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Train. Practice. Trust. (Part II)

obstacle-647050_1280.jpg“Great things in business are never done by one person, they're done by a team of people.” - Steve Jobs

**This is the second article in the ‘Train. Practice. Trust’ series. Read Part I here.**

We used to call it team building. Team building is now synonymous with finding enough budget for the team to go out and have a few drinks over a meal. While there is a slim possibility that this could build a team, it just serves the purpose of allowing your team to rest and forget about work for a few hours. More often it's an excuse for the team to vent perhaps moan about the management and the state of the organisation.

As a side note I guarantee that in your team there will be at least one person that won’t attend or doesn't want to attend these social drinking type of events. It’s just not their thing. Recognising this and finding better and alternative ways to include these people into team socialising will be better for you, for the team and for the individual in the long run.

HR teams are specialists in team building, or maybe that’s a perception I used to hold. In my experience, HR departments are now split between dealing with existing people and their day-to-day life, and recruiting for new people and perhaps enticing them into the organisation. Sometimes they hold budget for ‘team building’, sometimes they don't. Some of the weird practices I have seen are for example, the employees negotiate some training with their boss. The training sort of gets approved corporately, but only gets the green light if HR approve and can add it to their list of ‘standard training plans’.

If you take a look at basic training programs for professional teams, or any kind of build-up phase towards team or unit creation, they start with assessment and selection. There are overt criteria to joining a professional unit, such as fitness and, a long gone criteria for me, age. Both of these make private sector HR departments shudder at the thought of the legal consequences of preventing entry based on age or sometimes even gender.

Alongside the overt, there is also covert assessment done by a selection team. Primarily, this is a judgement on the ability of the candidate to fit the unit and role. For example, this is focused on the personal qualities of the individual fitting into the future of the unit:

  • Could we work with this person
  • Can they grow
  • Can they be trained
  • Can I trust them with my own, and the life of  anyone else in the unit.

Often in professional units it’s the quality of the individual, combined with their ability, that will mean a successful pass into the organisation. Professional teams realise that the selection phase is the first step. Trade- and section-specialist training will follow, but for now let’s push the human buttons and see what happens.

When I think back to my adventure into selection for the Avon and Somerset Fire Brigade, there were three stages even before a medical assessment and a final panel interview with a Fire Brigade leadership team. So before I got to the medical I had to work on my suitability to pass - this meant long evenings at the local fire station dragging hoses, baskets and weights up and down the parade ground. Even worse for me was revisiting some really basic math for the numerical exam. After a period of training and practice, physically I was ready, mentally I was prepared, but who knows if they would have seen me as part of the team.

firefighter-1851945_1280.jpgAs a side note, an interview technique whereby the candidate is blindfolded wearing full firefighting rig and bumbling around a three dimensional crawl space maze is perhaps the most fun I've ever had in a job interview. We should definitely do more of this in business recruitment and selection.

Through rushing our recruitment, we compromise the quality of our team. We risk the output, and, crucially, we risk making our process more complicated, as we are now dealing with disruption in our team culture. The lesson here is to slow down. Yes we may need to recruit people, but what really is driving this need and do we want to risk our team quality?

“Any team who manages and pays close attention to work will significantly improve the team's performance.” - Tom Wujec

Teams, well actually just people in general, focus on the wrong parts to help them through the disruptive stages of the Tuckman model:

  • Forming
  • Norming
  • Storming
  • Performing

When the going gets tough in the first three parts, people focus on specific behaviour performed under stress, rather than the work, or the environment around them. We all behave differently under stressful conditions, especially in the private sector we are not trained or equipped with the tools in order to deal effectively with the situation.

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We need to somehow re-ignite the concept that our teams are not magically formed. Teams and individuals are continuously revisiting the Tuckman model.

I hold a firm belief that teams rarely enter the performing stage for a significant period of time. For one reason or another, we are constantly throwing disruption at them, and asking them to keep performing. The ability to achieve at a high-performance team state is dependant on one very complicated and uncertain factor: change.

How you deal with change is the key to dealing with uncertainty.

team-1928848_1280.jpgThe test for this is to observe a fundamental change in the team, typically this would be a new member who’s fresh to the organisation. Measure how long it actually takes for the new person to become a productive part of the team. Measure the disruption it causes to the output of the team, while they work out how to now function with the new person.

It’s a typical concept, and badly held belief, that throwing more resources at a problem will make it easier, faster, and more productive.

There is a brilliant part in the ‘Product Ownership in a Nutshell’ video by Henrik Kniberg. The video is describing the process of dealing with change in an Agile world, from the perspective of someone who has ownership of a product line. When describing how to understand and deal with process constraint, he says “it’s like trying to shove more paper into a printer to make it print faster… It doesn't work”.

That quote is a simple way of visualising that trying to make a process faster by adding resources won’t give you the outcome you desire. The key here is to look at the process around the team; it is far more important, rather than just the amount of people you have. Improve the process and you won't need more people. Allow your team the chance and opportunity to improve the process around them.

Ok, so time to reflect a little. Think about your recruitment process:

  • What could you be doing differently to approach how you engage potential recruits?
  • What is the best outcome for the organisation and the team?

Now ask yourself, how long does it take for a new person in your organisation to get access to and understand all the systems and processes they will have to use and engage with, to start to add value and be effective?

I'm guessing the figure swimming around your head is six months to a year, and you’d probably be correct. Typically when recruiting for teams in the private sector, we are under the pressure to recruit as the organisation is expanding at such a rate of knots, that we need people quick. Now. RIGHT NOW!

But hang on, think about what typically happens in this situation? Didn't we learn what not to do in part I of this series?

What would happen if we allowed our teams to drive their own training needs even own their own recruitment process?

Ok, so slightly less extreme, what would happen if you just gave the team time to reflect on their process, how they work? Who they work with?

What would happen if you supported any if not all resulting requests to change from the team?

It’s a scary thought, but stop here and really reflect on that last question.

What’s the risk here? If the team are focused on doing the right thing, surely helping the team achieve that in any way possible is fundamental leadership.

The bottom line is that, for teams to perform, we have to provide our teams with time to reflect, adapt and adjust in every situation. Professional teams get the opportunity to train together, to change how they approach work, they get time to reflect and adjust. So why should our teams be any different?

This topic will be expanded in Part III of this series. Keep close to find out when it is published, or sign up for blog updates below to never miss a story.

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Andy Hiles

Andy Hiles

Principal ConsultantA firm believer that great teams build great products. Andy is a highly experienced process coach, agile practitioner, and certified Agile trainer with the British Computer Society. Currently co-organiser of the South Wales Agile Group Read more