Growing up, most of us are taught how to succeed as individuals. Unfortunately, individual talent and dedication alone are not nearly enough to ensure a team’s success. Teams are messy. Conflict is unavoidable. Team dynamics are fluid. Despite these challenges, working in teams is fundamental to most endeavors.
Twenty-five years ago, I began the quest of understanding the complexities of teams following a happenstance opportunity with the Chicago White Sox. At the time, a seemingly strong team was underperforming for reasons beyond the grasp of their leadership. Unexpectedly, a complex situation ended up having a simple solution. Since then, identifying the recipe for healthy and effective teams has been my passion giving rise to the founding of the Team Clock Institute, a research and training consultancy specializing in breakthrough teams. Recently, the Team Clock Institute responded to a unique challenge.
The Challenge: Early in 2010, I received a call from a FORTUNE 500 company facing the integration of disparate cultures following the acquisition of a prominent player in the industry. All of the expectable merger/acquisition politics were underway and the leadership team was seeking a simple model to anchor the transition. What began as a casual conversation on a commuter train grew into an opportunity to assess the integration effort and provide recommendations to enhance successful business outcomes.
The Action: Accordingly, the Team Clock model was introduced to key players on the leadership team. The Team Clock model mirrors the face of a clock where each hour represents a stage along the path of team development. In a nutshell, strong teams begin with an investment in common norms and direction. Based on this foundation, team members test trust as they become more cohesive. This platform supports their efforts to be innovative and take risks. This activity inevitably leads to change and a repositioning of people and functions. Healthy teams find a way to refocus following such growth and cycle begins again.
The Result: Over the next six months, the Team Clock Institute assessed a series of key business units to determine opportunities for greater effectiveness. Results were analyzed revealing the strengths, vulnerabilities, areas of congruence and discord on the team. Debriefing sessions were facilitated to discuss results and targeted actions were identified that would bring measurable change in team engagement and productivity.
Typical examples of diagnostic vulnerabilities included:
- Mired in loss: too depleted to re-invest.
- Inability to manage conflict/differences respectfully.
- Indulgence in the comfort zone: afraid to take risks and explore new ideas.
- Adherence to the status quo: unwilling to accept the consequences of change.
From a strengths perspective, the Team Clock Institute identified key anchors to healthy team interactions based on the diagnostic results for each team. Goals were established in each of the core areas of vulnerability and business metrics were assigned to determine ROI. The goal areas included:
- Investment infrastructure
- Consensus philosophy/mission/values/vision
- Trust and interactional dynamics
- Effective management of conflict
- Innovation and team effectiveness
- Measureable productivity/efficiency shifts
- Distancing to leverage change for growth
- Functional repositioning and identification of new opportunities/methodologies
The business case for effective teaming is simple. Healthy teams are more productive and adaptable. Anticipating the 4th quarter of the calendar year, the organization is poised to re-assess their team effectiveness metrics mapped to their productivity results. Pending the quantitative impact, the qualitative result is clear: the emotional journey of a healthy team provides opportunities for positive workplace culture that struggling teams rarely experience. Where is your team on the Team Clock?