Teamwork : Fifteen Great Techniques for Teams

Ken Thompson was formerly the European IT Manager with Reuters in London, as well as the previous Managing Director with VISION Consulting in Belfast. At VISION, Ken spent over 10 years successfully delivering services to clients in the Financial Services, Government and the Small Business Sectors.

Ken is recognized as a leading expert in the emerging area of Virtual Enterprise Networks and has successfully incubated a number of these networks in the UK and Ireland.

Ken helps distributed business teams in medium and large-sized organizations become successful through a unique approach to team design and workflow. His strategy includes the use of key sets of team dynamics, multiple coaching interventions and the effective integration of a small toolkit of virtual collaboration technologies

People are always asking me about good (proven) techniques for developing and supporting teams, networks and communities.  So I have put together an introduction to my favourite fifteen techniques for teams with a short description of each.

These techniques work for teams with all kinds of distribution profile from fully co-located to fully distributed and can be delivered by a virtual coach almost as well as a physically present coach.  Also I have found they will generally work with both single and multi- organisation teams (such as networks of different companies and professionals).

The list is not intended to be exhaustive and it just introduces each technique so you can explore it further rather than being a detailed how-to guide.

First Assess the Team

No team or network has the luxury of applying all fifteen techniques - that is why I would recommend that you do two things first:

  • Profile the team to ensure you understand it (See Technique 12)
  • Conduct a quick health-check with a cross section of the team leaders and members to establish what shape the team is in.

I don't like questionnaire-based health checks for teams - they often identify so many issues you can miss the really important ones.

An alternative approach is to use the 15 techniques (plus your own) as a checklist for a team discussion around the questions:

  • Have we done this?
  • What shape are we in and do we need to do more?
  • How important will this bit be for the team?
  • Is this a top 3 priority item or not?

This should identify the top 3-4 issues for the team and which techniques will produce the biggest initial benefits.

My Top 15

So my favourite teams technique list includes the following, in no particular order:

  • Defining team objectives, success criteria and required outcomes
  • Establishing Team Capabilities for the job and spotting the gaps
  • Defining Team Ground Rules
  • Assessing Team Culture and new required behaviours
  • Agreeing the Team Karma ("what’s in it for me?")
  • Effective Personal Collaboration Strategies
  • Conducting Effective Team Meetings
  • Good Team Decision Making
  • 360-degree team member review
  • Creating network collaboration opportunities
  • Assessing a teams beliefs versus High Performing Team Beliefs
  • Profiling a virtual team
  • Collaborative Document Development
  • Autonomous Behavior Modelling
  • Team Social Network Analysis

Let's briefly look at each technique in turn:

The Bumblebee's favourite team development techniques

Defining Team Objectives, Success Criteria and required Outcomes

It is seems obvious stuff but surprisingly is omitted or carelessly done by many teams and networks.

If you don't do this one properly then all the rest won't matter - things to be considered here are:

  • Team Objectives
  • Phases and Timelines
  • Sponsor(s)
  • Customer(s)
  • Outputs
  • Leading Indicators
  • Deliverables
  • Outcomes
  • Critical Success Factors
  • Risks
  • SWOT
  • USPs/Uniques (for networks)
  • Competitor/Collaborator Identification

Establishing Team Capabilities for The Job and Spotting the Gaps

This technique identifies two things for each team member – Capability Areas and Capability Types and lets them each self-assess using a matrix where they are.

It can be used by an individual (Areas=Work Areas and Types=Activities) or a company (Areas=Sectors and Types=Services).

Once each member’s matrix is completed these are all consolidated to establish where the teams main zones of capability are. (I call this a Capability ‘Heatmap’).

In a virtual team the heatmap is then compared with the capabilities needed to do the job to identify issues and missing skills/players

In a virtual network (VEN or VPC) the heatmap is used to identify best sales areas for quick wins, where additional members are required, alliances and product development strategy.

Defining Team Ground Rules

What are the non-negotiable behaviours all team members must commit to including:

  • What behaviours would damage or destroy trust?
  • How will information be shared?
  • How will conflicts of interest be managed?
  • How will decisions be made?
  • How will the network be governed?
  • What will we do with members who don’t observe these rules?

Assessing Team Culture and New Required Behaviours

All team members have prior experience of teams and the way things are done.  Some of these previous team practices may not be appropriate for the kind of team the members are now engaged in.

For example, Supply Chain teams might have operated on a ‘need to know’ basis down the chain whereas this team needs to help each other much more on a peer-peer basis and have full information transparency.

The technique uses best practices in categorising different business cultures to first identify the old team cultures.

The required new team culture is then identified and discussed and we can then establish any critical actions where there are important differences between the old and the new.

This technique can also identify if you have a team with more than one significant sub-culture which can result in huge conflict and people taking sides if not identified early enough.

Agreeing the Team Karma ("what’s in it for me?")

This is a technique for uncovering and sharing personal motivations and ambitions in a team or network.

‘Karma’ in life means you only get out what you put in – the same applies to teams and networks.

Individual ambitions are distinct from team goals (see under 1) - however very few teams make member personal expectations explicit.

Team karma identifies what each member wants out of their participation and what accountabilities and roles they will commit to achieve it.

We can then aggregate the accountabilities to see if the team has enough to get the job done!

Its a fact of life that most team or network members want more out than they are prepared to put in and it is only when this is shown to all team members collectively that the impact of these unrealistic expectations can start to be addressed.

Effective Personal Collaboration Strategies

Most team members don’t have a practical technique for what they do when another team member lets them down.

'Win – win' is an outcome not an effective collaboration strategy.

Without a personal collaboration strategy many team members inevitably feel taken advantage off by others and simply “silently disengage” from the team in terms of their commitment and participation.

This technique uses nature’s most effective collaboration strategy “Tit for Tat”.

Conducting Effective Team Meetings

This technique addresses how to conduct effective team meetings – in all their different forms - physical, virtual and audio including:

  • Operational/Decision Making Meetings
  • Information Sharing Meetings
  • Brainstorming Meetings (Diverging)
  • Resolution Meetings (Converging)
  • Audio Conference Meeting
  • Web Meetings

Good Team Decision Making

This technique identifies all the main forms of team decision making and helps the team choose which are the most appropriate for it including:

  • Consensus
  • Majority rule
  • Minority rule
  • Averaging
  • Expert
  • Authority rule without discussion
  • Authority rule with discussion

It also introduces the concept of Permission Structures and Transparency-based accountability as a means of developing better team performance and autonomy.

This technique also reviews the role of (large) team meetings in decision making and identifies alternatives where this is counter productive.

360-Degree Team Member Review

This allows team members to comment helpfully on different aspects of the other team member’s performance, behaviour and attitudes.

This can be achieved in a non-threatening way and should identify:

  • where things are going well
  • areas for improvement
  • interesting/unexpected areas which merit further exploration

Creating Network Collaboration Opportunities

This works with a group of a dozen or so companies or professionals to establish if a basis for collaboration exists given the member’s different ambitions and capabilities.

The technique works by identifing “clusters of collaboration” within a group and the different roles appropriate to each company in such a cluster including:

  • Core Product Provider
  • Channel to Market
  • Innovator
  • Supporting Service Provider
  • Investor
  • Integrator

Assessing a Teams Beliefs Versus High Performing Team Beliefs

This technique identifies the main beliefs of the team members about teamwork through a simple questionnaire.

These questionnaires are then consolidated and compared with the beliefs of “high performing teams” to identify potential issues and opportunities for improvement.

Profiling a Virtual Team

Here we ask a number of questions about a virtual team or network in the following areas:

  • Nature of Team Objective
  • Team Leadership/Management Style
  • Team Member Profile
  • Team Shape
  • Team Environment
  • Team Working Approach
  • Team Social Dynamic
  • Team Technology Factor

Its critical to ensure the essential nature of the team is well understood before any help and support is suggested.

For example a fundamental question is – “Is this team a Recommending, Doing or Managing Team?”

Collaborative Document Development

Almost all teams have to produce important documents such as reports or proposals.

However most teams have a flawed approach of collaborative document development which at its worst is totally “lone ranger” and at best collaborative document review only (but not collaborative development).

This technique provides a simple method for developing documents collaboratively right from the start but without taking forever to deliver!

It covers the three different forms of collaborative document development (sequential, parallel and reciprocal), the two forms of document review routing (ring and star)and helps a team chose the right one.

It also identifies different technology approaches to document collaboration from the very simple to the very sophisticated.

Autonomous Behavior Modelling

Almost all team leaders want their teams to take more ownership and initiative.

However team leaders may shy away from “self-managed” teams because of a perception that this would be an abdication of their leadership or the fear of it leading to anarchy and chaos.
This technique identifies 7-generic behaviours of “responsible autonomous team members” which can be discussed and refined to suit the specific team, members, environment and objectives.

Team Social Network Analysis

Most teams are highly dependent on external relationships but do not have a way to identify and nurture these relationships so that they are there when they are needed. You can't do this 'just-in-time'.

Also most collaborative product is produced by sub-groups within the team and reviewed by wider groups. If these sub-groups are not right or missing key players or involve some poor relationships then this will damage the team’s productivity and quality.

This technique uses best practices in social relationship mapping to identify the relationships, both strong and weak, the team needs for success and the actions it needs to take to nurture these relationships.

These team network actions are for the whole team and not just the leaders as they need to build on existing team relationships where they exist

For further information on the techniques discussed in this article check out

Ó Copyright Ken Thompson, 2005

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