Organizations face an increasingly turbulent world characterized by a relentless pace of technological change, more and faster flow of information, and intense global competition. Many problems are more complex than any one person can solve. Consequently, teams have become the building blocks of contemporary businesses, from the C-suite to the front line. And perhaps the most important team is the leadership team—that is, an intact group responsible for setting the strategy and managing the operations of a unit within an organization or, in the case of a top team, the entire organization.
Unfortunately, many businesses do not realize the full potential from teams, leadership or otherwise, because their managers are ill-equipped to lead them effectively. Overfield Leadership Group has developed a practical framework that guides the challenging work of developing and maintaining top-notch leadership teams: the LTDF (Leadership-team Development Framework).
Using the LTDF we can help your organization address five essential issues of team development: confirming that team development is the best approach to the challenges being faced; defining team effectiveness; establishing efficient structures and processes; improving team dynamics; and coaching the team in real-time as it tackles real work.
IS TEAM DEVELOPMENT APPROPRIATE?
Before undertaking a developmental effort that will require a substantial investment of time, energy, and money, it is prudent to make sure that team development is the right thing to do. Thus, we will help you address four qualifying issues: (1) Is your group a real team that (2) has the right members and (3) a clear direction, and (4) does the organization provide a supportive context for effective teamwork to flourish? We go through these issues with the team leader and members, using various tools to surface key information.
DEFINING TEAM EFFECTIVENESS
Although evaluation is chronologically the final activity undertaken, conceptually it should be considered immediately after determining that team development is an appropriate activity. We have found that it is useful to assess the degree to which the team is able to meet three effectiveness criteria.
First, the team is able to deliver results at a level of quality and speed that satisfy the standards and expectations of those internal and external customers or stakeholders most directly affected by the team’s work. Measures of this performance-related criterion include financial data such as revenues, costs, and profit margins, as well as other results such as implementation times, customer support, decision-making, and innovation.
Second, the unit becomes stronger over time, increasing its capacity to work together interdependently in the future. This process-related criterion concerns the working relationships among team members, level of trust, degree of mutual accountability, and ability to handle conflict.
Third, the team fosters the well-being, growth, development, and learning of its members. This personally-related criterion concerns the degree to which individuals become more capable over time. High levels of personal engagement with one’s work, satisfaction with the job, and motivation, coupled with low levels of occupational stress, are markers of this factor. Stated differently, effective teams manage the paradox of simultaneously focusing on “it” (delivering bottom-line results and accomplishing other task-focused activities), “we” (fostering effective relationships among team members and espirit de corp of the unit), and “I” (facilitating personal growth and development).
ESTABLISHING STRUCTURES AND PROCESSES
It is important to have a solid team structure together with well-defined and mutually agreed upon norms for how team members work with each other. For existing teams, enhancing structures and processes is likely to improve effectiveness; for newly created teams, establishing them early on is imperative. We use a range of tools to help a team address the structural and process-oriented aspects of team functioning.
IMPROVING TEAM DYNAMICS
Despite the empirically documented central role that team norms and other structural processes play in team effectiveness, when we talk with executives about improving team performance, we often hear about the need to increase trust by focusing on interpersonal interactions. This perspective is sensible as far as it goes but it does not account for the whole picture of team dynamics, let alone team development.
Team dynamics are multifaceted and are influenced by situational factors in addition to interpersonal relationships. For this reason, an important component of team development is integrating various aspects of team functioning, including understanding the culture of the team, assessing the degree to which psychological roles (for example, focusing on outcomes, paying attention to members’ interactions) are adequately represented by team members, and identifying potentially derailing behaviors teammates have in common.
COACHING IN REAL-TIME
Coaching is an activity that typically spans the team-development intervention, taking different forms at different stages in the life cycle of the team. For instance, beginnings, such as when a new team is being launched or an existing team is undertaking a new initiative, require coaching that orients members to the key purpose of the team and increases motivation to tackle important challenges. After a team has been working together for a while it is important to take stock of how it is functioning and whether any changes are warranted. The conclusion of a project or the end of a task cycle provide opportunities for the team to reflect on what has been learned and to identify implications for further improving collaboration in the future. Compared to mediocre or poor teams, outstanding teams receive more coaching from the team leader, each other, and external sources. However, team coaching is an activity in which many teams do not productively engage without external assistance.
Because frequently there is a gap between what people know conceptually and how they act (particularly in high-stakes situations), hands-on coaching is essential for helping members develop habits that maximize team productivity.
To this end, we create a safe environment in which teams tackle their most challenging business problems together. Teammates receive just-in-time feedback as they engage one another and practice the behaviors required for effective collaboration.
In addition, we help teams develop a regular cadence to reflect on and learn from their experiences, revisit the conditions for success, evaluate changes that effect the team’s strategic direction/critical priorities, and course-correct as needed.