Setting Team Foundations

I’m studying Building High-Performing Teams on Coursera. These are my revision notes for weeks 1-2.

Team Culture

  • Cultural differences are at the heart of performance problems.
  • Team culture: the formal and informal rules a group makes to solve problems and get things done
  • Team culture is one of the biggest factors determining the collective success or failure
  • Culture is a set of guidelines controlling behaviour.
    • e.g. we communicate using memos (not powerpoints)
  • High performing teams are explicit about culture, because they know if they don’t activily shape their culture, one will form anyway (which might not be the one they want)
  • Team manifesto
  • Are you clear on the formal and informal rules you are going to follow

Goals: Getting SMART

  • Goals are one of the most important rules you can make on a team
  • Goals answer the question: “Why are we working together?”
  • Some people believe it’s enough to have an inspirational vision (e.g. “We’re going to have the best product”)
  • Vision is important because it creates passion, but if you don’t connect the vision with reality through specific goals, the vision will fizzle out
  • How can you create goals that get results? Use SMART and WIIFM.
  • SMART:
    • Specific (focus on what really matters)
    • Measurable (no confusion over whether goal has been achieved)
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Timely
  • Teams that create SMART goals are better able to fulfill their big visions

Goals: Answering the WIIFM Question

  • WIIFM: What’s in it for me?
  • CEO: walked around asking everyone “What was your proudest moment?”. He was looking to see that his strategic goals aligned with their interests.
  • Any group, project or task we’re a part of has to fulfill some sort of personal goal or need for us, otherwise we disengage and lose commitment.
  • Setting team collective goals need to consider the individual’s goals, and how the shared goals can contribute to them.
  • Extrinsic motivations: you do a task because of external reasons
    • (e.g. financial incentives)
    • Recognition
  • Intrinsic motivation: you find the task interesting or enjoyable in it’s own right
    • Impact is important. e.g. Connection to customers
    • Learning a new skill or role
  • You can head off motivation issues in your own team by asking the WIIFM question as soon as your team forms

Team Roles

  • A persons’ role is who they are, and what their responsibilities are.
  • Roles answer the question: what do we do?
  • It’s important to define clear roles for each person on the team.
  • One way to do this: RACI matrix
    • Responsible: directly involved in doing the task or carrying out the project
    • Accountable: delegates work to those who are responsible, and approves major decisions
    • Consulted: gives advice and ideas as needed
    • Informed: kept up to date on what is happening
  • Interdependent roles: the reason for needing a team (otherwise individuals would suffice).
    • Who else do I need to work with to get this done?

Setting Norms for Communication, Decision-making and Conflict

  • Norms: shared understanding of how a team works together
    • Goals: why we work together
    • Roles: what we do
    • Norms: how we work together
  • Norms for communication. Need to consider
    • format
      • communicating a message in the wrong medium can lead to miscommunication and bad results
      • e.g. “enthusiastic” exclmation point in email might be interpreted as anger or agression by the recipient.
      • In face to face, emotion is mainly communicated by body language and tone of voice. The words themselves don’t communicate emotion effectively.
      • Team can list all the “needs” for communcation (e.g. project updates, budget reviews, team check-ins, etc), list all the communcation channels (e.g. email, phone, meetings, instant messages), and then match them together
    • frequency
      • Face to face meetings are good for communcation, but they take a lot of time.
  • Norms for decisions. Need to consider
    • What decisions can be made by individuals?
    • What decisions need to be made by the whole team?
    • What process will the team use to make decisions?
      • Total concensus approach
      • Have the leader decide
      • Concensus with leader’s final approval (middle approach)
    • Even if a team member disagrees with a decision, they’ll be more likely to go along with it, because they consider the process to be fair
  • Norms for conflict. Need to consider
    • Encourage productive conflict
      • there should always be a sense of mutual understanding and respect
      • e.g. devils advocate rule

Interview: Mike Barger

  • Make Barger: COO of CorpU (previously Chief Learning Officer of JetBlue)
  • JetBlue:
    • Started with a simple vision: “Bring humanity back to air travel”
    • Address this with building culture/environment that supported vision
    • Harvard case study: starting from scratch
    • How to communicate to new employees: “This is what we stand for” ?
    • Workshop:
      • half a day writing issues on wall.
      • everyone took away home to answer challenges
      • every issue had a simple answer
      • “Radical application of common sense”
      • Grouped issues/answers into 5 areas. These became the 5 core values of JetBlue:
        • Safety, caring,integrity, fun and passion
      • These core values established who JetBlue is, helped them define the environment that they wanted. It helped them to define the practices and processes that would support those values
  • Building blocks to focus on when creating a new team:
    • Do team members have the right skill set?
    • Do they have the right experience?
    • Do they have passion for team goals?
    • Do their personalities fit?
    • Is everyone aligned?
  • The most common team-building mistakes
    • Not creating a specific common purpose
    • Not clear on roles and responsibilities
    • Not changing the team composition when needed
  • Common traits of high-performing teams
    • Not creating a specific common purpose
      • individuals need to perform their own jobs, but in such a way that the team performs better
    • Mutual trust
    • Open, transparent communication
  • Retrospectives are important!
  • Change things when needed, based on reflection
  • Norms/Principles that helped JetBlue
    • In addition to 5 core values, guiding principles for leaders were needed
    • Five Principles of Leadership at JetBlue
      1. Communicate with your team
      2. Do the right thing
      3. Treat your people right
      4. Encourage initiative and innovation
      5. Inspire greatness in others
  • Dealing with difficult team members effectively
    • Not a good fit for the team?
    • Need enough backbone to make it really clear about the rules of behaviour (trust, safe environment to raise concerns)
    • Teams need to be able to call each other out
    • It’s not OK to just “let it go”

The Foundations of High-Performing Teams

A Small Data Approach to Managing Teams

Why WIIFM Matters

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