Fitting in on a new team

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We’ve all had the experience of being the “new kid” at one time or another. Whether it was the first day in a new school, moving to a new neighborhood, joining a new sport team, starting a new job, or countless other things – it can be intimidating. As humans, we have an instinctive need to belong, and the chance that we might not fit in to a new situation can be a little frightening.Fitting in

When a group forms, everyone takes part in the process of “fitting in.” This happens whether it is a newly formed group, or just one or two members have changed. The group dynamic is altered, and so is the performance level of the group, even if only temporarily.

When a new member joins your team, do you have a process to welcome the new member and make him or her part of the team? What do you do to ensure that both new and existing team members belong? Does your group rely on the mere passage of time to bring the group together into a cohesive unit, or are you more purposeful about it?

We tend to teach the way we were taught, and lead the way we’ve been led, whether consciously or not. If we don’t think about it, it’s easy to fall into the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” trap without even realizing it. Recently, when I asked a group about what they do to make new members feel part of their team, I was greeted with puzzlement. Being intentional about building cohesion was just not something they’d experienced before and the idea was foreign.

So how can you be more purposeful in developing your team, creating a sense of belonging where every member fits in?  Here are a few ideas. Consider how you might apply them – whether your team sees each other in an office every day, or members work remotely:

  • be clear about the purpose and goals of your team
  • talk about group norms and expectations
  • create opportunities for interaction among team members
  • show each member that you value him or her as an individual and as an important part of the team
  • make the environment psychologically safe so that team members are comfortable sharing ideas and voicing concerns
  • remember to make this an ongoing process, not a one-time effort

What would you add? What have your experiences been? Have you experienced, as I have, a well-planned first-day welcome, followed by … nothing? I’d love to hear your stories!

 

What makes a team a team?

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What makes a team a team? You’ve probably been a part of many teams throughout your life – through school activities, sports teams, work groups, project teams, or volunteer organizations, to name a few. It’s just a group of people, right? Well, no, it’s really not.

So what is the difference between a group and a team? Sometimes work groups reporting to the same supervisor are labeled “teams.” Is that all it takes – a label? Sometimes we act that way. As if giving something the name that represents what we want it to be will make it so. And while that can be a good first step, developing a team requires far more than just calling it a team.

A team is a group of people working together toward a common purpose. Sounds simple enough. On paper. But when it comes to the actual level of effectiveness of a team, differences can be extreme. You’ve probably encountered a wide range in your own experience. Because their performance is highly visible and outcomes are well-defined, sports teams offer great examples of teamwork and team effectiveness. Last year, as I watched the LA Kings become the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Champions, I was struck repeatedly by the teamwork that propelled them to the top. Along the way, I also observed teams made up of highly-talented individuals who seemed to lack cohesion or were distracted by conflict, and failed as a result.

Team effectiveness
Teams can achieve great heights when members work in areas of strength and support each other.

Effective teams consistently exhibit certain characteristics:

  • clear understanding of mission and purpose
  • trust in the intentions and capabilities of members
  • open communication – all voices are heard
  • willingness to question ideas or actions – of self and each other
  • inclusive atmosphere
  • seek diverse perspectives
  • leverage strengths to support each other

 

 

It’s true that over time many groups will naturally gravitate toward team behaviors and characteristics. But why wait and just hope for that process to occur? The process of transforming a group into a team can be greatly accelerated through purposeful activity and discussion. Next time your group gets together, try including an activity to reinforce a certain aspect of teamwork. Here is an example of an activity that requires no props, can be done in any setting, and offers an opportunity for a rich discussion about how team members communicate with each other.

 

 

For more detailed instructions about how to use and debrief this activity, check out Teamwork & Teamplay by Jim Cain and Barry Joliff. Or contact me – I’d love to talk with you about this or other activities for your team!

 

Too much time in meetings?

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Is your team spending too much time in meetings?  Does it sometimes feel like nothing actually gets done, other than having meetings to talk about what needs to be done?  Most of us have found ourselves on this seemingly endless treadmill at one time or another.

Here are five tips for getting off that treadmill and engaging your team to get the results you want from your meetings:

Icebreakers:

Include brief icebreaker activities at the beginning of your meeting as well as after any significant spending too much time in meetings?break such as lunchtime or on subsequent days of a multi-day event. Even groups who know each other well will benefit from activities that re-connect and energize. Just a few moments of engaging in this way helps attendees to be more present and focus their attention on the meeting at hand, rather than all of the extraneous things going on in their lives.

Icebreakers don’t need to be embarrassing or stressful. They should be fun and encourage interaction. An icebreaker can be as simple as asking each attendee to share what they were listening to on the way to the meeting that day. Or it can be something more complex, possibly using props or other materials. Check out this Wilderdom site for a wealth of ideas to help you get started!

Objectives:

What is the purpose of your meeting?  It seems like a simple enough question, but is sometimes overlooked. Are you having this meeting simply because it’s Friday morning and you always hold a meeting on Friday mornings?  Or do you have a specific need for gathering people together?

Set clear, realistic objectives for your meeting, and share them in advance with attendees so they have the opportunity to prepare and gather any relevant information or resources prior to the meeting. Consider how much time you’ll need based on the scope of the objectives. Will you need a full hour (often allocated by default), or even a longer block of time?  If more than one meeting will be needed, define the specific goals for each, ensuring that they support your overall objectives.

Ground rules:

What are the expectations for behavior and interactions at the meeting? Is it okay to step outside to take a phone call? Should attendees raise their hand or just speak out? What are the guidelines for computer use, texting, tweeting, instant messaging, etc?

Asking the group to define the ground rules is a great way to learn what is important to the members and ensure everyone’s commitment. Post these ground rules to increase awareness and adherence throughout your meeting.

Be inclusive:

Ensure that all voices are heard and everyone has an opportunity to contribute. Depending on the meeting objectives and the styles and personalities of attendees, you may find it effective to have attendees work in small groups at times. Or, you may go around the room in an intentional way to allow each participant a chance to speak. Another payoff from using icebreakers at your meeting is that they increase participants’ comfort levels, resulting in higher levels of participation, particularly from those who may be more introverted and reluctant to speak up about their great ideas.

Wrap up:

Have you ever experienced a meeting that felt so productive at the time, and yet ultimately did not result in the expected outcomes? Why does that happen? Often it’s because of inadequate or non-existent wrap-up. In closing your meeting, be clear about what agreements and commitments have been made. Exactly what is to be done, by whom, and by what date? What are the specific next steps? Who will follow up and how will they do so? Without clarity about what is supposed to happen after the meeting, the result can be… nothing. Nothing happens, and you’ve wasted a lot of everyone’s time – for nothing. Use your wrap-up to make sure that life’s obligations and distractions don’t prevent your team from achieving its goals!

 

How does your team make decisions?

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Think about the last time you made a decision as part of a group. How did it go? Do you think the decision was a good one, one that will result in the desired outcome? Are you satisfied with the way the decision was made?  Do you feel that all viable options were given appropriate consideration?

Whether it’s your family trying to decide which ride to go on first at Disneyland, or your organization deciding on a launch strategy for a new product, you’re likely to encounter similar challenges. When you’re part of a group and you need to make decision, how do you do it? Do you follow a set process, or is it different every time? Do a few people (or maybe just one specific person) always take the lead in making the decision? Or does everyone get a voice?

When team decision-making works, it can propel a team to remarkable levels of achievement. The team will act quickly, confidently, and effectively to accomplish tasks, find solutions, and generate new ideas. Unfortunately, when decision-making doesn’t work effectively, it can create enormous obstacles.  Team members who have no voice in a decision may lack commitment to achieving the goal. Delays become the norm, concerns are not brought to light, and small issues may turn into big problems.

It’s not just the big decisions that trip people up. Every day, team members make dozens of decisions, whether individually or collectively. When the decision-making process is dysfunctional, so is the performance of the group. So what can you do to ensure that your team is working together effectively as it makes those large and small decisions each day?

Team decision-makingExperiential learning activities can be a great way to help a team discover and improve its group process for decision-making. In their book Teamwork & Teamplay, Jim Cain and Barry Joliff offer an activity called 2B or Knot 2B. In this activity, participants need to decide, as a group, which one of several ropes is holding all the others together. Through the activity and debriefing discussion, participants gain awareness of how they interact with each other when making decisions, and learn how their actions either moved the group forward or hindered its success in solving the problem. This type of discussion becomes a springboard for change as the team works to develop new and more effective ways to interact.

Back to the question I asked at the beginning of this post – how did it go the last time you made a decision as part of a group? Would you like to improve on that experience? If so, perhaps experiential learning techniques can help!

Six strategies to achieve goals

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Have you ever built a sandcastle at the beach or in a playground? Did it turn out exactly as you wanted it to? Bringing your sandcastle vision to life is lIke achievement of any goal, it’s not always as easy as it may appear to an outside onlooker.

Successfully achieve goals

The type of sandcastle you see here is not a casual undertaking. Success depends on the same strategies needed to achieve goals in other areas of life and work: vision, planning, resources, collaboration, adaptability, and tenacity.

Vision:

Do you have a clear vision of the outcome you are trying to realize? What will it look, feel, smell, taste, and sound like to have achieved your goal?  The clearer your vision, the more you will be drawn toward it and the greater the likelihood of achieving it. Consider the old proverb: “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”  Are you trying to get just anywhere, or do you have a specific destination in mind? What kind of sandcastle do you want to create? Is your team envisioning the same sandcastle that you are?

Planning:

What are the steps you need to take, now that you are clear on your goals? What is your overall timeline, and are  there interim milestones that need to be met? How will you sequence the steps? What role will each team member play? What other support might you need?

Resources:

Do you have the resources you need to be successful? Supplies, funding, training?  Do you have the right people on your team, with the right skills and attitudes? Are all of your resources organized in a way that supports you and your goals?

Collaboration:

Are team members working in their areas of strength? While we all have weaknesses, those are minimized when workng together as a team, at the same time that each individual’s strengths can be maximized. Have you ever seen the teamwork exhibited by children building a sandcastle while the tide is coming in? It’s remarkable to see what they can accomplish. Also consider who else can help you as you work toward your goals.  Collaborating outside your immediate team makes everyone stronger.

Adaptability:

No matter how clear your vision is or how well you’ve planned, there will likely still be times when you need to adapt.  The unexpected happens, circumstances change.  Be mentally prepared to adapt and foster this mindset with your team. Ask yourself, “What could go wrong?” during your planning stages.

Tenacity:

Challenges are expected on the way to achieving any goal. Don’t give up!  Take advantage of your team for support when times are difficult. Even though you may experience a setback or two while building your sandcastle, persistence will help you to ultimately achieve your goals.

What strategies have helped you to successfully achieve goals?

Engagement: a win-win

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Is engagement a good thing for businesses?  You bet it is!  So then does that mean it’s not a good thing for employees?  What do you think?  Are the two mutually exclusive?  I would say – Absolutely not!  When the people who are part of a business are actively engaged in helping that business achieve its goals and achieve its vision, everyone wins. The company wins, yes.  But so do the employees and the customers, too.

What does it mean when someone is “engaged” in an activity?  To me, it means being attentive, focused, interactive, and devoting energy with pleasure – which makes the activity satisfying and enjoyable.  Have you ever been so deeply engaged in an activity that hours passed without you even being aware?  Aside from the drawback of say, being late for dinner, that kind of absorption and focus is generally a good thing.

The reason engagement is good for employers is precisely because it is good for employees.  The outcomes that benefit the employer – such as: higher productivity, fewer absences, less turnover, and improved customer service – result when employees enjoy the work they are doing, understand their goals and how those goals align with the bigger purpose of their company, feel valued and supported, and are able to contribute fully by applying their strengths.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in.  Who do you think benefits the most when people are fully engaged in their work?

Navigate change successfully as a team

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Navigate change successfullyJust when things seem to be rolling along smoothly for you and your organization – BAM!  Something changes.  Regardless of your industry or the size of your organization, you can be assured that you and your team will face changes in the months and years ahead.  We do not live in a static world and never have.  Those that survive and thrive are those who can adapt to changes in their environment and circumstances and turn those changes into advantages.

How does your team respond to change?  What do top-performing teams do?  Times of change often illuminate team characteristics that lead to success or failure.  Several factors that influence the way a team functions, especially when dealing with changing circumstances, include:

  • the level of trust team members have for one another
  • how well team members communicate with each other
  • whether or not each team member is personally aligned with and supportive of the organization’s mission.

Here’s an example that you may have encountered:

A key employee is called away suddenly to deal with a family emergency.  How does the team respond to this change?  Do they offer support for the employee during what may be a personally challenging time?  How do they make decisions in order to fill the gap during the employee’s absence?  Are the decisions based on a desire to achieve organizational goals, or is the focus more on individual achievement?  Some team members may be tempted to “protect” their own resources in this type of situation.  And while this may result in apparent success at an individual level in the short-term, the long-term and organizational outcomes can be incredibly limiting.

Think about any team sport, and those teams that have achieved the highest levels of success.  Everyone contributes, right?  Along with performing at a high level individually, team member’s support each other, raise each other’s spirits, offer encouragement when times get tough, give feedback for improvement, and help each other stay focused on the goal.

Navigating change successfully begins long before a change actually takes place. As a leader, how can you foster the kind of environment that will allow your team to consistently succeed under changing conditions?  Here are five ways:

  1. Include as many voices as possible in looking for solutions.
  2. Clearly focus on the overarching purpose of the team and how to best achieve it.
  3. Communicate with transparency.
  4. Recognize and show that you value the achievements of the group as a whole.
  5. Foster a collaborative rather than competitive environment on a daily basis.

What would you add to this list?

Expertise anyone?

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Outliers: The Story of Success –

Building expertise

How do we build expertise in something? Why do some people become experts in their field and others never do?

Another favorite of mine from Malcolm Gladwell, here he looks at people who've become experts in a variety of fields - ice hockey, music, computer programming, and more. Gladwell found commonalities in those achieving high levels of success, regardless of field. A certain amount of innate talent is necessary, yes. But having that, the real key to success lies in practice - intentional, focused practice for an enormous amount of time. 10,000 hours is a number that comes up again and again in studies.

Think about out something you're really good at. How do you take your skills to the next level? 

 

 

To purchase

Capitalize on team strengths –

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Every piece is important

One tiny lizard in the vastness of nature – and yet an integral part. Being part of a team is like this. Every member of the team is important, each with unique skills and abilities.  How can we best capitalize on team strengths?

Think about team that you’ve been a part of. Was there a role you considered less important than others? Imagine for a moment that no one showed up to fulfill that role one day. Would the team be able to function as effectively? On one team you may have a person that has outlandish ideas, one who asks dozens of questions, one who creates a safe environment, one who takes care of all the logistics, one who energizes the group, and one who moves them to action – all work together to make the group highly effective at achieving its goals.

One of the keys to developing a high-achieving team is to learn the strengths of each team member and then find ways to maximize use of those strengths. Doing so benefits both the team as a whole and the individual members, as they have opportunities to further develop their strengths through team efforts.

This goes a long way toward increasing engagement as well. How do you feel when you are working in your areas of strength? Productive? Capable? Confident? Energetic? Focused? Successful? A higher level of engagement means more satisfying work for you and typically a higher level of effort toward achieving team goals. A win for everyone.

Imagine what it’s like to work with a team where everyone has that level of engagement. What kind of highly-effective team experiences have you had?

 

Developing Strong Virtual Teams

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How do you develop a sense of team when members are spread out geographically?  For many groups the opportunities to get  together in the same physical location are rare. But do you have to

Developing virtual teamsaccept having a disconnected team, just because everyone doesn’t come to work in the same location every day?  People often tell me how difficult it is to build relationships in that kind of situation.  I’ve experienced it myself, and I agree – it can be difficult.  But fortunately it’s not impossible.  I’ve also experienced what it’s like to be part of a strong virtual team, where no goal seemed out of reach. What made the difference?  Just like any relationship, intentional effort needs to be made to create and maintain bonds among team members.

If your virtual team is not performing as well as you’d like or you think that the interpersonal bonds between members could be stronger, consider these questions:  Do you find that when your group does get together for a meeting, much of the time is spent on activities like reviewing reports and scheduling future meetings?  Are these things that really need to be done in a face-to-face setting?  Would a conference call work for some things like these instead?  Are all team members valued for the unique qualities and strengths they bring to the team?

Here are four ways you can build a stronger team.  These apply regardless of your work setting, and are especially applicable in a virtual environment:

1. Make the most of the times you are physically together in the same location to foster trusting relationships among team members.

2.  Incorporate focused and purposeful team development activities into your event to accelerate the group-formation process.

3.  Carefully consider the content of your face-to-face meetings.  What can team members do independently ahead of time? Are there reports that can be read, scheduling that can be planned, or questions that can be shared with the group ahead of time?  If so, then the face-to-face meeting time can be devoted to those areas that address more sensitive topics, or require more in-depth discussion or brainstorming.

4. Create an inclusive environment.  Ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and be heard.  Allowing everyone to be involved not only helps the team achieve its goals by leveraging each person’s strengths, it also demonstrates that each member is a valued part of the team.

What would you add to this list?  What has worked for you?

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