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  • Writer's pictureKate Earle

Teaming Bright Spots & Blind Spots

Take a minute and think about the best team experience you ever had.

What did it look and feel like?

We ask this question of our clients all the time. No matter the country or context, we hear that the best team experiences share common attributes: diversity, flexibility, clarity, respect, competence, and joy.

Teaming Bright Spots

We continually gather and add to these themes in a running list of teaming best practices, or bright spots. Here are a few of our favorites.

  1. Establish the End Point: For teams that come together to accomplish a specific goal, the most important key to success is A SPECIFIC GOAL. You need to communicate what needs to happen, by when, what resources are available, what can get in the way, and what the stakes are. The goal is the banner your team needs to rally around. Make it a good one.

  2. Require Humility: Teaming has no room for ego. When you are trying to accomplish something important with a diverse group of people, everyone needs to admit they don’t have all the answers. And everyone needs to be open to the fact that if one person fails, the team fails.

  3. Encourage Curiosity: Every teaming configuration has one thing in common: it is unique. The players will vary from challenge to challenge. This means that there is no “business as usual.” Every team member needs to be willing to try new things, explore different options, and ask “What if?” until the answer is “That’s what.”

  4. Invite Friction: Diversity is a key component of teaming. It increases creativity and allows the team to anticipate problems and see opportunities. It also increases conflict. When you assemble a disparate group of people, there are going to be differences of opinion and approach that, if handled ineffectively, can prevent the work from moving forward. Knowing that conflict is inevitable is actually a gift—you can anticipate it and change it from a liability to an opportunity. Provide your team with the tools they need to safely express disagreements, negotiate between different views, and work under a certain amount of productive tension. Frame any conflict as an opportunity for collaboration. It’s not about two or more people who are working against one another. It’s about a team that is working against a problem.

  5. Use a Model: There are a lot of effective team models to choose from, and they can provide a welcome sense of structure to an ad-hoc team. When people can label a situation—“Oh, we’re storming now!” or “Hey, we have a new team member so we’re back to forming. How can we bring them up to speed?”—and know how to address the related issues and make the most out of the opportunities, it adds a sense of control the team can rely on.

  6. Back Away: One of the most challenging things for a leader is to set up an ad-hoc team and then let the team members take it from there. Face it—if you could do it all yourself, then why aren’t you doing it all yourself? Teaming requires a leader who is competent enough to set the parameters and goals of the teaming effort, and confident enough to step away and let the team do its job. If the leader chooses the right people for the job and gives them the tools they need to do that job, there’s no need to hover.

  7. End It with Elegance: Teaming is not meant for ongoing projects. The players are gathered, they do the work, and then they disperse. Make sure your ad-hoc team knows when it’s over, and do it with grace and awareness. You’ve watched the team work—let them know you value their efforts, their expertise, and their results.

Blind Spots to Effective Teaming

Where there are bright spots there are always blind spots as well. Every team has its challenges, whether it’s an established team or one that has an expiration date. Here are a few blind spots we often see teams struggle with. Knowing they might be lurking on your team can help you have a plan to get around them.

  1. Clash of the Titans: While diversity is key for a high-functioning teaming effort, when you bring together people from different backgrounds you should expect a certain amount of conflict while the players sort themselves out. To move from confusion to efficiency, make sure each person knows what the others bring to the table, why that skill is vital to the initiative’s success, the role they will play, and how they will all work together. This transparency lets in the light and allows everyone to see why things are the way they are.

  2. It's not Pie—There’s Enough for Everyone: Related to the need for humility is the challenge of moving from a scarcity to an abundance mentality. In a team, the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts. Successful teaming requires that all players see each other as collaborators, not competitors.

  3. Unreasonable Expectations: Don’t expect “great” right out of the gate. People have to learn how to team, and that is the single most important role a leader will play. When you take the time to educate players about the concepts of how to work together to generate new ideas, find answers, and solve problems, you are setting up your teaming initiative for success.

A Few More Sources

In addition to our clients, we found inspiring bright spots and cautionary blind spots in the following resource. They might be helpful for you too.

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