Chapter 11 - Techniques for teams

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Inclusive and exclusive conversations

Beneath the united façade, teams often have hidden divisions. A clue to these may lie in the conversations that go on within the team. Inclusive conversations are ones that are open to everybody in the team. Generally these are open and collaborative. Exclusive conversations are confined to a smaller sub-group, and are more likely to be subversive and non-collaborative.

By and large, team members are only peripherally aware of the exclusive conversations – not least, because it’s less uncomfortable to ignore their existence. The team coach can help by raising awareness and encouraging the team to discuss how it wants to deal with the issues raised by exclusive conversations. Useful questions to stimulate thinking include:

  • When recently have you felt left out of a conversation?
  • When recently have you found that, unknown to you, a colleague held a piece of information, which you needed?
  • What conversations are you part of, which are not shared with the team as a whole?
  • Who most often gets left out of conversations?
  • What is the balance between inclusive and exclusive conversations?
  • What’s the impact of that balance?

When the team can’t agree on goals

This simple approach is particularly helpful when the team is split in opinion about what it wants to do or how.

  • On a flipchart, draw two large, overlapping circles.
  • In the area of overlap, record where the members are in agreement.
  • In the rest of the spaces within the circles, capture the areas of disagreement, so that each circle contains the perspective of one side.
  • Starting with the left hand side, take the first statement of disagreement and ask both sides to suggest ways of rephrasing to make it more inclusive of the opposing view.
  • Then do the same for the parallel statement on the right hand side.
  • Then ask both sides to consider what new statement might integrate these restatements.
  • The process helps each side understand more clearly where the other is coming from, reducing the level of conflict and allowing new solutions to be generated.

The alignment matrix

The alignment matrix is a tool to prevent conflict in context of goal management. As Table 11.1 shows, high alignment within the team on both what they are trying to achieve and how they aim to achieve it leads to high collective performance. Each of the other alternatives leads to severe underperformance.

  • How much alignment does the team have?
  • How are you going to deal with any differences or conflict of expectations that emerge?
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High alignment on what we want           

Low alignment on what we want           

High alignment on how to achieve our goals

High collective performance, positive conflict

Focus on individual performance

Low alignment on how to achieve our goals

Sub-teams dominate

Disruptive conflict leads to low collective performance

Table 11.1 The Alignment matrix

Functional analysis

Effective teams have both internal and external foci which they manage and where they need to maintain an appropriate balance. They also distinguish between key tasks (what they are there to do) and support or maintenance tasks, which are enablers to the key tasks.

  Download Figure fig_11.1

Ask the team to:

  • Fill in the matrix for a task.
  • Analyse the matrix to see if the team can draw any insights.

Building a positive team attitude

It’s surprising how little effort it takes to stimulate people in a team to look out for positive behaviours in colleagues. Ask the team to follow the instructions below:

  • Decide on one thing you are willing to do for each of your team colleagues to make their life or work easier.
  • Write each of these on a sheet of paper and give them in a sealed envelope to the appropriate colleagues. They will do the same for you. Don’t open the envelopes! 
  • Put your promise into action without informing the rest of the team what it is
  • Each team member should look out for and make a note of positive changes they become aware of.
  • After a month, each team member asks the others what they think was in the envelope. Often, the colleague will have noted a number of positive behaviours. When they open the envelope, they may typically say ‘Oh yes – and that as well!’

This reinforces mutual positive regard and encourages yet further positive behavioural and/or process change.

Temporal orientation

People differ considerably in their temporal orientation. Cross-cultural comparisons, for example, show wide variations about how people think about time; these are reflected in both language and behaviour. The sharp division in Western thinking between past, present and future is not reflected in all cultures.

Within the Anglo-Saxon culture, however, it is generally the case that people tend to have a preference as to whether they position issues in the past, the present or the future. People who have a past orientation, tend to have a preference for routine and what is known. They take as their reference point what has happened before, rather than what is happening now or may happen in the future. They are often good at establishing historical analogies, which can be very helpful, for example, in avoiding repeating past mistakes. However, they may also tend to miss current and future opportunities, to be reluctant to experiment and to question the present validity of solutions and processes that used to work.

People with a predominantly present orientation, at the extreme, live for the moment. They take the view that ‘what is done, is done’ and are eager to move on to the next problem or opportunity. While this is highly beneficial in terms of getting things done, they tend to miss opportunities to reflect upon and learn from experience. They may be, for example, always busy but not necessarily delivering the goods or improving performance.

People with a strong future orientation are either visionaries (when effective) or dreamers (when not effective). They may lack the sense of urgency inherent in present-oriented colleagues, but they are often very good at working steadily towards a long-term goal, using what happens in the present to create conditions under which that goal may come about.

In practice, both managers and the organisations in which they work need to have a balance between all three temporal orientations. The advantages of a strong orientation in one can very easily be undermined by a lack of attention or lack of capability in the others. The coach can help:

  • Raise awareness of what the temporal orientation is.
  • Examine the implications of the temporal orientation.
  • Capitalise on individual variations in temporal orientation between team members.
  • Develop tools and processes to ensure that the team achieves the balance of temporal orientation that will most effectively help it meet its goals.

Building a team development plan

The team development plan provides a link between individual development plans and the business plan. It starts with the question: ‘What do we need collectively to be better at to achieve our (performance) goals for the next 12 months?’ It then goes on to define:

  • Skills and knowledge all team members therefore need to acquire.
  • Skills and knowledge which can be brought in from outside the team.
  • Skills and knowledge which are needed by only some members.
  • Opportunities for sharing learning, or for being co-coached.

The key is making the team aware of the benefits of having a development plan, and initiating a dialogue around how to achieve one.