|* GhostWorks SP Collaboration *, |
a photo by pareeerica on Flickr.
"Let's do a workshop on team building," the executive suggested. When asked the purpose of the event, the executive said that he wanted to heighten awareness of all employees to the desirability of working as a team.
The employees to which he referred probably already know. Many, if not most of them have ingrained habits of thought that say "Two heads are better than one" or "Many hands make light work." Teamwork and collaboration can't be installed via consciousness-raising exercises. Sure, these events can serve a purpose to focus attention - for that day or week - on the topic, and they can re-energize a workforce. But that impact is fleeting. Once a transgression or problem pops the balloon of team-oriented sentiment the group is usually back to square one, seeking blame and defending self.
True teamwork and collaboration arise from a combination of mindset, human relations skills...and process and structure that support it. You as part of the leadership team can provide support for your staff by helping them become more aware of their prevailing attitudes (habits of thought) and can involve them in development experiences that focus on communications and leadership skills. But that's a shared responsibility between you and them. You can bring the horses to the stream, but they have to make the decision to bend down and take a sip of what you are offering.
Inside the team experience, a few ingredients work to develop a climate for collaboration.
- A point of focus or goal - This creates common purpose and helps the group sort relevant from irrelevant input. A compelling goal or focus can unite even greatly disparate individuals.
- Safety for the conversation - The team works best together when they agree upon ground rules or a code of conduct for the time during which they are engaged. The leader or facilitator may ask the team to self-monitor for compliance to the code of conduct, and the team may agree ahead of time about remedies or penalties for violations. For instance, some groups have used the yellow penalty flag, throwing it when a violation occurs. And some groups have funded entire pizza parties from accumulate cash fines for lateness or foul language.
- Inclusion - Individuals are on the team for their contributions to the discussion. However, individual personalities might be less inclined to weigh in verbally unless prompted or directly consulted. The team leader or facilitator may need to be proactive about slowing down the over-contributors to make room for all participants to be involved. This is more than an effort to be egalitarian. It's important to be able to support the team's decisions later when they are being implemented, and it's difficult to assess whether the team has full buy-in unless every individual has had the opportunity to be involved.
- Facilitation tools - Tools and techniques such as multi-voting, nominal group technique, criteria screening, brainstorming, etc. - even the use of visual tools like marker boards or easel pads - enable inclusion, and also the progression through the process to the output from the team engagement.
- Facilitator - Somebody needs to be responsible for the process, and preferably this role goes to someone who is not also responsible for the outcome of the team process. The facilitator's role is to keep things moving, to make sure participants are involved, and to know when to apply tools to help these things happen.
- Direct connection with authority - Often there are rules in the code of conduct about the behavior of the team members re: authority levels of the team members like "Rank stays outside the door," or "We use first names here." It's easy for the authority incumbent in one participant to create caution in other participants. But it's important for the team to be able to discuss candidly and then make decisions that are actionable. The senior=most person in the room needs to be a partner in creating a retribution-free environment where even negative or critical comments are fair contributions in the course of making improvements.
- Methods for follow-up and action - Even the best-laid plan is worthless if it is not implemented. The team, with the guidance of the facilitator and chairperson, agrees upon the methods for follow-up. This is best done in written follow-up that includes individual accountabilities and target dates. The importance of this final item cannot be overstated, because team process is expensive. Unless it culminates in action (or informs action like a focus or input group) team process will wind up frustrating participants and eroding future participation.