It’s straightforward being in a sporting team. You know what your position is. You know what you’re expected to do. You know who’s with you and who’s against you. You practice the set pieces, so you know what to expect and how to respond. A whistle tells you when to start and when to stop. You’re trying to win, and you know you need more points than the opposition to do so.
The rules are clear.
The Messy World of Teams
In organizations, things are more ambiguous. Often you’re not entirely clear about your role, expectations placed on you, your expectations of others, the rules, the standards, the context, the point, and what success looks like. Other than that, it’s crystal.
People talk about it being a VUCA world: Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex and Ambiguous. Let me offer up an alternative VUCA to check the health of your team and make things a little less messy.
Each section has two questions for you to consider: one externally focused about the people you serve; one internally focused about the people with whom you’re working.
Too often “teams” are a loose collection of people who happen to work in the same general area as each other. More a crumbly conglomerate and less a fused force.
Here’s where Simon Sinek would start banging the drum about the Why. Or in other words, for the sake of what are we all working?
A lot follows from this. If there’s no shared vision, is this even a team? If we don’t have a shared destination, why are we having these team meetings?
Two questions you might wrestle with:
External: Who are we helping?
Robert Greenleaf planted the idea of servant leadership in 1970, and it has rightly captured the imagination. To successfully serve, you need to know who it is you serve. There’s a reason that savvy marketers create avatars of their ideal customers: to make them real. Who is your team serving?
Internal: What dent are we making?
Steve Jobs made a disastrous hiring move with a great pitch when he brought in Pepsi executive John Sculley by saying “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” So perhaps it’s better if we remember how he exhorted his Apple people to “make a dent in the universe”.
If you lift your eyes away from the inbox and the crowded calendar for a moment, what dent is your team striving to make? If your team is successful in all they do, what will be different? If that’s not clear or if it’s just a little bit “meh” then perhaps there’s work to be done to getting clear on the Why.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Thus it was when George Bernard Shaw first opined this in the 1800s, and so it is now. The illusion of communication is all around us (how many emails are in your in box again?) but far less is received and understood. “Water water everywhere/Nor any drop to drink.”
Two questions to check the state of play:
External: What’s the data?
Drawing on Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, two of the component parts to communication are the data (the facts) and the judgments (our opinions about the facts). What’s interesting is just how easily we slip from one to the other. I’m not talking about people who out and out lie by making up facts. I’m talking about how quickly judgments come to resemble facts.
As you make decisions as a team, ask yourselves, “What do we know to be true?” I suspect what you’ll find surprising is just how small that answer is.
Internal: What do you want? (Here’s what I want.)
Another element from Rosenberg’s model is understanding wants and needs. If you find yourself at odds with someone on your team, one of the most powerful things you can do is to ask them what they want, and then share what you want. It’s quite a shocking moment when that happens. First, it’s shocking how hard it can be to articulate what it is you want. Second, it’s shocking how quickly that knowledge can clear away what’s superficial and focus the conversation on what matters.
You have control, and you have influence.
You have far less control than you think. Which really just leaves you with influence.
Influence is just another word for relationship.
So two questions to check the nature of your connection:
External: Who matters?
In Animal Farm one of the commandments was “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. In the book, that feels harsh. In reality, we all have to make a choice about who matters. You don’t have the capacity to treat everyone as equally important to the team’s goals and ambitions.
Within your stakeholders, who’s on the A List? If you could have only 5 names, who would they be? My bet is that you’re probably underserving them right now. How could you give them the support and love that they deserve?
And within your stakeholders, who’s on the B List? If you could have only 10 names, who would they be? My guess here is that you’re probably over serving them right now. How can you scale back here, so you can direct more time and effort to your A List?
Internal: How am I triggered?
Hands up all those who don’t get wound up by people on their team? I thought as much. That’s exactly no one with their hand up.
Of course they are crazy, whoever “they” are in your case. But rather than hoping they’re going to get un-crazy (it’s never going to happen), a more powerful place to look is at how you get triggered by them, and what your dysfunctional response is.
I know that in my team I have two responses. I either move into “nicey nicey” mode and step around issues that need to be solved. Or I move into “stop listening and just wait for the moment I can interrupt” mode so I can get my Absolutely Correct point across.
How about you?
I think accountability can get a bad rap. It’s can quickly get turned into a power move, a “I’m going to check up on” in a slightly Big Brother way. I think of accountability more along the lines of how can I offer you the support you need to get that thing you want to do, done.
A final two questions to consider:
External: What’s the promise we’re making? To whom?
My favourite definition of a brand is “a promise, kept”. And these days, brands aren’t just the ads we seen on television (for those of us who still watch old-school television.) We all have our personal brand, our reputation. Our team has a brand.
Our very first question was “Who are we helping?” Now we have to ask, “What’s the promise we’re making to them? And how are we doing are delivering on that promise?” I’m sure it’s mostly good. But where are the soft spots? Where do you need to lift your game?
Internal: How can I help?
Ironically (or maybe just annoyingly) one of the ways we break our promise is that we over-deliver. We think we know what’s wanted, so rather than check it out and get clear, we just leap in and start doing stuff.
Before you rush in, slow down and get clear on how they think you can help them. A blunter version of the question (and connected to the Understand questions) is “What do you want from me?”
It’s VUCA. But a good VUCA
Actually, there already is a good VUCA: VUCA-Prime. That’s useful, but I’m not talking about that here.
The VUCA here is your four-point health check for your team. None of the questions are easy to answer, but you’ll find them all useful. Get clear on the questions, and I’ll bet you raise the impact, happiness and focus of your team.