Leadership Excellence Series–Team Building


1. Introduction

WIIFM. It sounds like a radio station, doesn’t it?  “I’m talking to here at station W-I-I-F-M … in Cincinnati” (sings a la “WKRP in Cincinnati” theme).  But what it stands for is”What’s in it for me?”   This is the powerful force of self-interest.  How do you go from a group of self-interested individuals to a team that works coherently as if a single unit? That’s the subject of my presentation for today.

For those who were not here at my talk last week, this is the second presentation from the Leadership Excellence Series, which are given by those who are going for an advanced leadership award. The purpose of this series is to provide the speaker with an opportunity to do research on one of 10 possible topics related to leadership, and to present those results to the other members of the club so that they can hopefully benefit as well.

The topic I have chosen is that of Team Building, and let me start by restating my opening question. Team Building—what’s in it for the company? Greater Creativity, Greater Productivity, in other words, greater effectiveness and greater efficiency.

What’s in it for the Leader? More time on strategic planning, preventing problems, and coaching and mentoring. Less time on meetings, babysitting, and dealing with problems.

As a general principle, the most effective thing you can do with your power as a leader is to let it go. This may seem counterintuitive to you, but it is vital to do as a leader. Where does the power go? To the members of the team. You see, your success of a leader depends upon the ability to share power with others and let them direct their own work.

According to the PMBOK®, there are four stages of team development, which were described by psychologist Bruce Tuckman as the alliterative quartet of Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Let’s take these stages one by one.

2. Forming

It’s important to take three sets of skills into account when forming a team. There are problem solving or technical skills, attitudinal skills, and there are people skills In other words, you ask yourself the three basic questions about each potential team member: “can that person do the job?”, “is the person willing to do the job?”, and “does he or she play well with others on the job?”

Leaders sometimes overlook the importance of getting a variety of types of people on a team. This has its drawbacks in the form of potential conflict, but if this conflict can be managed, it is the best way to bring a variety of perspectives on a problem and therefore increase the probability of finding a solution.

One tool for creating a team that has different but complementary types on it is the Myers-Briggs assessment. The original developers of the personality inventory were Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers.  They were psychologist who studied extensively the work of Karl Jung, and created their assessment system during World War II.  They were assisting women who who were entering the industrial workforce for the first time to identify the sort of war-time jobs  they would be most comfortable and effective with based on their psychological assessment.

There are four basic types of psychological preference in the Myers-Briggs assessment system, the first of which is probably the most familiar to you all, that of being an extrovert vs an introvert. Does your mind get stimulation in the external world of behavior, action, people, and things, or the internal world of ideas and reflection. Extroverts draw energy from action: they act, and then reflect. To rebuild their energy, extroverts need breaks from time spent in reflection. Introverts expend energy through action: they reflect, and then they act. To rebuild their energy, introverts need quiet time alone, away from activity.

How do we gather information? Sensing and intuition are the two contrasting preferences here. Individuals who prefer sensing are more likely to trust information that is in the present, tangible, and concrete: for them, the meaning is in the data. On the other hand, those who prefer intuition tend to trust information that is more abstract or theoretical, For them, the meaning is in the underlying theory and principles which are manifested in the data.

How do we make decisions? Those who prefer thinking tend to decide things from a more detached standpoint, matching a given set of rules. Those who prefer feeling tend to come to decisions by empathizing with the situation, looking at it ‘from the inside’ and achieving, on balance, the greatest harmony, consensus and fit, considering the needs of the people involved. Thinkers care about the truth, feelers care about being tactful.

How do people cope with change? Those with the judging function like matters to be settled; those with the perceiving function are more comfortable with keeping options open.

Dimension

Type

Attitude E = extrovert (energy from action) I = introvert (energy from reflection)
Perception S = sensing (prefers data) N = intuition (prefers theory)
Judging T = thinking (seeks truth) F = feeling (seeks tact)
Lifestyle J = judging (prefers closure) P = perception (prefers openness)

It is important to balance your team so that you don’t have all introverts, or all extroverts on a team, for example.   You can have the potential members of your team take the Myers-Briggs assessment online, and make sure you let them know what your type is to make them feel at more ease at revealing their own psychological type.

Having a mix of types is important, but it can lead to the next stage, which is storming.

3. Storming

This refers to the beginning of a team’s meeting together when there is both brainstorming and storming in the sense of potential conflict. The fact that you have mixed types of people is an opportunity to approach a problem from different perspectives, but it can also create potential for misunderstanding. A T or Thinker sees an F or Feeler as illogical, whereas the F sees the T as cold-blooded, emotionless. Think of the conflict between McCoy and Spock on Star Trek. It takes a leader like Kirk who is both their boss and the personal friend of both, to rise above the conflict and see the partial truth that both of them contribute to the conversation.

In practical terms, when a team meets, it must do the following:

  • review goals
  • establish parameters or scope
  • develop a plan
  • assign roles and responsibilities and
  • establish measurements or metrics.

These ground rules are important, because in order to solve a problem there has to be team trust. According to Tom Rieger, who wrote the book: Breaking the Fear Barrier, wrote on the three processes that destroy trust within a team and an organization.

a) The first is parochialism, seeing the problem and the team through the lens of your particular functional area or silo. It’s the “versus” mentality. The sales team vs. the technical team, the software engineers vs. the hardware engineers, and the lawyers vs. everybody else. This creates an unwillingness to see the point of view of the others on the team, and more time is spent fighting others on the team than is spent on fighting against the problem.

b) The second is territorialism, which is about control over what is inside your area and its resources. This is where people refuse to share power, and in this informational age, information is power. When I was at a Japanese company, we used to have a saying that the Japanese informed the Americans on their staff about policy on a need-to-know basis, meaning that if they were Americans, they didn’t need to know. By holding information closely and not sharing it, some Japanese managers gathered power to themselves, but at the expense of mistakes made because the frontline people did not have access to the information that they needed.

c) The third process can destroy trust on a team is empire building, which is the organizational equivalent of scope creep, where one person starts to encroach upon the roles and responsibilities of others on the team. Sometimes this is done with the best of motives, but if people go beyond their role, the leader has to inform that person that their intention may be honorable, but their taking over of someone else’s role or responsibility is not acceptable. This is why setting grounds rules about roles and responsibilities at the beginning of the team’s meeting is essential.

Once the barriers of fear or mistrust have been broken down, the team can now be open enough to each other to effective to able to brainstorm. This open mode means willingness to take risks, and willingness to change. You must never accept the response, “well, we’ve always done it this way!”

4.  Norming to Performing:  The Leader’s Changing Role

In the progress from norming to performing, which is the journey from proposing solutions to actually carrying them out, a leader’s role will change. At first you will supervise people closely, and assist with problem solving. However, you should get to the point where you tell your team members: “don’t come to me with a problem. Come to me with a problem and a potential solution, preferably a menu of potential solutions from which a decision will be chosen.” Eventually, the problems will be solved by members of the team so that you can focus on preventive measures. You now become a coach and mentor for the members of the team, encouraging them to work things out on their own. And when there are small wins along the way, and hopefully a big win at the end when the project is successful, you can then be the recognizer, the one that brings to everybody’s attention the efforts made by members on your team.

And that is what a successful leader is: one who fosters success in the various team members. In closing, to paraphrase from the Beatles, in the end, the leadership you take … is equal to the leadership you make … in all the members of your team.

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