The Building of a “Fantastic” Team

Countless stories and movies have brought teams together for good or ill. Some are unsurprising in having successes due to sheer resources brought to bear and others, however unlikely to hit the mark, get there using good leadership, their own ingenuity, processes and sheer luck. The following outlines the key elements of team dynamics that have been successful (or utter failures) in some “real teams” for consideration in your own team’s growth and triumphs.

Recruitment

This is the number one most important element of any team. It’s also the one that, unfortunately, is the most poorly done. It shocks me how in some groups there is very little preparation, leader training, standards and measurements in place for this. Too often is it politicking, a social exercise or just lack of know-how. Be ready and prepared before you hire. Many Han Solos in the Cantina are Greedos.

Culture: “Meh” is the worst hiring criteria.

You are putting together a “Team”. Not hiring individuals. Consider carefully what you want the culture to be all about! Some teams need to be a Green Lantern Corp, who all do the same job for different clients. They need to however be able to upskill each other, come together organically to battle large projects and support each other’s tasks when one is overwhelmed ala SCRUM. Carefully assess your candidates if they will fit the hue of green you are looking for. Not caring, not asking, not carefully assessing will give you a Yellow Lemon when you desperately need another Emerald Knight.

Interactions with Clients: Representing the team logo

Hiring a superstar who fits the team dynamic is fantastic! But also consider how that individual will fit the team jersey. Having a pleasant, collaborative technical guru is important, but most teams don’t work in silos. Don’t forget to ask questions that gather how the candidate will engage clients. Maybe you do need a Wolverine on your team. But you are now able to judge if he’s the best guy to brief the President on current mutant affairs.

Technical Capability: What you can do, not what you know (unless it’s what you can do!).

This element is usually the one most recruitment processes capture. There are rarely rules in hiring that state you cannot ask for demonstrations of capability (facilitators, sharpshooters, dodging bullets etc). Have a keen eye for requirements being truly fulfilled by the conversation. You can usually tell if someone has won in a light saber battle or has only fought training remotes with the blast shield up. Consider having a SME present to ask questions.

The Bond:

For a group of individuals to have glue, they need to actively build that culture and social “knit”. Once this bond is firm and in place, it helps maintain itself! New squads, teams and groups however need to really work at it alongside the leader with the vision. It’s the genuine belief in the mission and value of the team’s reliance and connection to each other that will make it happen.

Trust=Character + Giving a Crap

The number one thing every team needs. It will fall apart without it. Trust is a side effect, not an action. To get it you need a team who get to know each other well, have integrity and when the Orks charge in, really give a crap whether you live or die. The fellowship didn’t just rally around Frodo with shields whenever the sh*t hit the fan, they worked together in sub groups as well to build collaborative approach, to fend off smaller challenges and ultimately divided and conquered to get to the finish line.. er.. volcano. Fostering an atmosphere of “Give a Damn” isn’t that tough. It’s sharing at the team meeting, sharing successes and failures and deciding together how to move through adversity. If one of your peers/reports is having trouble. Play a little “You hold ‘im, I’ll hit ‘im.” You’ll be surprised how quickly that builds a Fellowship.

Peer Awareness: You complete me

A real bond is more than trust; That gets you there, but to really solve a problem, each crewman needs to be aware of the capabilities of each individual on the bridge. I never want to go into battle with a Counsellor Troy, I want Warf with a Bat’leth. On the other hand, if you need a brilliant innovative solution in an ugly sweater, give me a Wesley Crusher. Quarterly group reviews of a crew manifest, monthly lunch and learns in 10-Forward by each team member on topics of their choice and post-battle walkthroughs by the conquering hero are great ways to get everyone aware.

Ability to move beyond conflict: Punch me in the face and let’s go for a beer

Not everyone will always agree. A team isn’t made up of clones! (except on Kamino of course). If I had a third sign to hang over a team it would be “it’s ok to fail, and you don’t always have to agree”. The key to having a team who can disagree is both trust (see above) and a “make it better and move on” attitude. Problems on a team should be met Thor-like. Hit me in the face with the issue, we’ll hash it out in a room, then in the end, battered, let’s call it and go forward together, drinking horns in hand.

Kicking Ass

You have the team, there is the daily morning hug session and they are armed to the teeth. What now? Go whack a few moles and save the world!

Clear process: No disintegrations

Real efficiency in processes come from out of one formula: (It is crystal clear) + (It makes sense). Following this simple equation means that when your Avenger card goes off, everyone shows up. When you say “hold your fire” your troops don’t shoot. And if if really hits the fan, setting the whole squad against the Sentinel Army means you can be confident they’ll destroy the evil robots, save the civilians, watch out for each other and be back in the mansion for dinner.

Leveraging our strengths: Tanks, DPS and Healers

Good recruiting means you bring in the strengths your team needs. But on the battlefield, you need strategy to leverage them properly. An armada of aliens ships into the atmosphere requires Thor and Iron Man to fly up and charge into the fleet, The Hulk to run amok and aggro any footsoldiers, Wasp to get bi-standers to safety and Antman do build a doo-hicky that makes the mother ship explode spectacularly. The team doesn’t wait until the A-oogaa horns are going off to discuss what they can bring to the table. They just know, and adjust as needed through good communication. Not having a plan or considering everyone equal for any project or task is just foolish. I’ll pass on the Hulk bandage wrap thank you.

Deliver: Throw the damn ring in already.

Lastly, duh, get it done. The best way for a team to kick ass is to actually land foot to butt. Many companies and teams have churn. Big projects that seem to go on forever. Having bodies in and out of those initiatives is necessary but can’t be the only activity for a team. If it’s the monster you have to tackle, set smaller elements into motion. Every group needs a teleporter built, a mansion with neato sliding doors and it doesn’t hurt to stop a few muggers in down time. If the the only thing on a performance review is “Stepped in after Batman went down for 2 minutes before Superman showed up” its not exactly going to motivate your team to pull on their tights in the morning.

Pruning, Evolving, Moving on

Lastly, the end comes to all individuals and teams. Sometimes it’s in a spectacular explosion post-torpedo in your vent, sometimes it’s bidding a hero adieu when the suit gets hung up and they start a crappy job at the Daily Planet. In either case, planning for it will lead to the team continuing to evolve positively.

Terminations: Set Phasers to melt

A good leader sometimes makes mistakes in recruitment. Even with the greatest hiring best practices, you can’t always be right. Good leaders will not have to wait long until they see a goof was made. Watch the measurements (do you have them?), listen to feedback (are you getting some?) and ultimately make the decision that is best for the team’s existence. Sometimes it’s easy to get blinded by midi-chlorian count, silly old prophesies and charm to realize you have brought down the doom of the empire. If you hire and forget, or worse yet, recognize a problem and do nothing about it, sleep with one eye open, Mace.

Being outgrown: All out of purple Hulk pants

My personal favourite way to exit a team member. They are just too good to keep. Once your superstar has ascended into godhood, built a temple on mars for something to do, or seems bored when the rest of the team is sweating out molemen from the underworld. A conversation needs to be had. Trying to hold your super-super hero from growing will only make them unhappy, make a decision without your involvement or at worse, turn to the dark side and toss you down a dark shaft, lightning spewing from your fingertips. By helping that individual grow to another team or role, you will maintain the relationship.

Promoting within: Darth Vader: “You are in command now, Admiral Piett.”

Lastly, is promotions within the team. Sometimes you see this in a hiring opportunity for the team, and can groom a “Number 2” and other times your wizard falls into a pit and you quickly need someone to point the way. As a leader on the team, it’s important that you don’t leave succession planning to the deathgrip of an irate Sith Lord. Learn and consider the talents and career aspirations of each team member so you can avoid the confused mob when the mantle has to be passed.

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How to be a F***ing Good Learning Leader

Someone recently told me “You’re a f***king good leader”.

Not good. F***kinggood.

At that moment I realized, that was single greatest compliment I had ever had in my professional career.
And it was now my ultimate goal to hear it again.

No matter how conservative you are, and how you might want to shy away from the language, if you are leader, you dream of hearing the exact same feedback from your team.

And I’m going to tell you how to get it.

Since we crawled out of the muck, human beings needed 4 things.  To breed, to eat, to have shelter, to feel safe.
That’s it boys and girls.  Your four objectives as a learning leader.  If ever you don’t hear great feedback from the team, you’ve missed one.

First, you don’t need to be a classically trained manager to be a great learning leader.  Of course, you are foolish to disregards proven tools, techniques and education.  A leader in any field should seek to grow and become more competent.  But having these does not mean you are great.  It means you are equipped. (and that’s good!)  The greatest leaders of our time were not great because they were trained to be so.  They were great because they were passionate, clever, empathetic, forward thinking AND they had tools to get the job done.

So onto the meat and potatoes.  How to be a F***king good learning leader.

Breed:
Every species on earth has an global instinct to grow.  Individually, we vary, and that’s ok, but as a community, we need to bring new life into our society.  Through birth, adoption or companionship, we are built to recognize traits and features of others that we seek to bring into our lives and expands.  This is your first task as a leader.  Bring new life into your team.

First thing you need to do is recognize the traits the community HAS and the traits they NEED.  Do they have a firm understanding of instructional design or are quite junior?  Are they strong or weak when it comes to engaging client groups and managing that relationship?  Are they agile and quick thinkers or mired in tradition?

Figure out what you have and what you need and build a strong recruitment approach around it.  Remember also that you are bringing life into your community.  Involve them.  Nobody will know better about a cultural fit than those who live it more than you do.  My favourite approach.  Come up with a set of questions for you and a set for the team around the traits you seek.  Post phone interview, have two interview from the team first for an hour, then you after for the second hour.  Meet after and debrief.

There are only two rules in recruiting for a learning team:

  1. Hire the talent you need
  2. Never, ever, ever break rule number 1

If you aren’t sure, don’t.  The best way of being sure, ask yourself if it was your company, and you paid this person from your savings account, would you.  The answer is always suddenly clearer.

Eat:

The community leader’s job in leading is to ensure they know where water is, where food is, make sure people have things to do to contribute towards these things.  As a learning leader, don’t ever forget to feed your team.

I’m not talking about salary, benefits etc.  That doesn’t feed anyone.  Learning practitioners need to eat creativity, passion, new methodology, interesting approaches, what other companies are doing, what’s going on in the industry, what are new tools…..  They need to be coached on what you know.  You also need to learn from them what you don’t, and coach the next down the line. If budget is an issue, get guest speakers, learn a new tool, pass around a few tablets or mLearning tool serials, have them teach each other something every month (at least!).  Make it a team objective.

Most education book publishers will send education teams books for free.  I had to start stacking books beside my desk I got so many after I emailed them for some.  Most growing learning tool developers are happy to pilot with companies or provide access to beta software.  I come across TONS of stuff every day. Be resourceful.

When is that last time you fed your team?

Shelter:
This is so much more to a community than houses.  People need culture, companionship, social engagement and trust.  They need to LOVE what they do.  The leader’s job is to mediate, encourage and facilitate. They are the team’s compass. Without a leader that is trusted, communities degrade and they don’t know which direction is North.

This is in my experience the toughest of the four elements, and the one that will ultimately make or break the group.  There are few things I found made the world of difference.

Be there.  I sent out a pulse survey to my team for feedback on me, and that was a number one element that came back.  This one is SO basic, SO easy and SO often screwed up.  Every other initiative you have this one needs to be your primary.  Team meetings, one on ones, be at you desk.  Be visible, be available.  Start delegating, say no to the erroneous, see to your community.

Break Silos.  Provide the team with opportunity and procedure for them to support each other.  Instigate a peer review process, an agile project management tool where they share tasks, a weekly lunch discussion.  Anything where they start sharing their business.  The more of this you do, the more they will start to lean on it without your pushing.  The BEST learning solutions I’ve EVER seen came from brainstorming with a team who totally trusted each other’s experiences and feedback.  That doesn’t come cheap or right out of the gate.

Have fun. It completely amazes me how much I’ve enjoyed the company of other leaders at peer sessions or off-sites with their spouses and children, yet they are totally different in the office.  Be yourself for god’s sake.  Don’t be afraid to turn up the volume with a silly joke or interesting treat.  Psychologically people respond to food and humour.  I love it, and its natural but it’s also strategic.  Fun disarms, laughter relaxes and comfortable people work more creatively.

Safety:
In the animal kingdom, the leader is the biggest, the strongest and the best fighter.  They also are able to lead the group away from danger and protect them from predators.  The danger can be from within or without.  These same traits that make a strong leader can also destroy them.  Aggression needs to be tempered with intelligence and vision.

A Learning leader is the first line the team should want to go to for advice on challenges with other teams.  Great equals compassion, interest and shutting your pie hole while they speak.  Great also means tempered response, shrewd questioning and understanding before response.  Your team needs a voice for their concerns, but that voice also represents what the team is all about.  You will likely find you need to coach within, while challenging those without.

I once heard “The leader is a team’s meat shield”.  You can even get a mug with a picture of a steak in the shape of a medieval shield on it. Get one.

You are the team’s portal to upper leadership. You are there to ask questions about direction and focus.  You need to understand objectives that you are to take to your team.   Professionally challenge actions and activities that will hurt the performance of the team and derail what they have built. And in the end, if they are required actions, your job as a corporate leader is to lead them through adversity and challenges and get them back on track.

And that’s F***king good.

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