I recently read the autobiography of Sir Alex Ferguson, the coach who has facilitated for Manchester United 26 victorious seasons. He said he was helped in his career by the ability of being able to observe – “some people enter a room and see nothing, use your eyes, it’s all there.” In team coaching practice, the ability to see what serves to achieve the desired performance and what stands in its path is relevance. I’ve been practicing coaching for more than 10 years and have trained hundreds of leaders and dozens of teams. There are many lessons I have learned from practice, from the failures and successes I have had in team training to achieve the results that they really want. One way to create performance is to know how we are self-limiting, how we stand in the way of performance. I am sharing with you some observations and lessons I have learned so far.
- Common Business Goals and Common Learning Objectives – I have trained many teams in the organizational environment who have achieved “numbers” demanded from them from “the top” or being themselves “the top that created those figures” – turnover, profit, EBIT, margin, success rate, sales, costs … We have learned by training leaders and training teams that the figures do not make sense, they do not motivate – what motivates us is the meaning that we give to the figures, the direction and the journey that we assume or the way we want to reach those figures. The figures are just milestones, which show us where we have reached on our assumed path or direction. Making sense to a team implies the existence of a vision, which may be the vision of a leader that shares it with the entire organization or the shared vision co-created by the team. The existence of the vision, even at the team level, requires conversation on this topic, but in the organizational environment the space for conversations does not usually exist. From my practice, the beginning phase in working together is relevant in the good flow of things. So is the closure phase. A good start has great chances to create a good ending – the way you start a project, the journey, the experience, tells a lot about how you’ll reach the end. When I train a team, I choose to invest in starting by helping the members of the team give a meaning to the experience together, having a direction to inspire all members but also to be a leap, a new superior level of work and life. Having business goals that make sense for the entire team but also having team learning goals, from my experience, is a good start. I like how Seneca expresses in a single sentence all this idea of creating common goals. “If the target is missing, life is a wandering.”
- The framework they have created together serves the goals or limits development – the framework is the structure that “fits” action and individual and collective energy; objectives are part of the framework, but having clearly defined objectives is not enough to have a performance suited framework. I see a parallel between the frame and the “psychological contract”: what are the rules we respect together in achieving the desired performance, how we make sure we respect them, what happens when we do not respect them, what the exceptions are, what our needs are and how we make sure they are respected. Strongly correlated with the phase of having a good start is also the conversation of alignment and “contracting”; I see how hard it is for some teams to carry this kind of conversation. The higher the level of management, the greater the difficulty – is there a belief in the business environment that the top managers, members of the board of directors once they reach this level, are definitely “know-it-alls” and they no longer need such conversations, but this type of conversation is a basic one in the performance of a team, no matter what level they have to perform at.
- Productive sessions in which members create value together – Sessions have become the “scarecrow” of work in organizations, everybody complains about time lost in sessions and their futility. There is a lot of truth here, but this is the reality that we collectively create. We all participate in creating results that we do not really want when we are together: lost time, sterile conversation, frustration, low productivity, null value, power games. For a team, meeting sessions are very good opportunities for alignment, solution creation, finding opportunities, creating work plans and commitment, appreciation and authentic self-expression. This is the value that we create together in meetings. The way the team works in the meeting space is a good parallel for how it works together in other spaces (processes, projects, activities). It is important for the team to become aware of this way of working and to work consciously and assumed in the meeting to create value and achieve the results that they really want.
- Operating mode – Bird stalls, fish banks, bee swarms are a way in which nature shows us that the mode or principle of operation is alignment and collaboration. Flying birds in flocks take place in a simple and aligned form but also with some operating principles that help to achieve the proposed goal: mutual support, leadership taken in turns … In my experience, I watch the same way of operating in team work. It is important for the team to become aware of the mentality from which it operates and what type of working model it creates in this manner – for example, I trained many teams of high technical expertise (engineers, financiers …) and the mentality I heard there was related to control, keeping things under control, control by whatever means what was happening … From this mentality, the co-created mode of operation was one in which each individual tried to dominate and influence in his favour, to occupy as much space and time as possible, to impose himself upon others …
- Complying Principles – To facilitate health and vitality in the organization there are 3 systemic principles that act as invisible forces and which, when not observed, generate toxicity. These forces are a result of the “consciousness of the system,” which maintains the coherence of the whole. It is useful to keep in mind the time (respecting the order in time of belonging to this system, the team, the duration of the contribution is important, the first ones made things possible for others), everything has a place in the system (everything and all those who have belonged to the system have to have their place and be recognized; when we forget or deny someone’s belonging or we exclude them and do not talk about it, a dynamics of “reminders” is created until their membership is acknowledged) and the balance of the exchange between what they offer and what you get.
- Seeing the whole or only parts of the whole – No team acts in isolation but is part of a whole ecosystem. Team discipline to act with the whole in mind is important in the complex systems in which we act – any attempt to solve problems in isolation without considering the context in which it is located, the interfaces with which it communicates, facilitates multiple unwanted unintended effects that often create new problems or even aggravate the current issue.