other then guesses the first person’s response and again the first person would reveal how he or she really did answer that question. Encourage them to briefly discuss why they guessed the answer in the way that they did. It can get to deeper discussions about assumptions we make about people – whether we already know them or not. You can time the interactions and give them a signal when to move on to a new conversation participant to engage with around guessing each other’s answers. When everyone has completed the conversations you can debrief the group with questions like: How often were you right in what you guessed the other person would say? Did you learn anything surprising from those you talked to ? (aspects of his/her personality that you had no idea about?) How accurate do you think guessing is when it comes to how other people think?

Ice breakers can be really effective in breaking down barriers to making contact with people you have never met before at a meeting or training event. Yes, extroverts mostly don’t have any difficulties approaching and talking to strangers, but introverts often do. These kinds of exercises help everyone to get to know each other without feeling too inhibited during the initial contact moments.

Team Effectiveness Check


The strength of teams lies in their ability to achieve more as a group working together than as individuals working independently on various parts of a project or activity.  The main obstacle to a team achieving the optimal performance level is the ability of the individual team members to work together collaboratively.

You can select the right team members based on the knowledge you need, the skills and competencies you need and the experience levels you need for a project. And the team performance can still be very disappointing if the team members do not communicate effectively, are not sharing information in a comprehensible way, and are not clear on how to coordinate with each other to avoid rework or waste their efforts working on the wrong items.

The success of a team is measured by more than one aspect. Examples include:

  • Achieving project milestones and objectives
  • Satisfied stakeholders
  • How well team members are working together – getting more done with more innovation and inclusiveness in a shorter period of time
Team Success Measures

Phases of a team

Any team will go through developmental phases starting from the first day the team members spend together. If these phases are navigated successfully, they can help team members build a high level of trust which enables the team to achieve a high performance level. The leader of a team has an important role to play throughout the phases of team development to help the team achieve their goals in the most effective and efficient .

Measuring team outcomes

Setting out to measure the progress of a team’s efforts is simply about communicating and then monitoring KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) on a regular basis. KPIs are typically set around costs, time to completion, quality of the product etc.

Measuring the cohesion between team members and how well the team is functioning is not that simple. Every team member most likely has his or her own opinion of how well the team is functioning and where improvements may be needed. Team members also would have opinions about whose “fault” it may be that things are not better. The question is often whether it is a lack of knowledge, a lack of motivation or actually interpersonal conflicts and distrust which is contributing the most to dysfunctions.

Team effectiveness Check

Using this short team effectiveness check, is a great way for leaders to take a quick look at how each of the team members see the team at that moment in time and identify where discussions may be needed to clarify or remove issues that may be hampering team functioning.

The purpose of this quick survey is to gather input from the team on their own perspectives. Remember that a perspective is just how one person sees things at that moment in time. It does not mean that the perspective of one person holds true for the rest of the team. It is important though that you understand whether one or more team members are not feeling included, engaged or unable to contribute based on a lack of internal alignment with other team members on goals etc

As the team leader or team coach, ask your team members to fill this out maybe once a month – more often if you are going through a difficult phase as a team and you are concerned about how well things are going for each team member. I would not do this more than once per week.

Note that your team dynamics will most likely change when you add members, remove members or when your project enters a completely new phase of functioning and performance expectations. At those moments you are likely to see a decline in previously recorded good scores for team effectiveness and functioning.

Use this tool as a way to quickly diagnose where the team is at and use it as a starting point for some team or one-on-one discussions to address concerns raised. Include an external person to facilitate difficult team discussions if you feel it may be helpful – someone from HR/Learning and Development/team coach may be able to use their expertise and skills in group dynamics, conflict resolution and interpersonal relationships to get your team out of a rough spot when it occurs.

Making Difficult Decisions


Making decisions is a key part of any leader or manager’s day. Most new leaders find this somewhat intimidating. There is the fear of making the wrong decision, the fear of not having enough time to make the decision, the fear of not having enough information to make the decision and the list goes on.

“Every decision has at least a 50% chance of being the wrong one.”

The decisions that leaders make add up to the value that he or she adds to a team or an organization. And yet there are those who say most of our decisions have a 50% chance of being the right choice between two options. They say this to make the point that you can better make a choice and be active in the process than to avoid making a choice or a decision and being reactive.

Competing Benefit decisions
Classic example of trade-off choices

Trade-offs

When it comes to commercial and operational decisions most of the time the difficulty in decision-making lies in the correct trade-off within the benefits triangle (shown to the left).  If you can get the article/outcome within the time-frame that you would like and with the right quality that you would like to have, there may be a high cost trade-off. Similarly you can find yourself having a low cost at the right quality, but you may have to wait longer to receive the outcome or article. Understanding the trade-off as shown in the graphic above may make it easier to decide which of the three are non-negotiable and where a compromise may be appropriate.

Competing values

Another challenging area for decision-making can be competing values. Imagine you value employee development (as a leader or manager) and you also value productivity. Choosing to develop your employees typically means you have to take them away from their daily activities to attend a development or learning event. This implies they are not able to produce the results you need during that time. This kind of choice often comes at the last minute. Imagine you had planned for Employee A to attend a training course, but at the last moment he or she is sick or otherwise unable to attend and HR asks you to nominate a substitute and thereby presents you with a decision-making dilemma.

Competing Values Decisions

The graphic shown the the left illustrates some competing value trade-off decisions that you may be called upon to consider as a leader or manager.  If you have already completed a review of your own values as a leader you may have the advantage of using that as a framework for decision-making.  You would also need to look at the values that the company represent to make sure your trade-off options also include that perspective.

Finally when you do make a decision, be sure to explain your reasoning and make the values you are honoring clear to the impacted employee(s) or colleagues.

Decision-making styles

Decision Making Styles

Leaders and managers also often fall into the trap of trying to use only one decision-making style and they neglect to consider the other options open to them. There is a time and a place for every type of decision-making style.

Sometimes it may be appropriate to make autocratic decisions – this can be useful when the impact is limited, the need is immediate and the risk low of encountering resistance during implementation. At other times a more collaborative and inclusive decision-making process may be appropriate – such as when there are many stakeholders, people need to change their behaviors or work methods, time is on your side etc. Selecting only one decision-making style as a leader can make decisions difficult since you may find you experience a lot of resistance from others to implement your decisions especially if you favor autocratic decision-making most of the time.

The main job of a leader and a manager is to make decisions and choices in order to move projects and initiatives forward. Decisions also impact dealing with risks, unplanned barriers to success, and how to achieve the goals set for organizations and teams. All this, while respecting approval matrices, client satisfaction and the profitability of a project.

Decision-making is a skill that many leaders need help with and being more mindful about their own process for making decisions and understanding options open to decision-makers, is a good start. Work with a coach or trusted advisor if you want to talk through tough choices you need to make – it is a best practice that most successful executives engage in.