Mindful Humans

Teamwork: 8 Proven Practices for Deep Transformation

Initially published in Revue Gestion.

Teamwork is essential for achieving results. But making it effective can also be complex. I’ve been part of a work team where relationships were friendly and enjoyable. However, the team didn’t meet its goals. I’ve also been part of a productive team. However, we were overworked, isolated, and mistrustful. After a while, performance deteriorated.
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also observed a toxic team, comprising the leaders of the company nonetheless. These individuals exhibited counterproductive behaviors – blaming, being defensive, obstructing, showing contempt. Their team dynamics had a detrimental domino effect on the rest of the organization.

However, I have seen teamwork improve on numerous occasions. As long as the team members and their leader commit to a rigorous transformation process supported by proven practices, it is possible to achieve it. Even when the level of conflict is high.

The article “Team Cohesion: How to Develop It?” provides an overview of a proven process to transform your team’s performance. It consists of 4 phases, as illustrated below:

In this article, you will find concrete practices for each phase of the improvement process, namely:

 

  1. Strengthening the sense of urgency and the importance of improving teamwork
  2. Rallying the team around a common performance target
  3. Creating an inspiring team mission
  4. Developing essential conduct rules for improvement
  5. Measuring the current performance of teamwork
  6. Developing an action plan, together
  7. Conducting regular progress reviews, together
  8. Reassessing teamwork performance

 

PHASE 1 – Exploring what makes teamwork effective

A profound transformation requires significant and sustained effort from all participants over time. Merely stating that a change is needed is not enough to ensure that everyone invests their full attention and energy, especially over an extended period.

Instead, take the time to establish all the necessary conditions before initiating the change process.

To do this, plan an initial meeting with the objective of creating the context the team needs to succeed in its transformation. From experience, I would suggest scheduling a two-hour meeting, at minimum, to cover the following practices 1) to 4). An additional meeting may be necessary.

 

1. Strengthening the sense of urgency and the importance of improving teamwork

You must first create a sense of necessity and urgency.

Provide a wake-up call and ignite the team members’ enthusiasm to overcome inertia.

Be prepared to briefly present to the team the concrete results you expect. Then, allow for exchanges that enable the team to take ownership of the context. For example, let the team clarify:

 

  • Why is it essential to be more efficient together rather than maintain the status quo?
  • Why embark on an improvement initiative now?
  • To what extent will improving teamwork efficiency have a favorable impact on achieving results?
 
2. Rallying the team around a common performance target

Engage the team in developing a concrete vision of effective teamwork that resonates with and inspires them. Instead of relying solely on theoretical statements, participants will be much more engaged with this target if they articulate it together.

Also, allow enough time for each participant to contribute their experience. For example, ask them:

 

  • Based on your past experiences, what are the characteristics of an effective team? This can refer to the current work team but also to any other team – sports team, another work team, etc.
  • What characteristics do you consider essential for effective and productive teamwork?

 

Take note on the board of the emerging characteristics as they come up.

Consider enriching the insights through the presentation of a teamwork performance model. You could draw inspiration, for example, from the article “Teamwork: Are You Contributing Effectively?”.

Discuss as a team what resonates the most and finalize your ideal target.

 

3. Creating an inspiring team mission

The next step is to create a shared team mission that goes beyond the organization’s official mission.

We aim to define a specific, rich, inspiring, and engaging mission.

Such a mission could be articulated as follows:

“Our [team name] team exists to… [why are we here]. We are [who we are]. We [what we do] in order to [what specific results are we aiming for?]”

For example, what do you think of the official version of an IT team mission:

“To provide high-quality services to our internal clients, enabling them to achieve their business objectives and make optimal use of digital technologies.”

when transformed as follows:

“Our IT team exists to offer our colleagues the essential tools to make their work simple, productive, and effective. We are passionate about technology, but even more so about our human capital, as that is where all our strength lies. We aim for excellence and agility in our practices to contribute concretely to the targeted growth of 30% by 2020.”

More engaging, isn’t it?

 

4. Developing essential conduct rules for improvement

As the last step of phase 1, it is essential for the team to establish its own conduct rules to ensure that discussions are as productive as possible.

Consult your team:

  • What conduct rules should be established to ensure that discussions among us are always open, candid, and that everyone feels safe?
  • What will be the consequences if these rules are not followed?

These rules must be precise, concise, clear, and concrete. For example, if one of them is “treat each other with respect,” ask the team to clarify its thinking. The result could then be “Treat each other with respect: arrive on time for meetings, allow everyone to have their say, do not interrupt.” As you can see, by avoiding generalities, we ensure the development of a common vision of everyone’s expectations.

Once these steps are completed, you will be able to move on to the next phase.

 

PHASE 2 – Assessing current performance

There are several ways to establish a picture of the current performance of teamwork.

At one end of the spectrum, this assessment can be informal and qualitative. At the other extreme, it can be carried out formally through a diagnostic test. This will include both quantitative and qualitative questions.

In the article “Teamwork: Are You Contributing Effectively?” I review two performance models, namely the one proposed by Patrick Lencioni (the 5 dysfunctions of a team) and the more comprehensive one from Team Coaching International (TCI). TCI, in particular, offers a scientifically validated diagnostic test covering 14 performance indicators. However, it must be administered by a certified coach (Certified Team Performance Coach, or CTPC).

 

5. Measuring the current performance of teamwork

If you choose to conduct an informal and qualitative assessment, schedule a two-hour meeting with the team. Facilitate a discussion to identify the strengths and weaknesses of teamwork. Use a performance model as inspiration to ensure that all angles are covered. Don’t hesitate to ask a third party to facilitate such a discussion. This will allow you to participate in the exchanges on an equal footing with the other team members.

The questions asked to stimulate reflection could be, for example:

 

  • What specific cases demonstrate the performance of our teamwork?
  • Considering one case at a time, what worked well? What didn’t work so well?
  • What lessons have we learned?

 

If, on the contrary, you prefer to use a certified coach, they will administer the online test to each participant. The results will then be revealed during a meeting. This meeting could integrate, in a single half-day, the practices 1) to 5) proposed in this article. Consider working with a coach if performance issues are significant or if you want to accelerate team development. A coach will facilitate the exchanges and make visible what is happening beneath the surface.

Once this phase is completed, the team has everything it needs to devise an action plan.

 

PHASE 3 – Taking action to improve teamwork

The next phase involves developing an action plan and executing it. This phase typically spans several months, say six months on average. Indeed, while some actions can be realized quickly, there will surely be some that require more time.

I take this opportunity to draw your attention to the fact that the action plan must operate on two levels, namely team work and work on the team.

Indeed, even if the team works on concrete actions (teamwork), these actions offer as many opportunities to improve behaviors among team members (work on the team).

For example, one of the actions could be to clarify certain responsibilities, and another could aim to have the courage to express disagreement. These actions are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, activities aimed at clarifying responsibilities are opportunities to practice the participants’ courage.

 

6. Developing an action plan, together

Following the activities 1) to 5) above, plan for at least two hours (or a half-day). This will allow the team to develop a detailed action plan with activities, responsible individuals, and target dates.

To do this, together:

 

  • Consider the evaluation of the current teamwork performance.
  • Analyze the strengths and weaknesses that emerged from the exercise.
  • Identify up to three priorities, the most promising ones, for improving teamwork.

 

You will undoubtedly be interested to know that, according to TCI’s experience:

  • Teams that have adopted TCI’s team coaching program have realized at least a 20% improvement after 6 to 8 months;
  • The two skills that have the most impact on performance improvement are: having constructive interactions (i.e., not avoiding idea confrontation but doing it constructively) and increasing each team member’s accountability to the team.

 

7. Conducting regular progress reviews, together

The key to the success of the performance improvement program lies in the discipline and rigor with which the team implements its action plan.

For deep-seated changes to occur, the team must focus on the actions to be taken. It must learn from its experiences. This way, it can gradually develop new practices, resulting in new standards.

Also, it is essential to conduct regular progress reviews for the team. And by regular, I mean at least every two weeks. Indeed, experience shows that this frequency helps keep the action plan in the foreground. Furthermore, it holds the team accountable for its progress.

 
PHASE 4 – Reassessing performance

After 6 months of hard work, it is time to evaluate the progress.

 

8. Reassessing teamwork performance

Complete the program by once again evaluating the team’s performance after this hard work. Compare the results and celebrate the successes!

Who knows, the team may choose to continue its evolution and design its next phase.

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