What Are Your Teams Talking About?

Is this your reality?

You arrive promptly for your team meeting and watch in dismay as the rest of the team come straggling in late, some with muttered apologies, some continuing prior conversations and others bemoaning their workload.

You did send out an agenda, but few have looked at it and it isn’t always clear what is expected for each topic. Then one of your team hijacks the meeting with an issue that they think is important – they can’t seem to leave it alone.

The meeting dissolves 5 minutes after the advertised time with each team member scattering to their next appointment. You really haven’t accomplished much; all you have is a vague promise to get together again and thrash out your current problem. And you are the team leader!

Sound familiar? We all know what good teamwork looks and feels like and how uncomfortable and unproductive it is when teamwork is missing – as it often is. An important question for all teams to ask is whether the team’s meetings and conversations are producing a level of teamwork needed to deliver the required performance to meet (and exceed) their customer’s expectations.

It doesn’t have to be this way – but it does take some work!

Teamwork as a set of Conversations

Teams come together (or not!) around a shared objective. Everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction – even as they have different roles, experience and expertise. You want your team members to have a diverse set of skills and then learn to work together.

There are ten different types of conversations that all successful teams engage in, at different stages of their evolution.

In the early stages when the team is being structured or formed, you will probably focus on:
• Getting the team aligned around a shared vision, purpose, values and goals
• Moving to have all team members take a personal responsibility for the team goal
• Gaining commitment from each member to deliver their piece of the action
• Agreeing who gets to decide what and when and who will speak on behalf of the team

Once the team is operating and dealing with the day to day business of delivery, there is more of a focus on:
• Creating and working with team plans, dealing with problems, creating solutions and learning from experience
• The messy work of ensuring that the team is making trustworthy commitments that all fit together
• Creating and working with the standards that guide how the team will work together and deal with the problems that inevitably arise

Then there are the conversations that sustain the team throughout its life:
• Since the team’s achievements are largely determined by its mood; learning to spot and change their moods
• Building the high level of trust between the team members that sustains high performance
• The best teams take care of their goals, by supporting their team members and wider organizational health

The role of the team leader

At any moment, your team may be in need of any one of these conversations – for example aligning the team is a continuing process. We will take a closer look at each of these conversations in future blogs.

Which of the conversations are missing on your team? Are these conversations familiar to you, or do some seem unusual? Would you know how to lead each of these conversations and the results you are looking for?

As the team leader, you are the ‘team conversation conductor’. It is your job to determine which conversation is needed and when; guide the team through the relevant conversations and help them when they get stuck. Then, when good teamwork shows up, you will know that you have been successful!

Learning more about these ten conversations, what they can do for your team, your role as a team leader in guiding the team through the conversations and how to check on the conversational health of your team is your passport to success.