Getting people to work better together – what are the stages of successful team development?

Team development
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Kay Buckby
Facilitator
The Development Company Limited
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Effective team work is the lifeblood of every organisation. Yet my experience is that very little time is spent developing teams that truly work towards a common goal.

Most teams I observe are dysfunctional - goals are unclear, there are unhealthy habits such as ignoring team members, bullying disguised as banter, and poor standards of behaviour are allowed, such as team members not turning up on time for meetings.

Patrick Lencioni’s ‘5 Behaviours of a Cohesive Team’ is a theory of the stages that each team must achieve to achieve their potential.

How have I used the model to develop successful teams?

I firstly like to observe a team meeting, and give members feedback afterwards -  Lencioni says a cohesive team will allow for conflict, accept accountability and leave their own egos at the door.

I can then feed back my observations -  things that are said or unsaid, words used, and how they are said - those hugely telling non-verbal cues.

During one team meeting I observed, that when one member talked emotionally about a project, the most senior person interrupted them to say “Let’s just keep emotions out of this” (said in a highly agitated, anxious way).

The result was a few rolled eyes, shrugged shoulders and raised eyebrows. Yet no one challenged the senior manager, and so the ‘drama’ (as Lencioni calles it) of the meeting died. This team listened to my feedback, and agreed they wanted me to facilitate them to be a cohesive team.

Facilitation session 1

We worked on the exercise  ‘Describe the worst team you have worked in/ The best team you have worked in’. I then drew out the ‘5 Behaviours of a Cohesive Team’ model from their responses.

For homework, they read the book.

The next sessions are spent on Stage 1 - Trust

The foundation of relationships is trust and teams are no exception.

We did a visioning exercise to agree what trust will look like in behavioural terms. The words looked great, but when we met again, it was clear that during business as usual, people were afraid of challenging or showing their vulnerability.

A team member admitted that they’d reverted to agreeing to keep the peace, so clearly there was still a fear of constructive conflict.

It turned out that there was so much baggage in this team that I took them into the car park, and we did a ‘letting go’ exercise I modified from a course delivered based on Native American culture, in Sedona, Arizona.

Each individual held a balloon, and held the balloon until it was filled with all their ‘old stories’ {some may say emotional baggage}.

Each person let go when the moment was right for them to, and one person was in the car park for nearly an hour before they were ready to let it go.

The next sessions focused on Stage 2 – Conflict

Most of us are fearful of conflict until we trust our colleagues won’t hurt us when we share our feelings, weaknesses and fears.

Once we learn how to manage our emotions and embrace constructive debate, meetings become enjoyable, exciting and memorable.

During this stage I worked on developing  their emotional intelligence - each individual could describe how they were feeling, and what their needs/motivations were in a respectful and non-damaging way.

Many teams talk of achieving consensus, but without having a foundation of trust and the tools and techniques to manage conflict, decisions are often made via hierarchy (the boss steering the team) or majority voting.

The team noticed that whilst meetings using consensus decision making were lasting a bit longer, decisions made were better, and there was more buy-in.

The next sessions focused on Stage 3 – Commitment

The increased buy-in through using consensus, and allowing all members to have their say, meant that because every individual felt that they had been listened to, they committed to the actions even if it wasn’t their initial choice of action.

So rather than having to supervise team members to complete actions, there was a security that they were all working to the same plan.

Which meant…

A smooth move to Stage 4 – Accountability

The ease of moving to this stage meant that now, I was rarely intervening during meetings. Previously, poor standards of behaviour had been the norm, such as:

“Sorry I didn’t have time to prepare for the meeting”, or

“At least my statistics are accurate, unlike some people around here”.

Phrases like these are hugely damaging to any team. It encourages a lack of trust, and can pit team member against team member. It also encourages individualistic behaviour.

Because the team members were now comfortable with their vulnerability, they would challenge the above by saying things like “Can I ask why you prioritised other work before this meeting?” or “I personally don’t expect a member of the team to say that.”.

They were now together, working as one. Projects moved smoothly, because the team held each other accountable for actions they had decided on.

And because of this…

…we could now celebrate Stage 5 – Results

The team achieved more. Projects achieved the Key Performance Indicators of cost, quality and time without the negative drama using up so much energy.

As they had moved through the previous stages, results were easy to celebrate. As one team member said “it’s never been easier to see the route to success. We have clear, easy to interpret, shared goals.”.

Here are a few things you may think about in relations to teams you are part of:

Trust – the ability to be honest with each other, and build vulnerability-based trust.

  • How often do team members admit mistakes?
  • How often do you admit a weakness?
  • Do you give others the benefit of the doubt?

Conflict – a cohesive team will have healthy conflict whilst debating important issues.

  • How often do you stop listening to the views of others?
  • Do you express your feelings in your team?
  • Are facts valued more than feelings in your meetings?

Commitment – where the team moves forward safe in the knowledge that everyone has had their say, and buys into the decision, even if they initially disagreed.

  • Do your meetings allow for constructive debate?
  • What tools and techniques do you use to allow each member the chance to have their say?
  • Do your meetings end with clear and specific summaries of discussions and actions?

Accountability – where we hold each other accountable for the agreed standards of performance.

  • Does each member use “I” statements in meetings – i.e. “I feel uncomfortable with this” rather than “I think I’m speaking for all members when I say…”
  • Do you challenge team members who criticise others, both those in the room and outside the room?
  • Do team members challenge when a member doesn’t do what they say this will do?

Results – how the team reaches shared goals.

  • Do you celebrate success?
  • Do you minimise individualistic behaviour?
  • Do members take personal responsibility to fix problems, to achieve results?

As Patrick Lencioni says, getting people to work better together is “truly the greatest competitive advantage we have” nowadays. Building a cohesive team isn’t complicated, but it is hard work. It involves a lot of commitment to the process. 

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By markgmr
01st Aug 2017 17:43

This really helped everyone in the office especially in the sales department. www.gmrgold.com it really helped us come together.

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07th Aug 2017 20:57

amazing

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09th Aug 2017 13:42

Great tips, thanks for sharing. But please don't use a balloon release for 'the letting go' exercise. More info here: https://balloonsblow.org/

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10th Aug 2017 01:38

This is a much appreciated overview of integrating Patrick Lencioni’s ‘5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team’. Thank you for providing it.

In addition to Lencioni we use the Team Essentials model and assessment which digs deep into tangible items that can be used as part of an action plan. It also provides a progress report to measure ROI.

See the model and assessment at www.team-assess.com

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