Question: How can a new team align its members for maximum effectiveness?

I have been directed to put a cross-functional team together to work on a critical company initiative next year, to reengineer several processes. We have executive sponsorship (but also several critics and grassroots resistance.)

Among team members (who have not worked together before), I want to set the tone for effective balance on day 1, somewhere between excess conflict and complete conflict-avoidance.

What strategy do you recommend?


7 Expert Insights

The critics, and those fomenting grassroots resistance, need to have an opportunity to buy into the initiative. While a lot of consultants advocate a 'change management' approach, directed through training, I would recommend something simpler - and, in my experience, more effective, designing the initiative in a way where the competencies of the critics are necessary for success.

Benjamin Franklin invoked this principle in seeking to make a friend of his enemy. He called up his political enemy to lend him a book. This 'request for help' - and the methodologies that support it in structuring internal initiatives, is one of the most effective strategies available for creating structural cohesion - as opposed to surface discussion.

Putting together a Team can be a challenge due to the fact that you have different personalities and styles. My experience has been to find out who the members are, what are their strengths and what is their style, and then let them as a Team learn about each other. What this will do is let each one know how to better communicate with each other, for without this element it will be an uphill battle to get to the completed result.

First one needs to be clear about how a "team" is different than other types of groups.  Based on the book "Wisdom of Teams", teams are distinguished by having 4 attributes:  1) rules and guidelines are well-defined, e.g., who is on and not on the group, meeting rules, who decides, who has to be consulted, etc., 2) a common commitment (something inspiring), 3) a common promise, the work-product, clear in specifications and time, and 3) the group is mutually accountable for all the preceeding three.

Teams inherently have more overhead than working groups, and so should be used (and the term used) only when the work-product has certain characteristics, generally along the lines of including intractable problems, high risks of failure, breakthroughs, etc.

Our team-building usually takes 2 days:
- Welcome and Setup
- What’s So – Past and Present
- Technology of Teams
- Create Common Commitment
- Create Common Work-Product
- List and Prioritize Well-Defined Group Issues
- Technology of Solving Intractable Problems
- Work Top Group Intractable Issues
- Next Steps

If you do this in a series of meetings:

1st Meeting: Establish Relationship
- Create Common Commitment
- Create Clarity on Work-Product
- Address Listening Filters (existing assumptions or paradigms that could get in the way)
2nd Meeting: Establish Relationship
- Create “Well-Defined Group”
3rd Meeting: Start Planning

You asked about the first meeting:
- You will never get a second chance to make a first  impression - walk the talk
- Speak Commitments - not the to-do's or the goals, but the why, what difference will this make that is meaningful to the team members
- Speak "we", not “I”
- Do not make anything, anyone, or anytime wrong.
- Be brief - let them talk
- Actions speak loud - be on time
- Never ignore any breaking of a team rule
- Focus on building relationships, the foundation of any team

Conflict is not to be avoided - it is what makes a team productive - have good resolution processes.

One of our mottos is that “Team-bonding should come before Team-building and Team-working.” In other words, to create an environment for a high-performing team to emerge and flourish as it goes through the classic Tuckman stages of Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing, it’s important and valuable to lay a solid foundation…and just, even briefly, provide an opportunity to meet, greet, and get to know one another a little bit. Too often, because of urgency, deadlines, and the need to get right down to business, or because we don’t even think of it, we just jump right in and start working. But that ends up coming back to bite you in the long run.

I’m not talking about doing some kind of cheesy “catch-each-other-while-blindfolded” teambuilding activities that people often think of. But it doesn’t hurt to do some kind of introductory icebreakers (I have many to suggest if you’re interested) to do just that: break the ice…so that the team can more effectively navigate the challenging waters of a project together.

One of the most valuable things you can do is have the team collectively come up with its “Guiding Principles” for how it is going to work together. (I prefer the term “Guiding Principles”  instead of “Ground Rules” – no one likes to have to follow “rules”.) And there’s a classic saying by Dale Carnegie that “People support a world they help create,” so the group, itself, should set the expectations and decide on what its operating guidelines are going to be. This way they feel a sense of ownership and mutual accountability. And they get a chance to actually work on something together that’s low risk, before getting to the serious and more challenging stuff.

For more on building and leading high-performing teams, I recommend the work of Jon Katzenbach, including his classic HBR article, “The Discipline of Teams,” as well as Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.”

Here are some things I recommend:

- Be as clear as possible with your sponsor on the desire outcomes, timeframe, resources, etc.

- Think about the competencies you will need to do the work (level of expertise, functional skills, experience) before you select team members

- Launch the team at a live event and spend at least a day together as you start the work (getting to know each other on a personal level); this will be invaluable moving forward and helps establish trust

- During launch, work to develop a clear charter for the team (purpose, membership, deliverables, process, stakeholders, etc.)

- Set team norms together so everyone knows in advance what's expected

- Build an action plan from the start to ensure you build in clear expectations and accountability

Take the advice from "Wisdom of Teams" - I'm not going to beat that horse any more.

Coach K pointed out that Rules are imposed from above, Standards are enforced by the team. Have the team develop their standards. Give them a number of examples and let them set their own (blank sheet of paper).

Be sure that the team understands and uses the change equation.

C = R < DxVxF

C is the change you want to accomplish.

R is the resistance that exists. Note, a small group will accept any change made without convincing them. Another small group will never accept the change. Focus on the majority that can, and must, be convinced to change. This is where the other three elements come into play.

D is a strong enough dissatisfaction with the current state that people are willing to look for something else. By itself, it isn't enough to effect change. If you don't have it, however, the majority of the people will be too busy with current work to even listen to what the team has to say. (Or the team members will find excuses to send substitutes, be transferred off, or simply ignore the project)

V is a strong enough attraction to the vision of the future that people want to go there. By itself, it isn't enough to effect change either. If you don't have it, however, people will simply voice their dissatisfaction with the current state and complain about how little "They" are doing to fix things. Similar for the team members.

F is a clear first (or next) step to take to move from the dissatisfactory current state to the desired vision of the future. Although it has substantially less impact than either D or V, if it is missing, lots of time will be wasted on false starts and parallel efforts as everyone does what they think is best to get from D to V. Be clear.

This a a brief overview of what you need. Please contact one of us for clarification if anything isn't clear. Team-based change in an organization has huge potential - both positive and negative. Learn to be successful.

Much of my work as a business leadership coach has focused on team dynamics.  The tendency is often to bring a team together and have them launch into the project without taking the time to build a 'success' foundation.

As others responding before me have indicated, to maximize success building a clear understanding of the project goals and the reason that each member of the team has been asked to participate is a good place to begin.  The most successful teams have established a strong sense of 'positivity'  - i.e. communication, values diversity, constructive interaction, respect ... and 'productivity' ... i.e. a decision making process, accountability, team leadership, goals and strategies ... and in doing such they greatly enhance the potential for maximum success.  Taking the time - between 1 and 2 days to establish these important elements - it time that is extremely worthwhile in terms of achieving the purpose of this team at the highest level.

I commend you for asking your question.  You are obviously determined to enhance the effectiveness of this effort!