Turning A Group Of People Into A Team

“Individuals play the game, but teams win championships.” Vince Lombardi

I grew up in Wisconsin during the 50’s and 60’s, and Vince Lombardi was a hero to many of us. He put Green Bay, Wisconsin on the map, and he put the Green Bay Packers in the legend books.

But he did one more thing that no one expected. He got the whole business world talking and thinking about teams. Before that, the whole concept of “team” was a somewhat foreign concept.

Now, smart companies realize that they’ve got to have HIGHLY EFFECTIVE TEAMWORK if they’re going to be HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL in the marketplace. There really is no other alternative. So teams, teamwork, and team building have become some of the most popular buzz words in organizations the last few years.

Unfortunately, most organizations don’t have teams. Oh sure, they’ve got departments, shifts, districts, and regions, but that’s a far cry from being a team. In fact, I often tell people in my audiences that if they weren’t part of an effective sports team in high school or college, they may have never been part of a REAL team. They may not even know what a REAL team looks like, what it consists of, or how to create one.

That’s a part of the reason I’m in business. I turn “groups” of people into “teams.”

For those of you who are more academic in nature, you’re probably wanting me to define my terms. You want to know exactly what I mean by the word “team.” Well, the best definition I’ve come across says, “A TEAM IS A HIGHLY EFFECTIVE, COHESIVE GROUP OF INDIVIDUALS WHO WORK TOGETHER WITH A COMMITMENT TO REACH A COMMON GOAL.” Let’s go with that.

Of course, knowing what a team is and actually creating one are two different things. But some organizations have mastered both elements. One such group happens to be one of my favorite clients, Laser Quest. I’ve played their laser games, gone to their meetings — which by the way, have been some of the best, most enjoyable meetings I’ve ever attended — and delivered seminars to their people.

Laser Quest says that all effective teams are built on a foundation with four pillars: Communication, Cooperation, Trust, and Fun. And I have to tell you, despite the fact I have a Ph.D. in psychology and interpersonal communication, despite the fact I taught graduate courses on teams and have studied hundreds of books on the subject, I’ve never heard anyone say it better. So I’m going to take the next four weeks to outline those four pillars — from my perspective — and give you a few tips on how to build them.

Let’s start with COMMUNICATION. Laser Quest says, “Before individuals can function successfully as a team, they must be able to communicate effectively.” I agree. but how do you do that?

=> 1. Keep Everyone Fully Informed

For many years, people in organizations have been saying that “knowledge is power.” And it’s true. If you know something that somebody else doesn’t, you can manipulate things in your favor … or at least feel smug about it.

But the withholding of information NEVER works for teams. Everyone has to be kept informed as to what’s happening in the organization, where it’s headed, and what needs to be done. As Thomas Jefferson said so long ago, “A nation that expects to be ignorant and free expects something that never was and never will be.”

Of course, some higher level managers and leaders get a little nervous about the average employee knowing everything. But that’s old school thinking. Jack Stack, the author of “Open Book Management,” has revolutionized business after business by letting the employees know everything.

Quite simply, the only way an organization or team can get the BEST IDEA is to choose from all the ideas. And the only way that is going to happen is when everyone on the team is kept fully informed.

You need to have different points of view. It’s like the story I was reading about a man who was mushing across the snow with his dog team in Alaska. They were on the trail for five days when the lead dog died. Now that was certainly a bad break for the lead dog, but it represented a very different and very pleasant point of view for the number 2 dog.

=> 2. Clarify And Re-clarify All Communication

Miscommunication can kill off a team’s effectiveness just as easily as no communication. So think about what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, and how the others are receiving it.

For example, I speak in a lot of health care organizations. I saw the ad that one hospital was about to use for their new marketing campaign. It read, “If you’re at death’s door, let our doctors pull you through.” I suggested they not use the ad.

I worked my way through college by selling shoes in a women’s fashion store. One of their window displays had a large sign that announced, “Bras half off.” That got a lot of snickers from passersby on the street.

Use charting to clarify and re-clarify what is being said and decided in your team meetings. Use charts to list all the agenda items, ground rules, and discussion questions. And as you move through the various items on the agenda, make sure you indicate how each item will be handled — as information only, for discussion, for decision making, or implementation. If your team members don’t know the purpose of an item, they won’t know how to communicate about that item.

I would also suggest that you use charting as your team discusses an issue. Have someone write down the main ideas or key points being raised. Otherwise your team might waste lots of time going over the same ground.

Charting also works well when you’re giving your team directions for various exercises. Some people just don’t listen very well and others need to hear and see the directions before they fully grasp them.

Of course it takes a little more work. But I like the way best-selling author Father John Powell puts it. He says, “Communication works for those who work at it.”

And when you finish a meeting, to make sure there’s clarity in your communication, everyone should be able to answer, “Who will do what by when?” And everyone’s answer should be the same.

=> 3. Encourage Lots Of Questions.

If you ever go to a team meeting and one person gets up and makes a number of announcements or gives a straight presentation, if there’s no interaction from the audience, that is NOT a team meeting. That’s what copy machines are for — to deliver one-way communication.

In a REAL team meeting, there’s lots of give and take from everyone. Lots of questions are asked — and everyone listens.

Charles Bonner talked about some meetings in British Columbia where there wasn’t a lot of question asking or listening. Just a lot of shouting.

In one of the outlying areas, the farmers were plagued with wolves killing their livestock. Meetings were held with farmers, environmentalists, and concerned citizens in a move to solve the problem. The majority of the local people favored shooting or poisoning the wolves.

But at one meeting a woman strode to the microphone, listed her impressive credentials, and explained her solution. “Vasectomy is the answer.” she thundered. “Simply trap the wolves humanely, neuter the males, and release them.”

One grizzled old sheep farmer rose to his feet and quickly cut through all the clutter by asking a question. He said, “Ma’am, no disrespect meant, you bein’ an expert, but I don’t understand how your plan will work. Them wolves is killin’ my sheep, not makin’ love to ’em.”

To be an effective team, I suggest the use of 7 questions that you apply to the 7 facets of each item on your agenda. They are:

1. Facts – What are the facts about this issue?

2. Feelings – What are our feelings about this issue?

3. Creative alternatives – What are the possible solutions to this issue?

4. Pros – What are the advantages of each alternative?

5. Cons – What are the disadvantages of each alternative?

6. Decision – What kind of consensus decision can we reach on a solution?

7. Next steps – How will we implement our solution?

There are 4 pillars that support every EFFECTIVE team. Communication is the first one. I’ll talk to you next week about the second pillar.

Action:  Take a communication inventory of your team. Have everyone rate your team on a scale of 1-10 on: Effectiveness overall, quality of communication, and sense of belonging. With 10 being the best, gather scores from each team member; average out the scores, and on average less than 8, get to work on changing