Transforming 'The Staff' to a Real Team

Nov 20 2020

It's commonplace for leaders to describe the group of people they supervise as 'my team'. Team is one of those group nouns that carries a tick of approval with it. 'My team' has a ring to it that 'my staff' or 'the workforce' lacks. However, the generic use of 'team' distracts us from the purpose and payoff of creating team: a distinctive and productive way of working together.

Writers often extol the importance of forming a team, but very few deal with the nuts and bolts of how to do it. Many of the leaders with whom I work - leaders who would like their colleagues to work together with greater cohesion and productivity - tell me that they want a great team but need guidance about how to create one.

From my reading, research, and a lifetime of experience that comes from working with teams, these six (perhaps surprising) necessities of practice stand out:

Necessary practices to create a team

1 The formulation of a shared purpose – an agreed direction for the team's work together. This is a collaborative activity. Team members may give lip-service to the leader's agendabut will be committed to a purpose they have framed for themselves.

2 Explicit discussion about the appreciation of difference, and a shared willingness to encourage team member individuality and autonomy. The strength of a team is the diverse abilities and perspectives that team members contribute. A blancmange of 'groupthink' is never useful.

3 Preparedness to spend the time needed to identify the Interdependence of team members. It takes time and thought to work out the specific ways in which team members can contribute to the work of each other, yet without this clear pay-off many will hesitate to prioritise the work they do together.

4 Thoughtful use of consensus-style decision-making. Team members are only fully committed to the decisions of a teamwhen they are engaged in decision making. There is a world of difference between assenting to the leader's preference and making a collaborative decision.

5 A commitment to encouraging open and comprehensive communication. Traditional meeting practices do not encourage the open communication and deep trust needed for a team to function well. Collegial reflection, sharing, and a search for mutual understanding build the confidence in each other that a team requires.

6 Practices that encourage constructive dispute and deep thinking. Patrick Lencioni1 made it clear thatunwillingness to engage in honest and constructive conflict is one of the major impediments to team effectiveness. In a productive team, every member will feel confident that they can express their truth boldly - and be prepared to listen to and consider contrary opinion.

The key to these necessary practices is the team leader. When the leader chooses to adopt these practices, and to model the behaviours required, a genuine team can form and perform in the service of the school or business.

For more detail of the practices that create team, and over 150 conversations and activities for addressing these priorities, you can go to my website and purchase my book 'The Tao of Team in Practice'. It will be a valuable resource for you and all of your team leaders.

1 Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, 2002