Personally, I can’t solve long division. I don’t do algorithms, logarithms, or any other “-ithms.” I strongly dislike even having to do my taxes (and I am married filing jointly with standard deductions, no investments, no special circumstances, and no complications). I’ll be the first to admit, I’m just not that smart.
What I am is self-aware. After years of training, learning about, working in, and teaching high-performing teams, I knew there had to be reasons – very good reasons – that our techniques, tools, and methodologies all worked as well as they did. I knew there had to be something about the way we worked and the way we trained which was grounded in something other than wild guesswork, happenstance, and luck.
Indeed, as anyone who’s operated in a high-reliability organization knows, you do the things you do for very clear, proven reasons. Often, you do them because other people have died to teach you the lessons your organization has learned, helping to increase its resiliency and robustness.
Developing high-performing teams is no different!
I encounter – daily – blogs, LinkedIn posts, articles, podcasts, papers, seminars, conferences, Meetups (you get the idea) about various aspects of developing and enhancing teams and teamwork. Some are interesting and useful, but the overwhelming majority are based on personal beliefs, ideas, conjecture, experimentation, luck, a bad experience, or any of a number of other subjective, introverted, well-meaning but ultimately wrong ideas.
Don’t misunderstand – these ideas come from really smart people who are giving their absolute best, but intentions do not equate to outcomes.
Why aren’t we hiring these same people to handle our home renovation projects, build our national infrastructure, or handle international trade and defense policies? Because putting in a lot of effort and working hard is different from knowing what you’re doing.
You may be a very dedicated, hard worker, but I prefer to have an actual plumber working on my home’s plumbing, thank you.
Unfortunately, for too many organizations around the world, this is exactly what they do in building teams. They have highly intelligent professionals who are skilled in management, process and portfolio stewardship, agile frameworks and methodologies, and any number of additional things. Yet what they are not studied, or skilled at, is team-building.
To make things worse, these well-meaning individuals also believe, wrongly, that just figuring this “team-building thing” out on their own is the best, most effective course of action. To those people I want to reflect back to my earlier admission that I know my limits. You need to realize that unless you’ve been raised in a culture of team performance and team-building or have spent considerable time studying it, you probably don’t actually know as much about it as you think you do.
Rather, there is an entire world of scientific research, based in empirical studies, and grounded in human social, behavioral, and cognitive psychology, industrial – organizational psychology, human cognition, sociology, and human evolution which informs us about the social, human-interactive skills which power team behaviors, performance, and effectiveness.
There are an abundance of knowledgeable professionals who have spent most of their adult lives studying, working with, and developing great teams.
However despite that fact, organizations, leaders, and managers continue to struggle through trying to figure these things out on their own. They read an HBR article, a few blog posts, and walk away thinking “I got it.” In technology we have a huge array of protocols, structures, frameworks, processes, methodologies, tools, etc., which are intended to somehow supplant or circumvent the real and necessary process of teaching teams and individuals the social teaming skills necessary to enable them to team together effectively.
Developing great teams is not a secret, miracle, or act of individual or organizational brilliance. The science and practice of team-building is based in the fundamental makeup that accompanies being human. Ensuring teams can develop, survive, and thrive, requires the following:
- Right Environment. Teams need to have the support necessary to enable execution, which includes clear vision/direction, prioritization, and goal-setting from leadership, a culture which enables and rewards teaming, and the ability to identify and deal with things which threaten the team’s ability to achieve its mission or purpose. It also requires leadership and concerted inputs from other teams, as well, like Human Resources and Product Management.
- Right Skills. Teams need to be trained in the skills which enable high-performance teamwork, and that training needs to be experience-based as well as knowledge-based. They need to learn from those who have lived it, and they need to be empowered to continually learn, grow, and improve those skill-sets. Training individuals is a critically important – and oft-overlooked – key to success. Most people are not born great team players, however as with any skill, the skills which enable effective teamwork can be developed and improved over time.
- Right Process. A team is a group of individuals working together – interdependently – toward a common and shared goal. As such, they need to have a product which unifies the team members in pursuit of that common, shared goal, and toward which they can work interdependently. They need to be able to employ a process capable of supporting their product’s domain (simple/routine – complex – innovative), and they need to be able to realize intrinsic motivators through Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose (a la Daniel Pink).
Most importantly, you don’t need to figure out how to develop and implement all of these things yourself, and unless you’ve spent your career studying teams, teamwork skills, and team training and development, you probably do not actually possess the knowledge necessary to successfully develop these skills in your teams.
This may seem a stark presentation of reality, and perhaps a bit harsh.
We all want to think we’re great team players and we know everything there is to know about training and developing the skills necessary for teamwork. However, unless you’ve been studying teams, teamwork, and skills, and can name specific social, non-technical, non-process-related skills which enable and enhance interpersonal communication, collaboration, and creativity, you probably aren’t that knowledgeable about what teams and individuals need to develop and enhance their teamwork. As I said in an earlier post – being able to recognize great art when you see it doesn’t make you a great artist!
Instead, you can leverage the knowledge and expertise of others whose professional existence is grounded in building and developing great teams. There are a large number of people across various industries who focus and work in exactly this domain.
Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel yourself, wouldn’t it make more sense to talk to a car manufacturer who can actually help you get where you’re going?
Rather than devising or borrowing lists of protocols and processes to help you get the behaviors you desire out of individual team members, wouldn’t it make far more sense to simply train them in the skills and behaviors they need to team together effectively, provide them feedback, and enable them to execute and succeed together? The knowledge to do so is out there, resident in professionals across various industries and academia. When you find yourself confronted with these sorts of problems, I’d recommend you do what the best leaders always do…
…find and engage the best people to get the job you need done, effectively.
Chris Alexander (that’s me) is a former F-14 Tomcat RIO & instructor, and co-founder of AGLX Consulting, where he co-developed High-Performance Teaming™ – a training methodology focused on teaching individuals and teams the social, interactive skills necessary to help them achieve high-performance. He currently works as an agile coach at Qumulo, Inc. in Seattle, Washington.
This post originally published on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/high-performing-teams-complex-algorithms-things-you-dont-alexander