Here’s a scenario that is all too familiar in the life of a facilitator working with a team. So, you have been asked to facilitate a team program for a team that wants to become a high performing team, or, they just want to perform better.
You can safely assume that there is something lacking in their performance that they, or the leader, wants to address. You have done the necessary preparation and you are now with the team at the workshop & you have done the opening processes. I have been here many times before myself and a familiar trend surfaces time and again. This is how it goes…..
I ask the team a series of questions;
· Q; Has this team entered into a similar team intervention before? A; Yes
· Q; More than once? A; Yes
· Q; So, what is the different this time? A; A few things, like personnel and/or structural changes, but nothing very substantial
· Q; So, what will be different this time? A; We hope you can make a difference (or, other language around hope)
Now we all have a laugh and talk about things like, purpose, vision, mission, strategy, values and behavioural commitments (like a charter, or guidelines of some kind). You get a lot of variation between teams as to whether they are able to reel these frameworks off with ease, or not. Nevertheless, here they are again, apparently looking for some kind of inspiration – from the facilitator.
There are facilitators who are well remembered as very motivational and well liked – they are performers/entertainers. Note, it’s the facilitator who is remembered, but here the team is again. Then again, there are facilitators who are long since forgotten, but here the team is again. So, maybe the facilitator is not the X-factor in the mix. Then, what is?
The answer is pretty obvious. Most teams do not stick to the commitments they make. Actually, did they really make these commitments? Yes, they made good sense and they are obviously important and need to be done. So, why is this so?
Stephen Covey said that ‘the urgent trumps the important’. When you remind a team of this observation, they usually unanimously agree. After all, they are all busy trying to get things done in amongst the fast pace of business today. What with regulatory demands, market forces, matrix reporting lines, IT challenges, structural and personnel changes, cost cutting and revenue pressures, etc, etc. Where is the time to focus on this stuff that can wait while the ‘urgent trumps the important’? The short term is now and the medium term comes next, never mind the long term.
Thinking about this conundrum there are at least two recent books that pertain. Firstly, there is Nigel Lake’s book, ‘The Long Term Starts Tomorrow’, which is an obvious title for what’s inside. Then there is Krupp & Schumaker’s ‘How to Build a Strategy for the Long Game’.
In the second book, the distinction of ‘the discipline of discipline’ is brought forward as the key to sustainable business success. This obviously applies to teams that we facilitators work with. The enemy is distraction – here is Covey’s warning again; ‘the urgent trumps the important’.
What a great let off. There is always something more urgent. But the truth is it’s difficult operating in a high performing team, or even just collaborating as an aligned team. We most easily revert to our skill base & prefer to operate in our functional silos, because we have positional power and control over our resources, whatever they are, and it’s less complicated and less confronting than grappling with other people’s stuff. It takes discipline and commitment to do this team work.
We come to the closing moments of our team facilitation and we sum up on our commitments and we ask the uncomfortable question; Q; what will happen when you return to work tomorrow? A; we hope we will have the discipline to stick to our commitments made here. We have to hold ourselves and one another accountable.
Certainly, this is a journey that takes time and commitment and the discipline of discipline. As far as I can tell, teams that succeed are those that stick to this journey, hold themselves accountable to their team commitments and balance these with their functional responsibilities. , They also have the wisdom to keep a good facilitator close by to help keep the focus on this hero’s journey – a journey that has many demons on the path to high performance.