The Teamwork Thing

The biggest problem I’ve seen with teamwork in my years of consulting is that two conversations are missing. First, the team might have been launched with a good statement of “What we’re here for + When we want to see results + Why these results matter to us and to others”. But usually that’s said only once or twice. After that, it’s assumed people will remember, or just know the team’s purpose, goals, and objectives as well as they know their own name.

Alas, people do not remember. They just keep plugging along day-to-day, and the first – or twenty-first – big challenge, disappointment, or interruption that happens in their life suddenly collapses everything. They wake up one morning wondering, “Is there a good reason I should keep juggling all these things? Can I find a clear direction here somewhere?”

Just because those What-When-Why statements are called an “Initiative Conversation” doesn’t mean you say it only once at the beginning and then fuggedaboutit. No, ideally you’d print it on a banner and hang it on the wall where you have your weekly team meetings. Or something like that, just to keep it in front of people.

The other missing conversation is the dialogue with all team members called an “Understanding Conversation”. That’s where you discuss – and update as needed – those Initiative What-When-Why statements. And you also discuss – and update – your shared understandings about, “Who else is involved in this? Where are our resources and our customers and our partners? How should we go about accomplishing our goals?”

Discussions are tricky. You don’t just get to talk, the way you can with an Initiative Conversation. You have to listen too. That means inviting – even encouraging – team members to offer ideas for what they think might improve those founding statements on the team’s purpose and how it operates. And further, it means actually using their ideas to update the founding statements. Which then, of course, will update the way the team operates.

The “team update” Understanding Conversations don’t have to happen every week. But there’s a secret tip for how to know when they are needed. When things slow down, when deadlines are missed, when people – either on the team or outside it – complain about something more than twice… that’s when you need to sit down and review the game plan.

Teamwork doesn’t happen automatically. You have to put a little conversation into it.

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