Warning! Construction Ahead, Team-Building in Progress!

One of the hardest things about the development of a strong team is finding people that you work together to bring out the best in each other. A team, based on the old team development framework by Tuckman is not easy! The concept of Form, Storm, Norm, and Perform takes patience. It takes people who are willing to go beyond self-focus and seek out the best in others.

under-construction-clipart-Under-constructionIn our culture this rarely happens. We don’t often see teams that withstand change. Whether we are talking about the turnover of professional sports, or the new environment found in the organization of today – rare is the team that has any real sense of continuity.

So, if we are unlikely to see teams stay together for more than a short period of time, what can be done to encourage teams to flourish? Three things stick out as key components for successful teamwork in this environment:

1) Set constraints – researchers on creativity are pointing more and more to the reality that rather than hampering our abilities to create, constraints actually encourage our ability. If constraints are placed on the process (e.g. the purpose of the group is to formulate a new haircare product for our consumer line), then the group is likely to reach better results.

2) Set deadlines – ok, so deadlines really are just more constraints, but from a specific perspective when we are given deadlines we have a goal that needs to be reached. Groups that have a time-sensitive factor to their work understand that an outcome needs to be reached and are more likely to iterate than to get stuck forever in the brainstorming and discussion stages.

3) Encourage humility (not meekness) – not often talked about, but groups that show humility have a significant advantage. They know what they are good at and what they aren’t. Too often individuals overestimate their abilities, and groups (with a desire not to hurt feelings) place tasks in the hands of people who are not capable of flourishing in those roles. Teams that practice humility have a proper perspective of their abilities, yet still show care and concern.

So your team won’t be able to age like a fine wine or a tasteful cheese, but that doesn’t mean success can’t be the endpoint for your work.

Powers Of Two: Why Going It Alone Isn’t What It Is Cracked Up To Be!

Ok, I admit it.  I get pretty excited when I find a book that examines the way people work – together, afterall that is the tag of this website! Joshua Wolf Shenk’s work Powers of Two is a tremendous dive into the way that creative partnerships work, struggle, and ultimately end.9780544031593_hres

Shenk’s is just one of a growing number of texts that have busted the myth of the lone creator, as he points to examples of individuals whose previous position as the lone creator is actually a misreading of history and context (read the book and you will quickly recognize how Jobs wasn’t alone in his work, nor was George Lucas, Vincent Van Gogh or most of the people we look up to).

One of the things that I loved in this book is the classification of pairs that Shenk enumerates. Not all creative partnerships are the same, some favor one who is out in front and the other who stands in the shadows, others present a structure-giver and a content-filler, still others are directors who bring out the best in their stars. Each of these, and likely other models, gives us insight into the need that we have for others as we work (Shenk’s epilogue even points to his own partnership with his editor in making this book a reality).

For many of us, the challenge we have faced in pursuing that great idea, work of art, or new career direction, stems from the isolation we believe we will feel by going it alone. Yet, the reality is we need not seek the lone inventor/creator/designer paradigm. The truth is we all have our strengths and weaknesses. The greatest pairs often account for the balancing out of the weaknesses of the other. Why go it alone and lay your weaknesses out bear as you scratch and claw for success, when working to align with a partner can alleviate some of your major concerns?

What would it look like if instead of one, there were two?

Don’t just take my word for it, take a read of this deep, insightful book and examine what a new form of chemistry and partnership might look like in your own work or play!

Productive Conflict.

CONFLICTNo, you didn’t misread the headline. Yes, it is possible. Contrary to how we generally view conflict, it actually can be a positive and productive thing in an organization. I would go so far as to state that any team or organization that doesn’t promote healthy, creative, content-oriented conflict will not grow or innovate.

Earlier this week, as part of my work at the SynerVision Leadership Foundation, I was able to co-host a hangout with Bill Stierle. Bill is a specialist in communications and relationships, oh and he also serves to mediate and facilitate high-conflict situations. During our Hangout, both Bill and Hugh Ballou challenged the idea that ignoring conflict in our organizations is acceptable. Bill points out that conflict typically flows from one of three levels: 1) Thinking style, 2) Emotional style, or 3) Belief style.

The reality is when we break conflict down into those three levels we begin to provide framework for thinking about what healthy conflict can look like in our teams. If groups work toward developing a safe-place for conflict (removing blaming, shaming, shooting down ideas, triangulation, and avoidance), true growth can occur.

As innovation researchers are quick to point out, new ideas stem from bringing together things that aren’t normally thought of together…this type of thinking will bring on conflict (potentially at any of the three levels), but if we operate from an empathy framework toward the person bringing forward the idea then we have provided space for growth.

But that isn’t always easy. Many times we get really passionate about things that we hold to (thoughts, emotions, beliefs) and we have trouble seeing how others might think, feel, or believe something that we don’t. Bill suggests we can only build an empathetic link as we connect a “feeling” word to a “need” word (at the 23:53 mark of the video, Bill digs into this area…watch it!).

How does conflict impact your team (positively or negatively)? What have you recognized as you “normal” response to conflict? How would creating a safe space for conflict look on your team?

Teamwork enacted: 3 Lessons I learned when I moved into a new team

5 years ago, my wife and I picked up and moved cross-country with a 6 week-old baby. We did so without a job secured on my end, but a stipend and graduate program for her. I left an organizational setting in which I was the senior staff member for the organization, based upon function and time. After bouncing around for a few months with little to nothing showing for myself, I found a home in an amazing organization.

While I had a lot of head knowledge of in regard to teamwork and had been on my share of sports teams over the year, it was this setting that taught me the true value of teamwork and collaboration in an organization.

Without going into great detail, it was on this team that I recognized the true functional blessing of the team. Following are the three primary lessons I learned.

First, a team works when people share a vision, that they are able to have a “say” in.  When people feel like they have a part in the vision they will work hard and try to be valuable to the team (and organization) – its just that easy!

Second, a team works when people share core values that serve to move the team. Contrary to a potential for group-think, when people share a core set of values that undergird the team (and the organization) they are able to work together with a shared foundation.

Third, a team works when the team members bring various talents and strengths to the table. When people bring differing experiences, insights, and functions to a team, it frees people up to live in their strengths rather than try to be all things.

So, what if you find yourself in a team where these three pieces are missing? Start out by asking questions. Find out if the team is willing to take a step back and redefine the purpose, values, and function. If not – RUN!

Things are happening!

We are in the process of growing the impact here at teamworkdoc! Yesterday we went live with our first article in the White Pages section of the site. Today our connect page went live, with other ways to connect to the teamwork family through Twitter and our new Facebook page. 

Come check out the new things that are happening and join the teamwork revolution! 

Teamwork Required: Expanding the Focus

Here at teamworkdoc.com, this has largely been a one-man show. How awkward, right? A website devoted to teamwork being run by a single individual. That is changing. Starting yesterday. Yesterday, the rollout for the change began – less of just me, more of us!

This website is all about how people work – together! The intention is to look at a part of the world that is often overlooked in our “me-centric” society and to shine the light on the strengths, shortcomings, and opportunities for the road ahead.

In order to accomplish this, new articles will be showing up targeting teamwork through the lens of sports, education, parenting, culture, military service, and a host of other avenues.

Again, this is about the “us” being more than the “me”. If you have suggestions or would like to participate as a guest writer, please contact me at todd@teamworkdoc.com.

Stay tuned as things grow!

Stop the Fighting. Start Collaborating!

Here in my current home state of Virginia, the primary elections are taking place today. For that reason, I thought it quite fitting to think about the failure of teamwork and collaboration that is occurring in the political realm today (uplifting isn’t it?).

In a piece posted on the Huffington Post written during the most recent government shutdown (October 2013), Robert C. Crosby makes the following statement, “[I]n order to succeed in today’s world there is a new skill needed. It is proving true in every sector of society, financial, educational, military and ecclesial. With sharpened skills of collaboration, you and your organization will be at a significant advantage. Without it, you will be limited. Ironically, at present, the 600 or so people we have elected to lead us in Washington are proving sorely deficient in what should be a primary characteristic of statesmen. Is there anyone left in Washington who knows how to or is willing to …Collaborate?” As a teamwork researcher and organizational consultant I very much appreciate this scathing rebuke. As a former political worker, I am embarrassed.

In the spirit of my proposition for increased collaboration, I have asked one of my dearest friends in the world and I man I often clash with over ideas, Rob Abb to join me in today’s post. Rob is a 2009 graduate of the political science program at the University of Michigan, a 2012 graduate of the Juris Doctorate program at Wake Forest University, and currently serves as an associate for a law firm in Detroit, MI. Rob is in many ways my younger brother and we share a passion for many topics, though admittedly we disagree on perspectives. We, however, have found the ability to have discussion and even find middle ground without spewing vitriol towards each other.

(Todd) So when it comes to the topic of collaboration, the situation is quite bleak. We have created a political landscape today in which fighting is the only answer. Political districts are gerrymandered so as to create safe seats, and as a result the need for conversation between ideologies seems to be diminished. We see politicians whose “war chests” are so big that they no longer answer to common sense, but only protect their personal interests. Our pundits also feed the “beast” as they hammer at anything that smacks of going against their status quo, as doing so drives up their ratings.

Folks, can we help stop this? Can we please talk to real people who have differing perspectives than ours, and do so calmly? Can we educate ourselves on ideas that don’t fit our own political framework? Can we stop demonizing the opposition? Could we actually seek to elect people who want to work for a more collaborative environment in politics and have proven themselves reliable in this regard? And frankly can we move to squash the power of the political parties and special interest groups in playing kingmakers through their monetary gifts, political favors, and advertising agendas and just let real people lead in collaboration?

I for one believe that it is possible for collaboration to return to politics (even within parties it seems rare anymore). I believe it starts with us turning down the volume on our TVs, radios, and internet sites when they demonize anything that doesn’t fit their agenda. Let’s return to the public square. Let’s encourage discourse (rather than squashing it). Please. It isn’t too late!

(Rob) First, let me start off by saying that I actually agree with most of what you just said. Our current political system is broken.  Our elected leaders no longer have any real incentive to put aside ideological differences, communicate and work together. In fact, for many of them, choosing to walk across the aisle and work with someone or support an idea from the “other party” is about the most dangerous thing they can do, from a political standpoint. Most House Republicans, for example, cannot even consider supporting anything with the President’s name on it. And if you think I’m exaggerating, go back and look up what many in the party said about Gov. Christie when he praised the President’s efforts and worked with him on something as controversial as disaster relief. You did not see the same reaction from Democrats about the President working with a Republican governor.

Where Todd and I really disagree is as to who is responsible for this mess.  While there is considerable blame to go around, it should not be equally divided.  The old “they’re all crooks” attack is far too simplistic. That is to say, although both parties are rife with corruption and incompetence, the policies and laws that created the systemic failures of our electoral system are not bipartisan. While Democrats (starting mostly with Bill Clinton) have learned how to play by the new rules and exploit our election laws as well as (and sometimes better than) Republicans, the underlying causes of systemic failure in our electoral system that have reduced our elections to simple ebay-eque bidding wars, continue to be advocated for and championed by conservatives and conservative ideology.

In the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, over vehement objection from the 4 liberal justices, the 5 conservative members of the Court struck down some of the few remaining bastions of campaign finance regulation left in this country. The conservative majority continues to espouse the faulty belief that “money = speech” and uses that as justification to strike down campaign finance regulations every time.  In fact, ultraconservative Justice Thomas has gone so far as to even oppose the disclosure requirements – yes, that’s right, not only does he want to remove any and all contribution and spending limits, but he also wants to make sure that we have no idea who is donating the money.

It is also important to note that the concern here is not merely theoretical. The effects of these Court decisions are very real. For example, in the 2012 presidential campaign, outside groups not connected to any one candidate spent more than $1 billion, which nearly equaled the sum spent by outside groups in the previous 12 elections combined.

In response, Senator Reid recently lent his support to a constitutional amendment to empower Congress to regulate campaign fundraising without impediment from the courts.  The amendment was sponsored by two democrats and met with vitriol and fierce opposition from Sen. McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party. They continue to oppose any kind of campaign finance reform.  They also have been staunch opponents of several grass roots movements across the country that support establishing bipartisan commissions to be in charge of redistricting instead of the partisan process that exists in most states.

Let me conclude with one final example about how the free flow of money into politics is diametrically opposed to compromise and collaboration. In the Detroit bankruptcy, we actually saw some real bipartisan leadership in a crisis. The Republican Governor and leaders of the State Legislature on both sides pushed for a bipartisan “grand bargain” to help protect the Detroit Art Institute’s art and ease the cuts to retirees’ pensions.   In response, the Koch Brothers (through their political arm Americans for Prosperity, which has vowed to spend $125 million this election cycle) threatened to run ads against republican legislators who vote in favor of the appropriation before the August primary.

As long as conservatives keep money pouring into our elections (in staggering amounts) and continue to remove any real competition from our elections, U.S. politicians will never be able to collaborate.

(Todd) Obviously, we do disagree on some things, but we both are able to see some of the holes that continue to grow in the current environment. In many ways I believe that the constant media barrage, while intending to shine a light on the work of the government, has actually served to harm it at times. We see people pandering for media attention rather than seeking to actually lead. We see “listening tours”, committee meetings over asinine things with no real impact on America and constant posturing even on the floor of the two chambers (not just at the federal level, but also at the state) that is simply a “made for TV special”.

It’s time to stop. Let’s open up real communication, discuss ideas, disagree when necessary, but find some real positions that we can work toward for the betterment of this nation (and not simply for a small minority of people who have the money, power, media, or shock value to get governments attention)!

Why Teamwork is a Dirty Word in B-School

Bloomberg BusinessWeek published a story last Friday about teamwork. The only problem was that it wasn’t a piece that glorified the value of teamwork. Instead it was insight into the fact that American business school students hate teamwork.

This is a must read, not because the story is so well done (though it is), but it is a must read because it shows that business schools and business students seem to believe that real work is only based on their work as individuals. In life, we must learn to rely on one another. We must understand how to collaborate and connect.

Can we work to change this type of thinking, or is it too late?

Teammate of the Year Award: Why the NBA Almost Got it Right!

Last year, among a litany of bigger, more coveted awards a NBA player was recognized for being a good teammate – errr, the best teammate. In the era of self-centered, ball-hogging, hero-ball that has clogged up the ranks of basketball from the youngest leagues through the professional ranks, the NBA did something that shocked me – they honored a teammate.

There may be more than a little bias on my part, but I have been absolutely thrilled with the selections for 2013 and 2014. The inaugural selection of the award was presented to a player whose identity changed from a slightly cocky point guard, who shot too much, and couldn’t run an offense through anyone but himself when he first entered the league to a player who served as the vocal floor-general on one of the best teams of the 2000s. Chauncey Billups had moved beyond elite player, to amazing teammate, teacher, and ambassador for the game. His was a fitting recognition.Image

This year, the award went to Shane Battier (who had been runner-up the previous year), who certainly exemplifies selflessness and team-orientation. Battier, a native of Birmingham, MI (suburb of Detroit) went from being the most highly recruited high school basketball player in the nation (when he played at Detroit Country Day – Chris Webber’s alma mater) being named the Naismith High School player of the year, to becoming another great at Duke where he led the team to the NCAA title and he was named the Naismith NCAA Player of the year (and was also a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in college).

Battier was selected 6th overall by the Grizzlies and throughout his early career was overlooked as an NBA player. Until, teams started to get it. No, Battier is not the quintessential NBA athlete. While 6’8” and having some quickness and jumping ability, Battier is not an athletic freak like you might think of when talking about Michael Jordan, Lebron James, or even Kobe Bryant. But Battier is a dogged competitor, a player who understands the team concept, and frankly has made every team he has played on better (as recognized by the championships won at each level – High School, College, and in the NBA). Battier is a great example and a perfect fit to follow Billups as the Teammate of the Year.

But, what pains me about this award is that outside of the reason for the name of the award (it is the Twyman-Stokes award), the amount that goes to charity ($25,000 to the charity of the player’s desire) and the actual voting mechanics and finish, nothing in the articles seem to point out anything about the greatness of these two players as teammates! What? Can you imagine a story on the MVP trophy or Defensive Player of the Year simply focusing on the mechanics of the voting process?

What about a piece like this (written by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame) where the teammate is shown for the blessings and struggles he has faced? What about getting real quotes from teammates about the ways he has mentored, assisted, and shown true leadership on the team and in the community? Might it be possible to talk more in-depth about the foundation that the player is supporting, detailing how it fits into their role as a great teammate? Nope. Sorry!

It pains me to thank the NBA, none of the other Big 4 North American pro sports has this award, but could we do a little better in spotlighting what teamwork it is actually about?

The San Antonio Spurs and the Myth of the Small-Market Loser

If you have been reading this blog for more than a minute, you recognize that this blogger loves teamwork, sports, organizations, leadership, and humility – and it is like my birthday when all of these topics collide!

As much as I wish I could say that this article was about the resurgence of my hometown Pistons, as they won the NBA Draft Lottery – oh wait, that didn’t happen. Well at least we kept our first round pick and will be able to still field a growing young team. Wait, that didn’t happen either? Well, at least the Cavs didn’t get to move up again. No? That did happen, they actually “won” the lottery for the 3rd time in 4 years (and this time with a 1.7% chance)? REALLY???? – sorry about that digression, it might be a little bitterness in my system this morning, ok enough about this, today I want to point out just how amazing the San Antonio Spurs are.Image

Within professional sports, one of the constant myths is that teams in the large markets are always the winner. This myth was largely built in the 1980s and 1990s when LA, NY, Chicago ruled professional sports. But in the present environment of league-wide TV deals, social media exposure, and salary caps (in all sports but baseball – though spending more money doesn’t even guarantee things there, just ask the Yankees, Mets, and Phillies of the last few seasons).

An amazing thing happened way back in 1987, the San Antonio Spurs, a team that was one of four ABA teams given “expansion rights” by the NBA to join their league only 11 seasons prior, drafted a 4-year player from Navy named David Robinson. The following year, the team added two assistant coaches to the staff of Larry Brown, R.C. Buford and Gregg Poppovich. In 1993 Peter Holt, the owner of the largest Caterpillar dealership in the United States came on as a part-owner (attaining majority shares of the team later). Then after a horrific 1998 season saw the firing of the head coach and the General Manager (Poppovich) stepping in as the interim coach, the Spurs won the NBA Draft Lottery and drafted Tim Duncan, 4 year player out of Wake Forest University. The primary pieces were in place to form one of the greatest most consistent franchises in all of professional sports.

These Spurs, with an owner who has made his mark with a values-based focus on business, a GM and Coach who have successfully built a roster and coaching staff with underappreciated names, who are well-trained, and fit their organization have become the standard bearer in the NBA. They have won 4 championships since 1999-99 season (the most by any team during this 15 year time frame), making the Western Conference Finals 9 times in that span, and never falling below a .610 win percentage each year (averaged 57 wins a season during that span), and never missing the playoffs. This is all being accomplished as the smallest of the three Texas cities represented in the NBA, and the 4th smallest market of any NBA franchise.

So how do they do it? They win as an organization! Name a player on the team that has ever established a me-first attitude during this era? When is Poppovich a distraction to the team? When does Buford blow a draft-pick (without at least flipping that person in a later deal), what free agents do they bring in that don’t fit? How?

Identity! They know who they are. They know what they want to accomplish, and they find players who fit that type of culture, regardless of personal background (last year they had 10 international players to start their season on a 15-man roster). They win, but they do it with class and with teamwork. If the Red Wings are the class of the NHL, the Spurs are certainly the class of the NBA!

Could 2014 mean another ring for this elite franchise?

Why do some organizations “get it” and others don’t?

What are the bedrock values in your organization? Do you hire based on values? Does everyone from the CEO through the rest of the organization understand these values?