|See Jennifer Shirkani at these upcoming speaking events
Flagstaff Arizona SHRM 6/10/08
Brownsville Texas SHRM 6/11/08
Boulder Colorado SHRM 8/21/08
HR Southwest Conference 10/16/08
ARCH New Hampshire
Lake Washington SHRM 11/11/08
Someone once said, "Being successful in a team would be no problem if it weren't for all these other people". By definition, a team is a group of people with a high degree of interdependence and accountability to each other. They need one another to succeed but often see each other as just as much an obstacle to that success.
Like your typical family, this sense of team responsibility and belonging can be both fulfilling and unnerving, both motivating and restrictive. Some of the most common issues employees say creates conflict within a team include:
- Lack of clear goals
- Ineffective time management
- Poor communication
- Unilateral decision making
- Lack of recognition
- Personality clashes
- Low productivity
Conflict within teams is so rampant research proves it is the number one obstacle that keeps teams from achieving their goals. It's not a lack of resources, or unrealistic deadlines, or even management interference; teams often fail to produce because they are too busy warring with one another.
Because of the natural dependence team members have on each other, if one person fails to meet a commitment, it often dominos into finger pointing and attempts to place blame elsewhere. Negative thinking directed at other's shortcomings shuts down creativity and problem solving skills.
And no environment is more of a conflict magnet than the dynamics within a wandering team. Without clear goals and rules of the road for achieving them, teams are set up to fail and know it.
But before goal setting can take place, it is vital that leaders combat this sense of futility by rebuilding team spirit. This begins with shared values and ground rules.
Governing Values and Ground Rules
Colin Powell once said "When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I'll like it or not. Disagreement, at this stage, stimulates me. But once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own."
There is a values system inherent to this kind of loyalty. Values such as honest communication, healthy conflict, unconditional respect, and placing the wellbeing of the whole above the individual. Shared values are one of the most important defining attributes of high performance teams. It is the bond that gets them through conflict, change, and failure. To determine if this connectedness is present within a team, look for the following behaviors:
- Active listening
- Responding constructively to views expressed by others
- Giving others the benefit of the doubt
- Providing support without being asked
- Recognizing the interests and achievements of others
- Giving and receiving tough feedback
No doubt, this is easier said than done. For starters, before values can be shared they must first be exposed and examined. This requires a high level of trust between members. Trusting others requires an environment of acceptance, personal safety, authenticity, and respect. This is where team Ground Rules come in.
These team tenets play a key role in preventing inter-team conflict. By agreeing to certain "moral codes" within the team, members are able to fairly judge when they or others go out of bounds and are given the freedom to say so. Both behavior and processes should be taken into account.
Here are some sample ground rules we have used to address the most common challenges of teaming:
Share your own experiences and opinions; avoid "they say" statements. Have the courage to take ownership of your voice.
- Don't hide conflicts. Try to surface differences and use them to create better results that all members can support.
- Don't take yourself so seriously. It's okay to laugh when you say or do something that the group finds amusing.
- Keep discussions focused on the topic at hand. If something isn't relevant for the majority of the team, keep it for a side bar conversation.
- Honor time limits - start and end on time.
- Decide how you communicate DURING meetings. (Are interruptions okay? Will you assign someone as facilitator?Are side conversations okay?)
- Decide how you communicate in BETWEEN meetings. (How quickly should you respond to emails? How do you keep everyone on the team informed of a delay?)
- Listen respectfully and respond with positive interest to ideas from team members. Even if an idea is confusing or odd to you, ask for more information to understand it better. Do this in a "help me understand" vs. interrogation kind of way.
- Help create a safe environment that encourages team members to share all ideas - even the "half baked" ones.
- Handle interpersonal issues quickly and directly. Discussing misunderstandings leads to clearer expectations and stronger partnerships. Misunderstandings not dealt with mushroom into major conflicts.
The best way to implement these sample ground rules is to use them to diagnose what's working and what isn't. Take each one and rate your team's effectiveness in each area. Using a 1-5 scale, one being an issue that requires immediate attention and 5 being an area of strength for the team, candidly evaluate the well being of your team.
Some of our clients have used a secret ballot approach to have the team evaluate themselves and been surprised at the candor and consensus of the feedback. Use these suggestions as a starting point. Every team struggles with different interpersonal land mines.
The Problem with Goals
No matter how good your ground rules are, teams will still get hung up in conflict situations when goals are inconsistent, vague, or open to interpretation. When the destination is fuzzy or members disagree on where exactly they should be headed, team members begin to focus on their own agendas.
When confused or frustrated about the team's identity, members will turn on each other or just stop caring at all.
The problem with most team goals is that they are not specific or measurable enough. They change constantly, leaving teams hanging on an idea of a goal that is continually being renegotiated.
Begin by gathering your team together to answer these defining questions (note - these are designed to be tough and should inspire some healthy debate; be sure not to settle until each one is decided on):
According to a study by Leadership IQ, only 31% of employees clearly understand their goals and only 15% of employees can correctly identify their company's strategy, values and competitive advantage.
Now, let's be clear here about ownership. It is not the sole responsibility of the leader to create achievable goals for their team. However, facing the reality behind these statistics, it is absolutely our responsibility to show them how.
Mapping Team Concept, Strategy and Goals
No goal worth meeting is birthed without self examination. The success formula to creating an achievable goal involves questioning, visioning and clarifying.
- What is this team's purpose?
- What boundaries or challenges exist?
- What are our goals? (Goals define performance expectations and state in specific, measurable terms what the team is expected to achieve.)
- What does our work create for our organization, our team, and ourselves?
- How have team member's roles been decided? (skill match, choice, by rank, etc.)
- What specific actions are we expected to take and who is responsible for them?
- How do we measure our success in an on-going way?
- Are we held accountable individually or collectively? Who holds us accountable? (ourselves or our leadership?) How so?
- What consequences exist if we miss the goals?
You might be surprised how these questions will fire up your team. Taking the time to forge a team identity and dig through unclear goals, generates comraderie, excitement, and a sense of team efficacy. But this only happens when the end result of all the time and effort are clear, achievable goals and not just well meaning talk about getting there.
Use the SMART formula to check your work to be sure your new goals are defined enough:
Take for example a goal related to improving customer service. In the SMART goal method, it might look something like this:
1) Reduce call-back time to customers. (Specific)
2) Two hours or less. (Measurable)
3) Do certain customer issues require a longer time frame or can call backs be reduced to 30 minutes across the board? (Achievable)
4) Is slow call-back time really an issue? Has it shown to be a hot button for the customers? Or is it just a pet peeve for management? Is reducing call-back time important enough to merit team focus? (Relevant)
5) Once the goal is clarified, achieve it within six months. (Time Bound)
Evaluate your current goals next to the SMART method and you're likely to find out why your team has been chasing their tail. Don't be afraid to turn things upside down and scrap the goals you've given your team.
As leaders, our role in helping our teams be successful is to give them the autonomy to own their purpose, to be realistic in our expectations (change will not happen overnight), to embody the team concepts we expect, and no matter what, communicate, communicate, communicate!
Remind yourself that obstacles and flair ups are a good thing. Vigorous debate, when handled properly, breeds innovation, honesty, and personal ownership. There is greater cause for concern when team interaction is about as interesting as a dial tone. Teams that don't care, don't produce.
What you've just read is a small sampling of what is included in Penumbra's High Performance Teams workshop. If you'd like to bring this powerful, customized program to your workplace, please contact us at www.penumbra.com.
Jennifer Shirkani and Faith Csikesz
Penumbra Group Inc.