Building a Cohesive Team

I wanted to write about combating man’s greatest threat (obviously sharks) but was having trouble tying that in any way to the MBA process. 

Instead, I am going to focus on something universally applicable, regardless of what field you are in or are pursuing, and especially applicable to post graduate work.  I worked in teams.  Was in teams, led teams, trained teams.  I did teams.  So let’s talk teams.  We are going to focus on a handful of critical events that have proven tried and true for me.

Roles and Responsibilities.  Who is doing what?  The intent of defining roles in a group is not to subjugate any person but to provide clear focus and situational understanding.  If you are the ‘file compiler’ then you know, and everyone else knows, that you are ultimately responsible for pulling all input and polishing the final product.  That is powerful.  It mitigates missed task or requirements through clearly defined expectations of everyone in the group.

Establish Goals.  What is it that your group is directed to do?  That should shape your goals.  You have specified goals (things that you were told in some capacity) and implied goals (things that you know need to get done to achieve your specified goals).  Both goal setting takes analysis and deserve true attention, this is what will drive your team and ultimately the basis to measure success (did you win?). 

It’s also not enough to look at just your goals, you need to see how you can best posture your group for the next step.  Amateurs focus on goals, experts focus on transitions.  Build an endstate and look at how you phase resources throughout.  If you achieved that point on a step in a project where you have all conditions set and required resources applied, start shifting efforts and resources to the next step.

Building your plan. Now that everyone knows what they are expected to do and understands what you are working to, how do you get there?  There is an inherent drive to build a sequence or methodology to accomplish your mission.  We all do it even if not formally.  You think, ‘ok, I need to get this done but before I do that, I need to get this done, and I need to contact that person before I can get any of it done’. 

So define, clearly, how you are going to accomplish your goals.  Apply achievable timelines, develop distinguishable gates (quantifiable benchmarks), and stick to them.  There is always going to be a discrepancy but it is your team’s analysis to determine if it is an external variable or if the team is failing to be efficient with the resources.  Feed off social discourse from the team on how to develop your path.  Open your left and right limits wide, take in as much from everyone, and you would be surprised how many things that are pertinent you did not think of. 

A technique I have seen done is handing everyone a small stack of sticky notes and give a few minutes for everyone to write whatever comes to mind.  Give very little guidance from the onset, too much guidance stifles creativity.  When time is up, have people bring them up to a wall and stick their ‘thoughts’ on.  As you start to see groups of ideas form, physically group them.  These groups become either assets or liabilities, regardless you will have to deal with them.  At the end, the leader needs to be able to decide when discourse is complete and it is time to move on to implementation. 

Finally, if you are using trainers or instructors, how are you certifying them?  It is not sufficient to believe, “this is what he/she does, obviously they are good” because you will not get what you want.  Have them explain how their iteration is executed through demonstration.  Don’t let them get away easy with just talking to you how it will be done.  You will miss out on huge gaps like delivery, time, reaching the objectives, correct emphasis on the right parts, actual resourcing, and so on.

Communication. Keep talking.  The more open and ‘flat’ your group is, the greater something will not be missed or misunderstood.  ‘Stove-piping’ is when you build a single point, or multiple single points, of communication such as all information regarding finances for a group must go through the team leader before being briefed to the group.  This causes a natural backlog of information as that single point node processes the information and kills your reaction time. 

Find a way to keep current information available to all group members.  Again, techniques I have seen were share drives, websites, or third party sites like GoogleDocs.  With that, a person needs to be your ‘knowledge manager’ who develops a clear saving and naming procedure for all files.  It streamlines how easy it is for anyone to find what they need and cuts down on version-icide (wrong versions getting updated and you have current information split across multiple files).

Assessment.  How do we know if we are doing the right things?  Are we still on glidepath?  How often do we check?  You need to be able to assess your progression continuously and accurately.  Inject systems to be able to assess how effective you are being with your resources and if you are still projected to accomplish your goals.  These systems need to have a way to be measurable and quantifiable. 

The value of your assessments is so much more powerful if you can say we are 38% below are expected mark or we are 21 days ahead of schedule.  That means something.  Saying we are doing good or we are falling short gives you nothing to really fix it.  When your assessments are complete, build time to get that information to your team.  Have these meetings formatted, sufficiently resourced (time, location, etc.), and the participants need to be prepared.  Everyone should provide input and before you close out your assessment review, have a plan of action to correct it.

Leader vs. Led.  Who is in charge?  In a group of peers, someone is the leader.  Whether appointed or a natural leader rising.  Just like with roles, the intent is not to subjugate anyone but to ensure the team stays on track and is focused toward the established goals.  If you are the leader, aspire your group to be the best.  Believe your organization is the best.  If not the best, change it to become the best.  Love the one you’re with.  If you are not the designated leader, don’t be that person who is there to tear down the leader because you like to see the world burn.  Be honest and open, honest feedback is essential, but don’t fight the leader just to make things tough for him/her.  You may not have your ideal person as the leader, but that person is in charge and fighting him/her every step only hurts the team.

A team is a powerful thing when employed and synchronized; they are unified in focus, drive, effort, and shared responsibility.  You gain incredible insight from social collaboration and maximize your time through task delegation.  If executed poorly you mire in increasingly insignificant details, execute duplicate work, and almost invariably will fail at achieving your goals.

Rob Moore