Saturday, 5 October 2013

Team Dynamics or Leadership Dysfunction?

Why do they call it "Team Dynamics" when many teams are anything but dynamic? Is this a case of wishful thinking? 

Do any of the causes of any team and leadership dysfunction have their root cause in flaws with our education system? 

I have a problem with working in teams, perhaps not the best admission to make on your blog when its such an important skill... after all, the National Association of Colleges and Employers "Job Report" cites one of the top skills you need on your CV was "The Ability to Work in a Team."

But the fact that this is an "in demand skill" does not change the fact that almost every personality profile report that I've completed cites that a potential weakness might be my "ability to work in a team."

While this is certainly a fact, and I might even have the tendency to use this as an excuse and a crutch for not reaching my full potential, if I was operating within what Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright describe as  working in a "Stage Two" mindset.

Team Building - Starts with Self Awareness?

How big a deal is this? It's not as if I'm alone here.There are thousands of workers who have Dilbert calendars or their faviourite cartoon posted on their cubicle, or how many employees dread the obligatory "team building events" or have panic attacks at the thought of the Christmas night out. 

The way I look at it is that I am fortunate to have the self awareness on this... the first step to resolving the fact that you have a problem is admitting it right?

So how do I address this? Just work on my own as a one man band? That could be an option, if I didn't appreciate that you can only achieve so much on your own. But I'm fortunate as;

1) I'm by no means alone in struggling with team dynamics

2) I am confident enough with my strengths to be able to highlight the areas that I need to work on

3) In my attempt to address this I have found some fantastic resources that have helped me improve

"The first and best victory is to conquer self; to be conquered by self is of all things most shameful and vile" Plato

Until recently my way around this challenge was that "I don't have a problem with working in a team... I have a problem working in the wrong team!" All I need to do is work for "the right team" and make sure that any organisation I consider working for has a Google-like focus on their organisational culture. 

There may be some merit in this as I read an article on teams and one interviewee observed that he "Never got along with people at work," then he realised that he was very talented and was in the wrong team, enrolled at Stanford, and gets along very well with those people...but this is a strategy that millions of others have, as Google, Apple, Facebook and other companies that have "great cultures"get thousands of unsolicited CVs a day.

I don't believe in the philosophy of the annual review that says "You need to work on the following weaknesses" because I like playing to my strengths - I don't recall seeing Michael Jordan trying to get drafted by an NFL team?!

But its important to acknowledge that if you want to achieve anything of note, that you need to be able to lead and work effectively as a team... but what opportunities do we get to figure these out when your younger?

Sure there is Duke of Edinburgh Awards, Cadets, team sports and playing in an orchestra. But all of these are voluntary, so what if you were not involved with any of these? How do you get to grips with these must have skills if you haven't been taught them, or if they don't come naturally? 

With leadership it took a while to realise that there are so many leaders who are convinced that they have the right model, but there are as many models as there are leaders. these models can be very different, how can they all be right? If would appear to me that they were the right fit for each of these leaders' personality and style.
It can take a while to realise that you need to find the right leadership style that suits your personality, one which allows you to BE YOURSELF! 

I've listened to a lot of people on this topic and, personally, I like Jim Collins' Level 5 leadership framework/philosophy, Marcus Buckingham's rebelliousness and his advice  to "First Break all the Rules," Bo Burlingham for his alternative take on culture/priorities and Shackleton for his leadership style. 

Together these suit my unconventional, creative, anti-authoritarian, meritocracy based, values-led and introverted nature.

Making Teams Work

Up until "a book ago," my philosophy with teams was "OK if I have trouble working in the wrong team, let's make sure that I am part of the 'right' team." But the "right team" cannot exist without the "right leadership!"

Whether joining an existing organisation or starting your own, there is always going to be something that means the team is "not quite right" unless the leadership is exceptional. 

I said that was "a-book-ago" ...I have recently included a powerful addition to my tool kit, it is a useful guide to show leaders how to create the right team environment. 

This book is "Tribal Leadership" by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright, with the introduction from Tony Hsieh CEO of Zappos, who uses the concepts from this research as part of their training... and when someone who takes organisation culture and "Delivering Happiness" as seriously as Hsieh then you've gonna sit up and take notice (and notes!)

This book, along with Marshall Goldsmiths "What Got you Here Won't get you There," has given me the confidence to believe that I could now be dropped into just about any team and could make it work... and I'm not even half way through Logan's book!

Tribal Leadership has also highlighted that my inability and discomfort with working in teams in the past was inevitable, it has all part of a process... a process that the current education system is not geared for, and does not seem to help develop!
Collaborate... As if your Exam Results Depended on it!
Tribal Leadership discusses the 5 key cultural stages that teams go through;

Stage 1 - The kind of culture you'd encounter in prisons or on a run down council estate, and

Stage 5 - A game changing culture one where teams re-defines the standards of their industry

Students taking examsWith regard to the education system the book suggests that "Most formal education, by design, keeps people at Stage Three ("Lone warrior - I'm great... and you're not") all the way through graduate school." This is an observation that Brett Steenbarger's, author of psychology of Trading, would agree with.

He also came up with an innovative and very effective intervention to encourage teamwork. (At least I think it was Steenbarger... couldn't find the extract when I tried to dig it out).

A University in the USA had a medical school which was having issues with positive discrimination, as black students from more disadvantaged backgrounds who had slightly lower grades what their white counterparts, were admitted onto the course.

The University called Brett in to see if he had a "Solution Focused intervention" that might help to reduce the divisions between the students. The psychologist said that he could help but only on the condition that his intervention would go towards the students final year SAT scores. The university agreed.

He went into the class and said "We're going to have a test, but in this test the person with the lowest mark is the score that everyone in the class will get... Oh and by the way this score will go towards your final SAT scores." Cue chaos and protestations in the class... The psychologist continued "However, you can collaborate on the answers for this test with anyone you want to in the class"

Guess what happened? Everyone in the class collaborated to cross reference that everyone had the right answers. The class got 100% of the answers right... and any racial tensions that existed as a result of the positive discrimination dissipated.

Obviously students collaborate and work in groups in education all the time, but if it is such an important attribute then;

Should education be doing more to prepare students for being a part of a team when they enter the workplace? Should tests like the one above be part of students formal assessment? After all what's more important in today's economy? Knowing the answer or knowing how to collaborate with people and groups who know where to find the answer?

Your College Vs Our Students' Future

But then again who runs education? Its academics who have been through a system that has encourages individual achievement - it's MY exam result, MY scholarship, MY university place, MY dissertation, MY PHD, MY research paper in the academic journal, MY department, it may even be YOUR college but its OUR students future... So what can WE ALL do to make sure that our young people are Jim Collins Level 5 Leaders or can fit into Dave Logan's Stage 4/5 teams?

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