An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
I am often asked by managers and supervisors to work with certain Teams because they are ‘having trouble’, ‘in crisis’, or ‘dysfunctional’. As a consultant, it can feel a bit like untangling a chain; every kink and knot is connected, but you really do not know where to begin. The natural tendency is for Teams to want to start with the obvious. This could be an unresolved issue, a conflict, a specific behavior or obstacle that people believe has caused the tangle. But it is never that simple.
How to work with a Team that is struggling
It is imperative to create a shared experience that will help Teams to re-align their purpose, recalibrate their objectives and re-structure their practices. This Team session, and the language in it, must have a forward lean. In essence, the issue ‘du jour’ becomes less relevant when Teams focus on creating a more healthy adaptive response; keeping their heads up, rather than straining to look back or facing down in the moment.
Keeping it real
It is important to normalize challenging Team experiences. The complexity of human behavior mixed with the demands of any dynamic organization inevitably causes strain for every single Team I have worked with. To help Teams re-frame how they see themselves, I like to use an analogy. It can diffuse tension and shift the mood from a focus on problems to a search for solutions.
Start with an Analogy
An analogy can shape a Team session in a way that allows for personal reflection and connection that doesn’t feel forced. A Team session should feel like an invitation rather than a condemnation.
And so I invite Teams to think of themselves as a high speed train, at the mercy of inertia. It can be the kind hurtling from point A to point B so furiously, that there is rarely time to stop and take in the scenery. Or it can be the kind that has literally ground to a halt because of an obstacle in its path. Either way, in those scarce moments of pause, we look out our window and realize that we are lost. Our surroundings are no longer familiar. We are OFF the intended track. In our haste or our paralysis, we have failed to notice the multitude of wrong turns that each of us has made along the way. We all started out together, but there have now been too many micro separations. Those small conversations, decisions, choices and behaviors, that when added together, have contributed to our wayward shift. I tell Teams that it is really not worth the time and emotional energy to go back and re-trace the route. This is exhausting and painful. Instead, it is time to take out the original map or to re-create a new version together.
How to Lead This Session
This 3 step process is designed to help any Team that has lost its way. It is a collaborative exercise, that requires facilitation and finesse. There should be space for all voices to be heard but also a commitment to the meaningful outcomes that will occur at each point along the progression.
- Consultant/Coach/Team Leader as Facilitator
- Team size: Up to 20 people
- Materials Required: post it notes, poster sized note paper/whiteboard, pens and markers
- Time: 90-120 minutes
Step 1: Re-align
Start with this question as it pertains to this Team: What is our Purpose?
Challenge each Team member to create a statement around this. Then, have them share this aloud in a pair or small group. Once this is done, have each member look at their own statement again and make any edits or additions based upon their conversations.
Next, have Team members share this statement with another small group. Together, they will be challenged to collectively create a new and shared version that merges their ideas into a single statement.
Each of these combined versions should be written in front of the Team for all to see. This will highlight both similarities and divergent thought. Every account will be read aloud, and the consultant will facilitate the creation of a collaborative product by funneling these versions down into a single statement of Purpose that is agreed upon by everyone.
Step 2: Re-calibrate
Next, ask this question as it pertains to this Team: What do we DO when we are together?
Have the participants write down all of the ‘must do’s’ for the Team. Essentially, what are the things that this Team truly does that will allow them to accomplish their Purpose on a daily, monthly, or annual scale? Then, in a similar process, have Team members share these out with each other in pairs or small groups. In their discussion, ask them to take note of shared ‘To Do’s’ and discuss priority. This is where Team members get to ask questions, explain thinking and essentially triage the importance of work. Challenge the participants, in their groups, to funnel their list into 3-5 ‘must do’s’. This will help them to focus.
These lists should be written in front of the Team for all to see. The consultant will facilitate the creation of a final list, taking note of similarities and opening up disparate thought/ideas for discussion. Ultimately, the Team will agree upon a final 3-5 ‘must do’s’ to connect their work to the anchor of their Purpose
Step 3: Re-structure
Finally, ask this question as it pertains to the Team: How do we Behave when are together?
In a similar process, individuals are asked to list the behaviors and values, from their perspective, that are essential to healthy Team functioning. Similarly, they will discuss these with colleagues, and ultimately create a combined draft list of no more than 5. These lists should be written in front of the Team for all to see. The consultant will once again facilitate the creation of a final product that best reflects all voices and ideas on the Team. Essentially, the Team is shaping a set of behavioral norms that will create an environment for the work to be done, so that the Purpose is fulfilled.
End with Hope
I have seen this process work time and again for Teams that find themselves at a point where they are not as efficient, effective or engaged as they want to be. Essentially, this process is the first step to creating a filter for which all Team dialogue and decisions can flow through. The statements are to be captured and used. I have seen some Teams incorporate them as a recurring part of the Team agenda, and even others who prefer a large visual in the meeting room.
It is important to know that these conversations will be deeply personal, highly relevant and incredibly revealing. There is an art to facilitating this work with a Team. The consultant must be a delicate force that counters inertia and provides hope by giving a Team the opportunity to get moving once again or to chart a new course in the right direction.