IRS People First Initiative

How You Work Together Is How You Win Together


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In BUD/S (SEAL Training), we did this awful training evolution called Log PT. It lasted roughly two hours and consisted of a 250-pound log, five to seven guys and a whole lot of swear words. The purpose of Log PT—besides weeding out the weak-minded—was to breed teamwork. Thirty seconds into the evolution, you can barely lift your arms over your head—and there’s still 119 minutes to go. 

There’s one lesson in teamwork that Log PT teaches: that it doesn’t matter who is on the team because nobody can lift the log for two hours on their own. What does matter is how the team works together. In other words, how you work together is more important than who’s on the team.

If you want to start producing real results together, start by examining how you work. When it comes to groups and teams there are three practices each must do to produce work: meet, communicate and decide. That’s it. Simple, yes. Easy, no. Here they are:

Team communication.

There are a number of things to consider when it comes to team communication, but two aspects I look for when coaching teams are the ratio of statements to questions (for the same reason why questions matter more than answers) and the types of questions used. Forward-focused questions (“How might we institute this practice next time?”), for example, create momentum, whereas neutral questions (“What are our numbers?”) or rearward-looking questions (“Why didn’t we look at XYZ?”) stifle it.

Something else to consider when it comes to team communication is the quality of conversations had. When I first began working with one of my current clients, one of the first things I noticed was the quality and frequency of conversations. Namely, candid conversations were reserved for one time of year only. I can’t begin to imagine how we—Navy SEALs—would’ve operated had we only shared and received feedback from each other once a year. Communication drives momentum. You can’t sustain (or build) progress without it.

Spend 10 minutes one-on-one with each member of your team every week. If you want better communication, increase the frequency of conversations. You don’t get stronger going to the gym once a year. Communication quality works the same way.

Team meetings.

Team meetings can be the bane of everybody’s existence or an anticipated opportunity to get real work done. In my experience coaching teams, it’s the former—but only because they’ve never been exposed to tools that enable the latter. Team meetings shouldn’t focus solely on the task to be achieved but the relationships therein that make achieving that task possible. You can also classify your meetings into four different types so that everybody knows the expected outcome. Here are four I use:

  1. Decision meetings. The outcome here is to make a decision on a previously socialized topic, or, something brand new where a decision needs to be made immediately. Remember, it doesn’t matter which direction you move when you’re taking enemy fire just so long as you move elsewhere. Decision-making oftentimes works the same way.
  2. Update meetings. The purpose here is to share the big picture so employees become more informed as to how they fit into the larger puzzle. They also become more engaged when they know why things work because now they know how they can contribute.
  3. Discussion meetings. Discussion meetings are a great way to drive innovation because the environment is psychologically safe from the start. In other words, you set the expectation that the meeting will use questions only—no statements will be made. What this does is a few things. First, it’s disarming because there’s nothing to prepare for. The only thing required of attendees is their attention. Second, it sparks a lot of creative thinking while quelling the impetus to make a decision, which is not an easy norm in a room full of executives (but always worthwhile).
  4. Review meetings. After action reviews are the best example of a review meeting. Basically, the intent of a review meeting is to learn from the past in order to inform the future. You can combine rearward-looking questions with forward-looking ones to make sure insights don’t become negative. An example might be, “What did we do wrong that we can learn from and institutionalize into a best practice?”

Team decision-making.

Decision-making is a common fear for many leaders. There’s the fear that it’ll be “wrong” or that others will judge you for the decision made–and you’re right, they will judge you. However, that’s outside your sphere of control, and whatever’s outside your sphere of control is (should be) also outside your sphere of concern.

One thing I like to track for teams is the decision mode they use and how often they use it. There are four different types of decision modes: autocratic, consensual, democratic and unanimous. What gets interesting is when the team thinks a decision is democratic but is really autocratic—again and again.

If you really want to win together, forget about the endstate and focus on the process of getting there.

Article provided by PartnerOn and Authored by Jeff Boss.


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