Does this sound familiar for your team?
- Incredibly talented people? Check.
- Deep skill sets? Check.
- Professional acumen? Check.
- Passion and dedication? Check. Check.
So what is it about your team that is not ‘working’? Why are you not converting this raw power into forward momentum? Why are you fragmented rather than cohesive? Why are you ‘stuck’?
When working with professional teams, these are some of the questions we tackle. Often, the issues are very difficult to identify and articulate because they are covered by layers of learned dysfunctional behavior and miscommunication. These layers, over time, lead to blame, frustration, hurt and tension. Ultimately, team performance suffers and more often than not, the issues are easier to identify than to confront.
Our study and intensive observation of teams through a Strengths based lens has revealed that there is an unmistakable difference between healthy and unhealthy teams. Simply put, unhealthy teams are out of balance. These struggling teams spend a disproportionate amount of time focused on the work itself – the what, rather than the who, the how and the why. Essentially, they overlook the importance of truly understanding who it is that they are working with, how they get this important work done and why in fact they are together.
Of course, all teams need outcomes and evidence of performance. This is true of any profession, in any industry. There will always be the what to focus on. But at Leadership Vision, we know that those teams who pay attention to and invest in the relational connections between members will ultimately achieve a more profound level of success by any definition.
We observe that most organizations have the general structures in place for teams to function. But that’s where it tends to stop. Rarely is there priority given to developing the necessary team infrastructure that will support ongoing growth and development.
Most often, we meet leaders who view this as non-essential, or “not their job” because the results are intangible and difficult to gauge. But, what we know to be true, is that the creation of a sound relational infrastructure is critical to a team’s ongoing success. It will enable them to maneuver change, handle conflict and adhere to mutual accountability.
As I shared in my team health check post, a team’s greatest potential for function or dysfunction exists in the alignment within three central areas: Knowledge-Purpose-Trust.
Let’s take a closer look at Knowledge
As a core concept of our Professional Team Engagement Model, Knowledge is about having an awareness and familiarity of each other gained by shared experience. It is also about individuals making a commitment to continually learn about and truly value the contributions of each team member.
With strengths in mind, think of your own team and ask yourself these questions:
- Do you know who you are?
- Do you know the people on your team?
- Do you understand the multiple perspectives that exist?
- Do you know how your colleagues find motivation, derive satisfaction and get work done?
We have found that when teams experience misalignment in this area, more specifically, when they do not endeavor to truly know their team members through a lens of strength, the following issues may arise:
Blind Spots – When team members make assumptions and form conclusions about the motivation, thinking or work style of others, this obstructs the view and skews the perspective.
Faulty Interpretation – Without shared language and common experience, the intensity or timing of a strength can be repelling or misinterpreted by others.
Errant Assumptions – When individual behaviors are generalized to personality and the positive intent underlying actions is ignored, conflict and tension thrive.
Assimilation – New members that are not formally integrated into the team and encouraged to help shape the new culture, will have minimal impact despite their valuable experience, expertise, and strengths.
Recently, we were asked to work with a mid-sized professional team that was deemed the ‘problem child’ of the organization. When we spoke with the manager, she said that professionally speaking, there were no weak links. The members came to the team with excellent qualifications, experience and talent. In fact, she had a hand in hiring each one herself. Upon reflection however, she revealed that there had been significant turnover in recent years, and it seemed the anchor team members just came to expect that anyone new wouldn’t stay long. As a result, they did not invest any time or energy into getting to know each other.
To them, it felt exhausting and pointless. It was easier to focus on the tasks at hand. The conventional wisdom that prevailed, was that if you were good enough to get hired, you were good enough to just do your job. But this good enough attitude was consistently putting them behind other teams in the areas of innovation and overall performance.
And so, we began working with this team to engage in a common language around Strength. By identifying their misalignment around Knowledge, we helped them to recalibrate their relational connections. We created opportunities for each team member to share their own distinct narrative around both their observable and unobservable sides of Strength: unique behaviors, motivation, satisfaction, thinking and approach.
It was very clear that the team had never engaged in conversations like these before and the learning was intensely meaningful with direct application to their professional roles. We guided them with specific and provocative strengths based questions designed to increase their capacity for mutual Knowledge and deeper understanding. What they learned about each other had a direct impact on their interactions, decisions, planning and collaboration.
Do any of these issues resonate with you? Would you say that your team has alignment around Knowledge, or do you have some work to do? How do you think Strengths can help begin to address your specific team concerns in this area?
In my next post, I will be looking at another core concept of our Professional Team Engagement Model: Purpose.