Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Teaming Thoughts

What makes a good team player? My answer always has been, and always will be - everyone. But getting the best out of each individual so they can contribute to a team is often complex. Here are some reflections born of spending my whole working life in teams:

1. Many of the things people call teams are not actually teams but groups; individuals doing separate jobs and occasionally getting together.

2. Leadership is important to team work. 'If we're going to get through this we need to work together as a team and that means doing exactly as I say.' (Can you guess the source?) I love being led. It has often been said of me that I abhor a leadership vacuum. If nobody is being in charge I will be in charge. No-one has ever minded this (to my face) and indeed one bunch of people I worked with used to positively manoeuvre a leadership vacuum. But I struggle being in badly-led meetings where a coup is not possible.

3. Intuitive, creative, introverts make great team members as long as the team accepts them on such terms. We will contribute when we think we have something to say. Add 'shaper' to the mix and when we are leading we will drive towards our preferred conclusion. If we are not leading, silence is a courtesy extended to those who are. We will choose when to share our better ideas and sometimes choose not to. We always think we are right until we know we're not.

4. Acute systematising males (I got dealt a bugger of a genetic hand) will not empathise easily. We don't go to pieces when challenged or attacked. We don't expect others to and are surprised when they do, especially when they have asked a straight question and been given a straight answer, or sent a long email and got a long reply. A cute systematising male is hard to find.

5. Have you heard some politicians (inevitably team members if they are to succeed) recently struggling to to answer this question: 'What will you change once you have listened to people?' That is because they probably won't be changing anything, or really listening, but dare not admit it. Correct answer is 'We don't know'. But it is not the truth. Those of us with powerful, internal dialogues have difficulty with truth. It is not that we are liars. We make very quick, often right, gut-reaction decisions. Then, because the world has always asked us to explain ourselves - Tilley your answer is correct but you will get full marks if you show your working and people will not think you cheated - we develop a narrative that makes our answer work. But it wasn't the way we thought. Stuff gets done and afterwards we will convince you it was right. This does not make us bad team players. If we are wrong, or hear a better idea, we will admit it quickly. We move on really quickly. 24 hours (two sleeps) is enough to recover from the heaviest emotional setback.

6. None of us is as smart as all of us. But Geoff Boycott played in some good cricket teams.

7. Diagrams help.

8. Meetings are fine but a clear explanation of the point of the meeting, and each item on the agenda, is essential. We are peculiarly aware that 20 people giving 2 hours to a meeting is one working week lost.

9. I don't think I am the only one, but when I am thinking, my visual interface goes down. The reason I don't think I am the only one is that I rarely pay much attention to body language unless it is really annoying. This is too late to do anything about. I have tried from time to time. Not looking like I am listening does not mean I am not listening. But sometimes I am not. Every introvert zones out from time to time. Especially when the internal conversation is more interesting than the external one. We are regrouping. Powering up. Getting energy back. It's like a bit of sugar to a diabetic.

10. Introverts struggle in large social settings for more than two hours. I do go to parties but become happy talking to one person for an hour in the corner about something I know nothing about, rather than talking to twenty people about the quality of the canapés, or the weather. When I need to 'do the room' my emotional life expects overtime.

11. For an intuitive introvert everything is a discussion document. All decisions are temporary. Errors are the back door to success or elimination from enquiries. You can change your mind.

12. Which are my favourite teams?

Theatre companies.
Formula 1 pit-lane mechanics.
Ellesmere CYFA Venture Team 1990-1998.
CPAS Youth and Children's Department 1984-2000 (I worked in it 1992 - 2002).

13. I like talking about myself. It is my chosen specialist subject. It should be yours too. Yourself, I mean, not me. That would be a worry.

14. Starting and finishing on time matter. I began investing emotionally in the social setting whilst getting ready, or travelling. For a 7.45-10.00 local meeting I diary 7.30-10.15. If it starts late and overruns I feel robbed. If it starts on time and overruns I feel robbed. If someone wants a quick chat about something after the meeting I feel robbed.

15. Don't let 'It's too cold' always defeat 'It's just right'. Don't let discussion always beat reflection. Don't assume you have finished when the idea-pool goes quiet. That's when it's getting interesting in some heads.

16. Tie the monitor-evaluators up until there is some proposal to monitor or evaluate. Team-workers (social glue) can chip in anytime.

17. There will eventually be points 17-n.

Reading list:

Managing Your Team - John Spencer and Adrian Pruss
Team Building - Robert B. Maddux
Making a Team Work - Steve Chalke
The Wisdom of Crowds - James Surowiecki
Team Spirit - David Cormack

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