Author: Robert McNeil

Introduction to High Performing Teams

The High Performing Teams Workshop

Overview and Design

Teams and team building are the critical concepts we cover in this half-day workshop. We offer a unique experience that illustrates the journey teams take on their way to high performance. Not many teams get there. Most give up somewhere along the way and become satisfied with OK performance that never lives up to their potential. We know from our work with hundreds of teams, this does not have to happen to your team.

Our discussion begins with illustrating the Drexler Sibbet Team Performance Model. We show the process that underlies solid team development that leads to high performance. We call our work “Immersive Facilitation.” From the very beginning of this session, we immerse the participants in a fun activity that illustrates the core issue of interdependence. The concept of interdependence is the glue that holds teams together and makes high performance possible.

We use the learning from our simulation to understand the Drexler Sibbet Team Performance Model, a unique graphic that is at once a map, a process, and vocabulary that enables team members to see where they are, where they want to be, and what they can do together to move themselves to high performance.

Our discussion begins at a high level focusing on the big picture of teams and team development. As we move through the workshop, we help participants to be able to use the model to do an assessment of their back home teams.

Team members learn the seven stages of team development as well as the keys to each stage. Improvement can begin at any stage and within any key. This new understanding gives participants a way to discuss team issues easily and productively.

Our work is strength-based and future-focused. We illustrate several practical next steps that teams can use to liven up their team, increase engagement, and align themselves with high performance.

One of the most important topics we cover is sub-grouping. All teams are made up of sub-groups. These “smaller teams” are how work actually flows through teamwork. If the sub-groups work well, the team thrives. If not, work slows down, irrelevant competition arises, and we get less than stellar results. The real secret to team building is learning how to optimize the sub-groups.

The end of our sessions always includes a check-in with all the participants about how they will apply the learning to help their own teams approach the critical choice-points necessary for moving into high performance. We have learned over many years of helping teams become extraordinary that “team issues” never resolve on their own, they must be worked.

This session is designed to be a high-value tasting session that introduces teamwork, and team development to our participants. We know from experience that real teamwork is led from everywhere. As safety develops, trust builds. Open communication and real-time feedback become norms. All of these factor into building a remarkable team. This introductory workshop illustrates the way to begin building high-performance teams. The participants leave with a new understanding of how to begin to enhance their own work team experience.

Value

Our clients receive the real value from attending and participating in this session. They consistently identify the following:

The language of team development: From the stages a team’s journey to high-performance, participants learn the keys that support each stage and the actions that can be taken to move forward. Team members take away an easy way to describe their team’s development.

A way to do an assessment of their back home team. By learning the model and some actions that can be used on their own teams, participants learn how to assess their own team.

The power of sub-teams within a team. This little-known secret to team development creates a new understanding of “group dynamics,” making course corrections easier to understand.

The importance of feedback and openness to teams. Building trust and creating space for team members to say what needs to be said.

The importance of team membership. Real teams can be led from anywhere. Heating up team membership and getting ownership of results is a team responsibility.

• Introduction to additional resources. Access to a wide variety of additional readings, workshops, graphic templates, all time-tested, are presented as choices for optional follow-up.

Costs and Materials

Please call us for pricing.

 

The New Light Saber

 

AR Scorpi
This is AR Scorpi, the first discovered white dwarf pulsar. Credit Mark Garlick / University of Warwick

When the empire strikes back, we need to respond. This is a call for the return of the Jedi. But before we all rush in with our old paradigms tools and models, let’s rethink this. I love the idea of the lightsaber. It’s elegant and powerful, part of us, and connected to “The Force.” The problem is it still divides things in two.

Our new light saber would cleave things together. It would allow us to see the paradox, feel it, get comfortable with our own inconsistencies, and work our way through the mazes, the smoke screens, the fake news, and see each other more fully and more compassionately. This new saber, again, born of light, connected to our essence and fueled by the universal force of good would enable us to immerse ourselves in our humanity.

Together we could view the planet as a whole, and begin to take actions that would make a difference. Emmanuel Macron reminded us last week that there is no planet B. And as Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I strongly believe we must immerse ourselves in each other’s stories. It is in the telling that one begins to take the necessary risks, and it is in the listening that one gets finds compassion to accept and honor the other’s experience and beliefs. Behavioral science has a great collection of tools, techniques, methods, and methodologies that have proven effective in bringing people to new understandings. New Jedi can be trained, and they need to be. Marv Weisbord said, after reflecting on more than thirty years of changing workplaces, “Every generation needs to learn the same things all over again.” Susan Glisson reminds us in her article in the Washington Post that “Person-to-person leads to group-to-group,” she says. “And groups create policy.”

This work requires effort and takes time. Tools need to be re-learned. They need to be applied with skill and practiced relentlessly. The concept of feedback needs to be revisited so that once again it gets connected to learning and not simply to results. Clickbait won’t save us, but seeing the whole and cleaving things back together just might help. Know what I am talking about, do you? Hmmm.

Going in Reverse

 

 

Sometimes flipping your perspective leads to innovation. A number of years ago, I got to meet the great bicycle visionary, Dick Ryan. I have always been a big bike fan, and quite by accident got to see Dick’s prototype, the Avatar, a recumbent bicycle. In conceiving it, Dick flipped the concept of upright riding, and refined a kick back, lie back bicycle that immediately changed your perspective and yielded a far more comfortable ride. I just loved the feeling and as soon as they went into production, I bought one. And I have loved riding it for years.

Reversing doesn’t always yield respect though. Sometimes the spandex speedsters make fun of me, all smiles going slowly up a hill. They grimace, and yell, “Doesn’t that go faster.” My reply always is, “I got this to slow down.” They never say anything to me on downhills as the recumbent turns into a luge!

We teach this technique along with 27 others, to help people refine their innovative thinking skills. Flipping perspective can be a conscious choice, and you can get better at it with practice. It’s helpful to see other’s perspectives, and it develops the ability to see rather than just look. In our work, we call it the Reversing technique, and it’s a powerful way to gain insights not ordinarily available to us. Reversing often develops empathy and is an essential component to design thinking.

If you are ever near our headquarters and want to change your perspective, I am always willing to give you a ride on the Vanguard, Dick’s production name for his original Avatar. Come by and experience getting “bent” as they say in the lingo of recumbent riders. And, if you’d like to discuss our ITS (The Innovative Thinking System) workshop or become a trainer of ITS, give us a shout, McNeil Consulting is the Master Trainer company for the US market. We’d love to talk to you about turning work into play. Watch out for me and others on our recumbents. We see things differently.

Take a Knee

I have always enjoyed watching Colin Kaepernick play. He plays with abandon, exhorting his team mates, taking risks, and showing the courage to stand his ground and take the hits that sometimes come from making a play. I’m just a fan, an emotional one I will admit, and it gives me pause to see him treated with disdain by so many.

Now it’s a different game for Mr. Kaepernick. He has taken a knee. He declared that kneeling in silence while everyone else stands for our national anthem is his way of saying ENOUGH! Our police unjustly kill people of color, and I have to do something to call attention to it. Every time he does it, or others join him, it affects us. By taking a knee, he has used the power of silence combined with the visible sign of resistance. “I will no longer participate in this,” he says so powerfully. It reminds us that the reason for taking the knee is ongoing. The problem remains, and deep inside us, I believe we know that his cause is just.

So many of my friends ( I am an elder white male) chide me for taking Mr. Kapernick’s side. They get upset when they see him take the knee. “He won’t stand for our Anthem” is the most common thing they say, And in their logic, he deserves punishment for doing so. When I posted my support on facebook, I got no “likes” and no “comments.”

Anytime someone raises the “undiscussable” they can expect to get push back from their group. They break the norm, (the undiscussed way of acting in a given situation. If you want to experience this for yourself in a safe way, face the back of the elevator next time you are in one, and you will experience what it’s like when people shun you (in a light way.)

The question I have learned to ask when I get challenged about my support for Mr. Kaepernick is, “When would you take a knee? What circumstances would have to exist for you to decide to take a knee in a stadium? What about at work? Have you ever taken a knee for something you believe in? Can you give me an example? These are great conversation starters. I mean it. Try them out. And the stories will lead to new insights about your friends.

Acting ethically is fundamental to business. The executives at Enron did not take a knee, and they were known as the brightest around. The executives at Volkswagon didn’t take a knee, and neither did the executives at Wells Fargo. Arthur Andersen is no longer around. The Challenger exploded because no one dared to take a knee.

And it’s one I have had to answer for myself. I have taken a knee, and because of doing so I launched my consulting career thirty years ago. When I reported my boss for sexually harassing my reports, I got the visit from HR. It hurt. I remember going home to my wife and saying, “I am going to be a consultant now. You will have to keep us afloat until I get enough business.” We survived, and we never looked back. Now I get paid well for telling people the truth.

Going along and not speaking up causes so much pain in the long run. We all need to learn how to stop a group process at times. It’s one of the real ways to innovate. Mr. Kaepernick proves this point. I respect your opinion about his action but at least admit that he does not deserve punishment for calling out attention to a real problem. And I will not be watching this season until Mr. Kaepernick gets a job offer. I want to see him play again and deep down I believe you do too.

 

Stem Cells for Group Process

Sometimes a well-placed metaphor is just what a group needs. A while back I consulted to a department in trouble. This area was mission critical to the success of the company. Three divisions comprised this function and although successful completion of the work required interdependence among them, the very structure of the department fostered irrelevant competition. Furthermore, everyone knew about the issues, but these had become “undiscussable.” What to do?

At an off-site, we divided the group randomly into three smaller groups. We gave the groups the following assignment:

In a fairy tale, tell the story of our department. You may use all the characters usually found in the great stories we remember from our youth, dragons, kings, princesses, queens, elves, goblins, etc. The tale must begin with, “Once upon a time . . . ” It also must end with, “And they lived happily ever after.” You must write this tale and read it to the entire group. The tale will describe our current state, only in fairy tale language.

We gave them thirty minutes to complete their work. Their presentations were fantastic. They were creative, hilarious, and filled with healing, self-deprecating humor that loosened their perceptions and allowed them to see themselves differently. Their issues were smaller than they thought. And now they had just become discussable!

Towers that stood alone surrounded by deep forests with large thorn bushes became laughable in the telling. However, there were still real feelings connected to a history of real hurt and pain. The group needed a way to transcend these historical sources of rancor.

A solution came from one of the groups in the form the most creative metaphor I have ever seen. A team member suggested that we could implant “stem cells” in places where old patterns needed to be replaced by newer ones. She said that stem cells were undifferentiated cells that could adapt and change into what was required to bring about new health, flexibility, and vitality. In her words, these stem cells needed to contain both feedback and forgiveness. The combination of both would allow for a new sense of collaboration.

Three new groups formed, and they worked separately on where to place the stem cells. They worked for an hour. When the groups presented back, they surprised themselves with their consistency. Team members signed up to make the changes and to create the new ways of working. The team also thanked the leader for being vulnerable enough bring the issues to the forefront so that they could work on them.

And the moral of this story is that group issues don’t go away on their own. They must be worked. Nothing beats a good story and a great metaphor for innovating new group processes.

Stand Out By Fitting In

Elverson, PA Sunflowers

You can find any number of articles written on how to stand out from the crowd, to differentiate yourself. The click bait is everywhere. Fitting in is another way to stand out. Collaboration is hard. It requires facing the group paradox head on and solving the I / We dilemma for your self. On real teams, members can lead from anywhere. They can suggest, support, give and take. Membership can be measured by how connected you feel you are to the team and the team’s goals. Heating up team membership is a powerful way to increase team productivity. And it’s done through the work of the individual members. Helping others on the team can be a real source of joy and celebration. On sport’s teams, we call it an “assist.”

Fitting in does not necessarily mean compromising your beliefs or values or giving away the store. On great teams, members learn to anticipate the needs of others and fill those needs quickly, often without talking. It’s wonderful to see this in action and even more enjoyable if you happen to be the recipient. In this context, fitting in is about increasing one’s awareness to include other members as well as the team. Humor, lightness, flexibility, and healthy self-deprecation can all be part of this way of working.

In our Life Orientations work (LIFO) we identify these team members as having an Adapting / Dealing style. What’s more, these preferences can be learned and practiced. When these behaviors become part of the group norm, you can expect surges in productivity, joy, celebration, and cohesion. These are truly memorable teams. Sure click on the promises of how to stand out, as long as you incorporate those ideas into how you can fit in by helping your team to succeed.

What Does The Silence Mean?

What Does The Silence Mean?

 

A silence in a group once gave me twenty years of work. I was asked to see the working dynamics of the top executive team of a major insurance company. My pitch to the CEO was to let me observe his meeting for an hour. If, when the time ran out, I couldn’t say something that was of real value to the CEO or the team, we would part ways.

Twenty-five minutes into the meeting the CEO said to the group, “On this next item, we are all in agreement that we should spend the $12 million on “the integrated desktop, right?” The team followed up with a deafening silence. I saw my chance to add value. “What does the silence mean?,” I asked. Silence again. I turned to the CEO and said. “I think we should poll the group.” “What the hell does that mean he asked?”

I said that I would ask each member of the group individually to say Yes to the question I teed up. “Do you agree that we should spend the $12 million on the integrated desktop?” I then added that if they said anything whatsoever other than YES, I would record their vote as a NO.

I began, “So Rich, Do you agree that we should spend the $12 million on the integrated desktop?” Rich started by saying, “Well…,” I said, “That’s a No, Rich.” “What about you Carol Ann?” Another No. And so it went. In the end, I had 12 NO’s, a unanimous vote for NO. The CEO asked, “Now what?” I responded quickly. “I think you should pay me 1 million dollars because I just saved you 12. With all the issues we just uncovered you would not install that desktop, not now or perhaps ever.” Instantly I had gained credibility by just stating what people feared to ask, What does the silence mean?

Their team went on to become one of the highest performing teams with whom I ever worked They turned the business around and together they became a great team. I ended up working for all of their teams. One of my teachers, George Leonard once remarked. “Energy follows attention.” Sometimes silence is an invitation to look for the power that’s behind the silence and just waiting to be expressed.

Team Tune-Up

Team Tune-Up

Group issues don’t go away on their own. Teams need to work through their problems by talking about them, not in pairs, but in the context of the whole group.

What teams need is a model and a map to get them started. We make use of the Drexler Sibbet Team Performance Model to illustrate the stages a team goes through on the way to high performance. The model helps by focusing areas for team members to discuss what they see and what they want.

 

As you might imagine, a professional facilitator, with a lot of experience will help the leader and the members to put the difficult issues on the table and work through them. We make use of what we call the Tune up Kanban process to guide teams through these topics. The model serves top point out in where the issue resides and, the Kanban board allows members to surface their description of the problem and its effect on team productivity.

Teams identify the problems as “options to solve.” They pull one of these options to the “Solving” column, and they work on it. We call this Action Research, and it involves a few steps.
1. Describe the issue/problem and state how it affects the team’s productivity.
2. Jointly agree on how to approach the concern (collect more data, interview each other, etc.
3. State the findings and own the issue/problem.
4 Generate solutions.
5. Choose a solution and jointly agree on actions, point person, and time frame.

Tune-ups are energizing. They can be done in a day or linked with other strategic priorities as part of a larger meeting. Like constructive feedback or robust debriefs, Tune-ups are an acquired taste. Doing them often and well can lead your team to high performance quickly.

Here is an example of a team Kanban Board using Trello. You can also use a flip chart and sticky notes. Have Fun with this.

The Waggle Dance – Stating Your Feelings on Teams

Learning to express your feelings in a group is critical for helping your team to see reality. Honeybees know this and they do what’s called a waggle dance when they return to the hive for a meet up. Through their informative dance, they tell the exact location of a new source of food, flowers and new information critical for the other bees to know.

We can learn from our bees to be more present and focused at our own meetings. While we are not going to our next meeting to tell others where we can find a source for making honey, we can focus our energy on saying what needs to be said and heard by all present. You can always be a source for new and relevant information. Let’s use an example where you want to make an important intervention to the group process, say making a course correction, or stopping something that’s ineffective.

Your “waggle dance” is different from the bees, but there seems to be a sequence to making a difficult intervention into an ineffective group process. It goes something like this.

The Intervention Sequence

  • First you need to see the issue. Not everyone does.
  • Next you need to recognize your feelings about what you see – not everyone can do this.
  • Then you need to make a decision about how to intervene. Fear often stops us.
  • Finally you need to say it – crisply, plainly and with conviction.

Each of the above takes time. And often it takes too much time. Often, people don’t say what they need to say, and the group moves on. We call this “road kill.” It’s as if you just ran over a squirrel. You were going too fast and you reacted too late. You feel a twinge for a second or two, but you move on, dismissing it from your consciousness. Perhaps you say to yourself, “Couldn’t be helped.” One of the most dangerous actions a group can take is to remain silent about their own ineffective processes. No waggle, no new information, no progress.

The challenge is to move your ability to say what you feel closer in time to when you saw something that needs to be raised and discussed. It’s a complex skill that requires practice.

Often I am asked, “Where can I begin.” my team mates don’t express themselves freely and openly. In fact, saying what I see might be a career limiting event. However, not saying what needs to be said is devastating to high performance. Silence is often read by leaders as agreement and it can be a symptom of group think.

The way to make an intervention is to be curious. Saying “I am feeling uncomfortable with where we are going.” is a good way to begin. Follow it with, “Does anyone else feel this way?” This will stop the process. Becoming vulnerable and asking for help from your team mates is a good way to get your concern raised. Often one person speaking up is enough to kick start a vigorous inquiry.  If your response is followed by an embarrassing silence, you can follow up with “What does this silence mean?”

A way to practice is to support your team mates when they have ideas that you consider good and worthwhile. Saying “Great idea Emma, while showing your enthusiasm and positive emotions is a great way to practice aligning your feelings with your statements. Practice positive waggling.

One reason that so many employees disdain meetings is that they are asked to attend meetings that are scripted and barren of real feelings. They are often rehearsed, predictable, lacking in real conversation in real time. They tend to be one way and focused on there and then as opposed to here and now. This is a difficult norm to change. Curiosity is one way to break through this. Take a risk today. Your team mates with appreciate your forthrightness. So learn to waggle and then waggle away freely. Tell them what they need to know.