Team activities are part and parcel of today’s business workplace, thus the performance dynamics of those teams is of concern to senior-level learning leaders. Unfortunately, a recent research study from The Ken Blanchard Companies shows that although teams accomplish most of the world’s work, their ability to perform effectively is in jeopardy. According to the research, 54 percent of all workers participate in a type of team activity as part of their job, but 42 percent say they rarely receive any training to get their teams off the ground and running effectively.
“The old adage is if you take care of the beginning, the end takes care of itself,” said Scott Blanchard, vice president, Client Services, The Ken Blanchard Companies. “I think the biggest thing you can do as a chief learning officer is understand that you can run but not hide from the dynamics of team work. When a team works exceptionally well together, they produce better results than individuals do, but teams require more help getting started than individuals do. It’s a very prudent investment, and if you don’t make that investment, you’re succumbing to the inevitable that a certain percentage of your teams are going to get off to a rocky start.”
Blanchard said that team training isn’t rocket science. The findings of the aforementioned research study, for instance, tell much the same story as similar research did in the 1950s. Now that the word’s out, the problem is more a lack of awareness than an inability to cope or to improve the situation. Team leaders should understand first, the predictable dynamics of change and second, what tools they can use to counteract those dynamics and enable a team to start off on the right foot. One such tool is to engage in a team charter process.
“Each team needs to start from the beginning, making clear and sober agreements, and the foundation of those agreements will enable them to handle their disagreements as they arise over time,” Blanchard explained. “One of the prime reasons that people forget to do this is they forget that every time a project changes or a new goal is set by a team, by definition you have a new team. Any time you make a significant change in the membership of the team, you have a new team, and you need to go back to the drawing board with the charter and say, ‘Why are we here? What are we trying to achieve? What support do we need? What authority do we have? How are we going to manage conflict? What conflict is likely to arise based on the composition of the team?’”
Team dynamics include four phases, Blanchard said: orientation, dissatisfaction, resolution and production. Any conflict that occurs usually follows a fairly predictable track. “Professional sports is an easy way to look at it because any professional team has the beginning of a season, a mid-season and an off season,” Blanchard said. “Teams that win are not usually the team that has the most talent on paper. It’s typically the team that has the greatest capacity to leverage the talent they have through effective collaboration, teamwork and chemistry.
“We need to remember that just because we don’t understand or don’t pay attention to the dynamics of teams does not mean those dynamics will not be in play,” Blanchard said. “I would really urge CLOs to take a look in their companies, look at the teams and how they are setting people up to systematically and deliberately achieve higher levels of productivity earlier in the process. It pays great dividends.”