Tag Archives: teams

Most Teams are Functional, Few are Accountable

This is a series on Teal and Levels of Work. Here is the backstory for the series in case you are interested in the context. The purpose for the series is to explore the tenets of Teal through the lens of Levels of Work.
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What’s the difference between a group of people, a team (functional team) and an accountable team? Give any group of people a problem to solve, a decision to make, a goal or objective and a dramatic transformation begins from a group to a team.

Think about any high performing team you were ever a member of, and think about these defining characteristics.

Characteristics of a Team (Functional)

  • Clear and agreed upon purpose.
  • Key measures that indicate if team is on track.
  • Competent system.
  • Competent people.
  • Shared fate (what happens to one happens to all).

Functional teams are found everywhere. What is the difference between a functional team and that rare accountable team?

An accountable team is a functional team that manages its own accountability.

Could this be the team dynamic that Laloux describes at Buurtzorg? My intuition tells me that Buurtzorg’s self-managed teams are one and the same as Jaques‘ accountable team. The dynamics in the design of Buurtzorg’s self-managed teams become clear in the light of Jaques’ accountability schema.

If we can temporarily set aside “who?” is accountable and focus only on how accountability is managed, we find alignment between Buurtzorg’s self-managed team and Jaques’ accountable team. And if there is alignment at the team level, could there also be alignment at the manager level, though Buurtzorg would declare there is no manager. I think I can put those two pieces together in my next post.
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Smartest Person?

“I’m not trying to show off,” defended Alex. “I have the answer, it’s quicker, it solves the problem. I know it looks like I am a just being a glory hog, but I call it a touchdown!”

I waited. Alex was in no mood to listen, not even to himself. So, I waited some more. Finally, I spoke.

“Alex, three months ago, as our best technician, did we expect you to have the answers to the biggest decisions on your projects?”

“Absolutely, that’s why I got the promotion.”

“Yes, three months ago, we expected you to be the best, the smartest person in the room. That’s why we promoted you to manager. Do you think this is a different game now?”

“I suppose it is or I wouldn’t be sitting here in front of you.”

“Alex, the game is different. Before, we expected you to have all the answers. Now you are a manager. We expect you to have all the questions. Instead of being the smartest person, you may have to be the dumbest person. I want you to ask,

What if? By when? Why did that happen? When do we expect to finish? What could we do differently? How come that happened? What is stopping us?

“Just a few simple, dumb questions. It’s a different role you are playing, now.”

Next Gen Technology

Looking at Agile through the lens of Levels of Work. Today, we move down the list to next gen technology.

  1. North star embodied across the organization.
  2. Network of empowered teams.
  3. Rapid decision making and learning cycles.
  4. Dynamic people model that ignites passion.
  5. Next generation enabling technology.

Next generation enabling technology
Technology will replace many roles, AND it will drive the necessity for higher levels of work to design, configure and implement technology. When is the current technology obsolete? When is next gen mature enough to rely on? We always overestimate what we can do this year, and underestimate what we can do in ten years.

This technology transformation allows for more transparency in core operational and support functions, more rapid project deployment requiring the use of cross functional teams. The easy problems will be solved by technology and will create the necessity for more functional integration. Core functions and support functions will still exist, but the organization can now focus in functional integration (don’t get rid of your silos, integrate them). This integration will focus on functional capacity and the balance of those capacities between functions. It will also require the inspection of each function’s output used by related functions. Some of that output will be accelerated through the use of technology. Data will be collected in real time and routed democratically through the organization.

This is not subtle stuff and the organization will look different.

Avoid the Hazard

The paceline moved north, into a headwind, pulling 18mph. “Walker up!” The shout came from the lead cyclist on the nose. He pulled his right hand off the handlebars, arm straight out, pointing to the pedestrian in the bike lane. A second later, his right hand dropped, waved the pace line left, out of the bike lane into the active traffic lane. Though the group may not have seen the walker, each cyclist in the line knew about the hazard and knew to follow the lead bike into the active traffic lane to avoid it.

Intentional, agreed-upon communication. It was simple, efficient and effective. As the paceline continued north, there were other hazards to avoid, potholes, a tree branch in the road, narrowing traffic lanes, overtaking cars. Through a series of hand signals and audible shouts, the group made its way safely through urban traffic.

How does your team communicate in its daily routine? Do they have simple, efficient protocols to warn of impending hazards, delays, material shortages? Do they have agreed-upon signals to provide each other with feedback?

Chances are good that prior to a delay, prior to a material shortage, prior to a change in schedule, somebody knew. Someone could have warned the group and the group could have acted according to an agreed-upon protocol.

Get your team together and play the “what if” game. Find out what problems occur often and how they are best solved. Then create the “signal.”

“Walker up!”
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Practice in the Dark

It sounded like a beer cap hit a marble floor, then like a rifle shot. 100 pounds of air pressure escaped in a nanosecond. In the dark, before dawn, the sound ricocheted off the high condo towers, pierced the early morning silence. Bike number three had a flat.

The undercurrent of grumbling was short-lived. The back of the pace line maneuvered around as bike number three dismounted and hopped up the curb onto the sidewalk under a street light. Within ten seconds, the entire pace line assembled around this carcass of carbon fiber and limp rubber tubing called a bicycle. Two headlights brightened up the rear gear cluster. One held up the bike, another spun the crank moving the chain down to the highest gear. Another popped the brake, grabbed the quick release and jerked the axle free. Two bikers set up a perimeter to ward off errant traffic. Someone had already unfolded a fresh tube and spiked a CO2 cartridge. The old tube was out and careful fingers searched the inside of the tire for a shard of metal, a piece of glass.

Now, the rider of bike number three was doing very little through this entire process. He tried to look in control, but truth be told, his bike was being fixed without him. It was a smooth process, not a lot of talking, mostly joking going on. Seven minutes later, with a small tailwind, the pace line was back at 24 mph, snaking their way down the quiet city street.

When your team encounters a problem, what do they look like? When a team member runs up against an immovable obstacle, how quickly does the rest of the team pitch in? When the rest of the team assembles, how cooperative do they work, how synchronous are their efforts? How often does your team practice having flats in the dark and fixing them by flashlight?

Interchangeable Commodity

If team members were not interchangeable commodities, what would change about our hiring practices (building the team)? What if, out of the candidate pool, based on the role, there was only one or two players who truly fit? What would change about our approach to recruiting?

If we weren’t so casual, so cavalier in our hiring practices, what would change?

Here is what I see –
Most companies do a poor job of truly defining the work in the role. We have only a half-baked idea what we need from this role. We have not identified the decision making in this role, nor the problem solving required. With this half-baked role idea (role description, poorly written), it is no wonder we settle for an unmatched candidate who has no clearer idea than we do of what they are supposed to do.

So, let’s start there. In the role, what are the decisions that have to be made and what are the problems that have to be solved. Once you have this figured out, then you can begin to look at candidates.

Difference Between Winning and Losing

In any sport, there is the game and there are the players. For both sides of the contest, the rules are the same, the playing pitch is the same. The two primary variables are techniques (methods, processes) and people. Methods and processes are important, but you don’t have to watch a sporting event for very long to see that the discussion is focused on the people, the players, the talent.

Most sporting teams commit considerable budget and effort in recruiting. What is the major difference between a winning team and a losing team? It is rarely technique. It’s all about the people.

The most important part of building any successful company is building the team. Often, we see team members as interchangeable commodities, always replaceable. What if that weren’t true. What if team members weren’t replaceable, interchangeable commodities? What would change about our hiring practices as we build this team?

Turn the Tables

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I am at wits end. I have a weekly management meeting, but it seems I do all the talking, especially when it comes to accountability. And when it comes to accountability, all the ears in the room go deaf. Whenever there is underperformance, it is like the team cowers under the table until the shouting is over. I am tired of shouting. Besides, it doesn’t seem to do any good.

Response:

Most Managers are not aware of and do not leverage team accountability. Managers assume the role of the bad guy and essentially let the team off the hook when it comes to holding each other accountable for performance.

Turn the tables. In your next meeting, when a team member reports non-performance or underperformance, stop the agenda. Ask each team member to take a piece of paper and write down how this underperformance is impacting their part of the project. Go around the table and ask each person to make a statement. Then ask the team to create an expectation of how the underperformance should be corrected. Go around the table again. Finally, ask the underperformer to respond to the team and make a public commitment to action.

Team accountability is a very powerful dynamic.

State of Panic

“Tell me how it sounds, to focus the mental state of the group on the real issue,” I invited.

Darla took a deep breath. “I have been thinking,” she started.

“Good, using I-statements is good.”

She started again. “It seems to me that we are not making progress on the project we started last week. I expected to see some changes in our process already, measuring some of the samples coming off the line. AND, I see the same team doing the same thing we have always done. No sampling, no inspection. I am curious.”

“Good, I like I am curious.”

“I am curious about the way you feel about the project. We are all in the room. Everyone will have a chance to participate. I would like each of you to speak for yourself. Who would like to start?”

“I like it,” I said.

“But, what if no one says anything. What do I do then?” Darla was visibly off center.

“You put the issue on the table. Your team will now go into a state of panic. You have moved the mental state of the team from collusion behind your back to a state of panic. Every manager before you has always rescued them from this panic. Believe me, your team has specific feelings about this project. They have verbalized those feelings at the water cooler. They pair up at lunch and talk about the way they feel about the project. You are drawing those same conversations, that they have already practiced, into the team meeting, so the team can deal with them. Your primary goal at this point is to outlast the panic.”

Is It a Real Issue?

“How do you change the mental state of a group?” I repeated. “What do you think is slowing down the pace of the team?”

“Based on what we have talked about, the reason the team is slow-walking the project is that they don’t believe in it, and that if it fails, they will get the blame,” Darla explained.

“How will you explain that to the team?” I asked.

“You want me to confront the team, tell them they don’t believe in the project?” Darla pushed back.

“The most effective managers are not those who tell people what to do. The most effective managers are those who ask the most effective questions. Ask a question.”

Darla composed herself. “Wouldn’t it be better to talk to each team member privately. This discussion is a little scary. If I talk to the group together, they might gang up on me. They might all walk out, quit.”

“Every issue that affects the group, must be dealt with by the group. Your job as the leader is simply to put the issue on the table.”

“I have to tell you,” Darla looked uncomfortable. “My stomach is upside down just thinking about this.”

“If your stomach is upside down, then you know you are dealing with a real issue.”