Teams are the building blocks of organisations. Indeed, small group-interactions are the fabric of our society. What does being on a team mean for you? Well, probably a bunch of things. One of which – whether you are aware of it or not – is how you perform. Our behaviour is determined by many things, not least by our context. (And, not most by our rational minds – sorry if that comes as a surprise). And context can change everything.
relationship status: it’s complicated
Just like individuals, each team has a unique personality, an identity. And don’t be mistaken into thinking that this is a mere aggregate of the personalities of the individuals. The team is not simply the cumulative total of all of the individual facets, it is a unique entity. Made up of individuals who have different personalities, skills, experience, work styles and preferences and who exert a pressure on the team entity. In turn, the team entity exerts a pressure on the individual members.
Besides your relationship to members within the team, you also have a relationship to the team itself, as an entity. How you show up and behave for one team, is not the same as for every team. Think how you are currently operating in your current team environment, and how you remember operating in other teams. Sure, you have grown and changed. And yet don’t underestimate how the identity and norms of the various teams influence you - your feelings, views and thus behaviour. The team, just like any individual, has desires, vision, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, values, quirks and blind spots.
the whole is not the same as the sum of the parts
Just as the wetness of water is distinct from the properties of hydrogen and oxygen, so too the potential, character, intelligence… of a team is not a derivative of the same elements of the individuals. I could use the football / basketball team as an analogy – you get together the most highly-skilled individual players and this does not automatically beget a top-performing team. Likewise, the intelligence factor of a team is not simply the average of its members. Indeed, it has little to do with it. Some research even points to how the IQ of a team can drop by 17.4 points to below that of any of the individual members. Our brain’s cognitive processes are affected by social factors. Our team norms are affected by levels of consciousness of current or past leaders.
Teams have behavioural rules – often unspoken - that members must learn and adhere to - how things are done around here. For example, whether meetings start on time, how competitors and customers are considered, how decisions are made, how conflict is handled… Who you can and can’t talk to.
teams are systems that are resistant to change
Homeostasis is a powerful force. As a living system a team also has survival instincts and that can be both good news and not so good news. Unfortunately, the urge for self-preservation in a dysfunctional system perpetuates the unhealthy conditions. A cultural status quo prevail even if it is not functioning well. Even if it is toxic, everyone knows how to behave and for the sake of survival the system’s rules are subtly followed. Fortunately, the same urge for self-preservation can sustain a team during challenging times.
A coaching model is ideal for working with teams. Coaching supports change over time, focuses on reflection, action and learning from that action, creates new practices that result in new norms, and holds the team responsible for change. Coaching is basically a way of engaging that encourages others to think through their challenges, engage with new perspectives and together generate new and innovative thinking and action that may elude people thinking on their own.
One of the most important shifts necessary for a team leader is to realise the difference between managing a team versus leading a team.
Team leaders need to develop the skills to coach the entire team and not just the individual team members. In a coaching culture, team leaders see coaching as a key aspect of their role, using skills to coach their direct reports and to empower the team to perform more than simply the sum of its parts.
I work with team leaders, team members and teams as an entity to improve and sustain their performance. I do this using diagnostics, 'real-time' coaching - whilst the team works on their organisational objectives, needs-driven training, facilitation and consulting
The results are measurable, as teams deliberately create - as they go - the norms that serve their organisational interests, both from a bottom-line point of view as well as the context for future success. Transforming teams affords great leverage for creating desired change throughout workplaces and beyond.