Why Do Teams Stall?
Regardless of whether I am working with students with limited exposure and experience or clients with extensive exposure and experience, I often find myself coaching them through struggles they are facing while working within a team. We all have some version of a team-based project horror story, but the storyline often sounds something like this: A team assembles with the best of intentions, agrees on a goal that brings them together, goes their separate ways to complete work, reassembles later only to discover that very little has been accomplished since the last time they met, all the while the clock keeps ticking. This is usually followed by a sense of team panic, a reevaluation of the team’s functioning strategy and a flurry of activity until the project concludes. Sound familiar?
The Gersack Equilibrium Model states that this is the normal maturation process for teams and looks something like this:
I interpret the inactivity, frustration and panic associated with this maturation model to be highly wasteful, unnecessary and non-value added to the team’s output. Perhaps we would look forward to team-based projects more if we could flip the model so that it looks more like this:
The High Agreement Connection
If you want to flip the model, begin by prioritizing the principle of high agreement of both what and how to kick off your next team-based project.
Unfamiliar with the principle? I’ll give you a quick crash course. In the world of lean, high agreement is king when it comes to improving processes and producing sustainable change. This principle recognizes that having a common goal, just isn’t enough to get you over the finish line. It’s easy to sit people around a conference table and agree to the ‘what’. ‘We need to lower costs’, ‘increase profits’, ‘improve customer satisfaction scores’. It’s hard to argue with any of those goals. It becomes much more challenging to get alignment on how people sitting around the conference table are going to work independently and utilize their individual skills to accomplish the goal. High agreement means that we value a common way of completing work more than we value our own individual preference for the completion of work.
High agreement is present all around us. Since March Madness is fast approaching, I’ll start there. Every coach shares the same goal….to win the game. But sending your players out onto the court with the guidance of ‘win the game’ and ‘score more points’, just isn’t going to be enough to align players who all have different responsibilities on the court. The coach directly observes the opposing team during the game to identify the team’s strengths and take advantage of their weaknesses and uses that information to align the players’ skills on the next game strategy using a playbook during timeouts and half time.
Let’s move to another example that you’ve experienced if you’re unlucky like me. You are making dinner and discover that you have everything you need for spaghetti except the spaghetti sauce…. a problem that needs a quick resolution if you have hungry boys like mine. How do you get in and out of the store quickly? You rely on clear signage in every aisle so that you can quickly locate the correct aisle and can avoid wandering aimlessly down every single aisle to locate one item.
Here’s another example that you experienced if you got behind the steering wheel today. One hundred
million people commute to and from work every single day in this country and every single person has the
same goal…. get to their destination quickly and safely. We all share the same goal, but don’t all get on Skype every morning to discuss how we are going to accomplish this goal. The rules of the road align our individual efforts and establish a common way for accomplishing a common goal…drive on the right side of the road, pass in designated passing zones only, go on green, stop on red and if you’re me…go a little faster on yellow.
There are dozens of examples of high agreement in our daily lives. If one hundred million people have already embraced the principle of high agreement to achieve a common goal, why do we struggle when it comes to achieving high agreement with teams of twelve or less? Stay tuned for my next article in which I’ll provide some practical insights that you can use to structure your efforts to achieve high agreement faster within your team to reach the high productivity stage faster and avoid the panic and frustration stages.
Melissa Curtis-Hendley, M.T.D., is the Principal Consultant and Founder of MCH Consulting and Design, LLC. She is also a Special Lecturer in the Department of Organizational Leadership at Oakland University. Melissa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit MCH Consulting and Design at mchconsultanddesign.com.