I have worked a lot recently with a variety of different teams, and employees at different stages of their professional careers. Whilst all very different in mission, company background and make-up there have been a couple of key themes which seem to have arisen repeatedly, occurring with apprentices, graduates, managers and senior teams.
Clarity of purpose, and how individual action contributes to achieving the goal
For teams to function effectively, members need to know the reasons behind what they are doing. With this in mind they can then relate to the particular actions they need to take and how these contribute to the shared goal or direction. At all levels the most effective teams are really good at doing this and ensuring everyone feels valued and aligned, whether this be an apprentice team delivering a project or a management team looking at future plans. There is a brilliant and oft-quoted story of Ronald Regan visiting NASA, introducing himself to a cleaner and asking him what he did. The response; “I’m helping put a man on the moon” really brings this home. You might not be doing glamourous work, but if you know what part it plays in achieving the overall goal and are aligned alongside other team members fulfilling your part of the jigsaw then collectively you can achieve great things.
Not being aware of your purpose can dramatically affect how you work with the rest of the team members. I have seen it on numerous occasions when people are not aligned, and splits emerge in team tasks with disillusionment, frustration and lack of motivation in abundance. Contrarily, I have also seen groups of people completing seemingly tangential tasks individually but with a crystal clear understanding of how these all support a team target. This affects all levels of employee; having witnessed senior leaders struggling with alignment and apprentices operating with determined focus I am all too aware that this is a universal challenge which must be tackled for team success.
Committing to action in a timely manner
At Brathay we use a variety of experiential activities to bring themes to life, helping employees to explore these in a safe environment. One recurring trends I have witnessed is the time it takes folks to jump into action when faced with a task; apprentices will often want to jump straight in and work by trial and error, often going wrong or falling foul of the rules but utilising limited time frames to the maximum. Taking more time to understand the rules at the outset may aid their success, but because they are hands on almost immediately they can often refine and develop to produce high levels of success.
There seems to be a sliding scale, and the more senior a team the more likely the flipside will play out; much time will be spent interpreting the rules and planning, which means that there will be a high level of understanding but a limited amount of time to make errors and refine the process, and ultimately they will struggle to deliver in time. They would benefit from experiential learning to provide feedback and influence their next attempt, and jumping into action quicker to utilise the most time available.
There is a middle ground which seems to be the ideal place to operate; understand the rules, but make sure you commit to action with enough time to deliver to your potential.
Effective communication is a key tenant which supports alignment. I have observed on multiple occasions how the smallest difference in interpreting an instruction can have a profound impact on the outcome; how two people reading the same instruction will do decidedly different things.
This is highlighted by a number of models and theories; however one that particularly works for me is the Osgood Schramm Communication model (Businesstopia, 2016). This suggests that two people in a conversation exchanging a message will decode, interpret and encode a response. A message encoded by someone else will need decoding by you to then understand what was meant by it and what sort of response might be needed. You will then encode the response and reply to the sender, for them to then go through the same process. The interpretation will be affected by your view of the world; experience, language, emotions and many other contributory factors and this is where misunderstanding can occur. Replying to a message (“feedback” as it is termed) is where comprehension of the receiver can be checked by the sender. Essentially, ensuring that people have the same understanding about what something means is an important step before jumping in to action, to avoid making those avoidable but potentially catastrophic mistakes. Getting people to summarise what they have heard is one way of double checking that the message you are trying to get across has arrived in the way you intended.
This scenario is exacerbated with the culture of email prevalent today; a message given in person will have a variety of non-verbal components in the body language, as well as additions such as tone and timbre which will convey nuances that electronic methods cannot. Not everything can be done in person, and sometimes the email trail is essential, but for important messages then face-to-face or at least over-the-phone will maximise your chance of getting things across in the right manner.
Exploring these themes is one of the successes of the residential courses we run. Getting team members away from the distraction of day-to-day operations allows them to really focus on each other, deepening relationships, trust and understanding and allowing them to get real clarity, understanding and commitment to achieve great things and drive organisations forward.
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References : Businesstopia. 2016. Schramm’s Model of Communication. [Online] Available at: https://www.businesstopia.net/communication/schramms-model-communication.