It was an energising experience, facilitating a group of leaders this week who are keen to build a new high performing team. We pushed the boundaries of normal ways of working to stimulate innovative ideas in all aspects of the team’s work. We used photos to create an agenda and physically enacted people’s aspirations to avoid falling into conventional patterns of heady, rational conversation.
It felt very different to meeting ‘because that’s what we do’. There was a different dynamic, energy and momentum. Participants leaned actively into the conversation, not leaning back in passivity or boredom. Yet it can be a real challenge to break free from tradition, from norms that trap a team in ways of doing things that feel familiar and safe but, deep down, lack inspiration or effectiveness.
In our meetings, how often do we pause before diving into the agenda to ask, ‘What’s the most important thing we should be focusing on?’, ‘How are we feeling about this?’, ‘What is distracting us or holding our attention?’, ‘What could be the most creative and inspiring way to approach this?’, ‘What do we each need, here and now, to bring our best to this?’, ‘What would be a great result?’
So I presented a simple model to the team with four words: content (what), process (how) and relationship (who) encircled around goal (where). In all my experience of working with individuals and teams, whether in coaching, training or facilitation, whether in the UK or overseas, these four factors are key recurring themes that make a very real difference.
They seem to be important factors that, if we get them right, make a positive impact. They lead to people feeling energised, more alive, more motivated and engaged. Conversely, if we get them wrong, they leave people frustrated, drained of energy, bored or disengaged. Worse still, if left unaddressed, they can lead to negative, destructive conflict that completely debilitates a team.
We can use a simple appreciative inquiry to reflect on this.‘Think back to your best experience of working with another person or team. How did you feel at the time?’, ‘Think back to a specific example of when you felt like that with the person or team. Where were you at the time? What were you doing? What were they doing? What made the biggest positive difference for you?’
One of the things we notice when asking such questions is that different things motivate and energise different people. That is, of course, one of the tricky parts of leading any team. So a next question to pose could be something like, ‘What would it take for this team to feel more like that, more of the time for you?’ and to see what the wider team is willing to accommodate or negotiate.
Now back to the model with some sample prompts to check out and navigate with a client, group or team. Notice how the different areas overlap and impact on each other. It’s about addressing all areas, not just to one or two in isolation. However, having explored each area in whatever way or level suits your situation, you are free to focus your efforts on those that need
Goal: ‘What’s your vision for this?’, ‘Why this, why now?’, ‘What are you hoping for?’, ‘What would make a great outcome for you?’, ‘What would be the benefits of achieving it or the costs of not achieving it?’, ‘Who or what else is impacted by it and how?, ‘Where would you like to get to by the end of this conversation?’, ‘An hour from now, what would have made this worthwhile?’
Content: ‘What’s the most important issue to focus this time on?’, ‘What is the best use of our time together?’, ‘What is the issue from your perspective?’, ‘How clear are you about what this issue entails?’, ‘What feelings is this issue evoking for you?’, ‘What do we need to take into account as we work on this together?’, ‘Do we have the right information and expertise to do this?’
Process: ‘How would you like to do this?’, ‘What approach would you find most inspiring?’, ‘What might be the best way to approach this given the time available?’, ‘Which aspects to we need to address first before moving onto others?’, ‘What would be best to do now and what could be best done outside of this meeting?’, ‘Could we try a new way that would lift our energy levels?’
Relationship: ‘What’s important to you in this?’, ‘What underlying values does this touch on for you?’, ‘How are you impacted?’, ‘How are you feeling?’, ‘What are you noticing from your unique perspective?’, ‘What distinctive contribution could you bring?’, ‘What is working well in the team’s relationships?’, ‘What is creating tension?’, ‘How could we resolve conflicting differences?’
The versatility of the model is that it can be reapplied to coaching, training and other contexts too. In a training environment you could consider, for instance, ‘What are we here to learn?’ (goal), ‘What material should we cover?’ (content), ‘What methods will suit different learning styles?’ (process) and ‘How can we help people work together well in this environment?' (relationship).
In a coaching context it could look something like, ‘How do you hope to develop through engaging in this coaching experience?’ (goal), ‘What issues, challenges or opportunities would you like to focus on?’ (content), ‘How would you like to approach this together?’ (process) and ‘What would build and sustain trust as we work on these things together?’ (relationship).
I’d be interested to hear from you. Do the areas represented in this model resonate with your own experiences? Which factors have you noticed tend to be most attended to or ignored? Do you have any real-life, practical examples of how you have addressed these factors and what happened as a result? In your experience, what other factors make the biggest difference?
23/3/2014 07:25:56 am
Thanks for the encouraging feedback, Loola. With best wishes. Nick
17/3/2014 02:08:40 am
23/3/2014 07:27:38 am
Thanks Muhammad. How far did it resonate with your own experience of working with teams? With best wishes. Nick
17/3/2014 02:09:25 am
Trust. Teams are built on trust. Without trust it becomes quite difficult to achieve the desired outcome. So along with goals content, and processes - trust must be an active ingredient.
23/3/2014 07:30:45 am
Thanks Richard. I agree with you. In my experience, it can prove very fruitful to explore what would establish trust with different people and groups, especially when working with people from different cultures with different underlying values. I would be interested to hear more about your experiences of building trust and how you achieved it in practice. With best wishes. Nick
24/3/2014 10:24:12 am
Thank you Nick. As a first generation American of Hispanic descent, my parents came here from Puerto Rico in 1948, I understand the dynamics culture play when it comes to establishing and growing trust. We all heard it said that "actions speak louder than words." The same holds true with trust. It is vital for the life of the team to be able to accomplish whatever objective is in front of them. Much has been written about the topic of trust. However, what I expereinced is that whether or not you are a leader or follower, trust in your team and trust in your leader is of the utmost. Trust is to be transparent and genuine. Building trust takes time and should never be rushed. For example, if I bring someone new on board, a new team member, I must be willing to release the authority for that individual to be able to do the job for which s/he was hired. I must have a certain level of trust that the individual I hired is able to do the job understanding that a little "wiggle" room is needed for any "mistakes" the new person might make. We often call this delegating. However, delegating without the authority is nothing more than directing. It is when people start to know that you have confidence and trust in them that they start to grow and become the leader you hope they would be. Keep in mind, no growth leads to stagnation which ultimatley leads to what we often refer to as a "dead-end."
17/3/2014 05:10:31 am
Good article, good approach.
23/3/2014 07:31:46 am
Thanks Anna. I would be interested to hear more about your experience of working with teams too - what makes the positive difference. With best wishes. Nick
18/3/2014 11:43:44 am
Love the addition of content and relationship to this model, Nick. Sometimes those get left off in the heat of plowing through an agenda. I can see this improving any facilitated session.
23/3/2014 07:36:29 am
Hi Karen and thanks for your encouraging feedback. In my experience, most teams focus on content, some on relationship and few on process. I'd be interested to hear more of what happens when you focus on each area and how you do it in practice. With best wishes. Nick
21/3/2014 06:16:14 pm
Great article, the approach is one that is very effrctive
23/3/2014 07:37:30 am
Thanks Ray. Would you be willing to share some of your own experiences too - what you did and what happened as a result? With best wishes. Nick
23/3/2014 03:46:47 am
I suppose that the way to build an inspiring and effective team is to facilitate communication at the most human levels and never forget an opportunity to acknowledge the good stuff.
23/3/2014 07:39:22 am
Hi Jean-Marc. Yes, good communication is certainly a fundamental dimension of inspiring and effective teamwork, as is noticing when things go well and what works in practice. Would you be willing to share more about how you do this in practice? With best wishes. Nick
25/3/2014 02:50:48 am
This is good - any model that can keep people anchored and feeling productive while also allowing them the freedom to be creative can be powerful - it sounds like this was a lot of fun!
David Ogilvie FCMI
4/4/2014 06:09:04 am
Hi Nick, I enjoyed your post. I think emotions play a massive part in building inspiring and effective teams and I recently blogged on the secret sauce of team work. Rather than repeat it here I thought I'd post the link and I'd be very interested in your thoughts. http://bit.ly/1fpWmbf
29/6/2014 10:08:30 pm
good post. thank for sharing
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