Monday, September 7, 2015

There is no "i" in Team

I believe in teaching people to 'fish' rather than 'fishing' for them.  In practice I have found this philosophy when working with my staff and 'clients' to be a powerful way to grow people and their capacity.  It takes time and patience and you have to hold yourself back from just doing 'it' your self.

Some years ago, my wife Shelley decided to create an online business where she needed to learn a ton about a variety of technologies, in a hurry.  She would call me with lots of questions and although I think it frustrated her at the time, I would respond with questions, not answers.  I would ask her what she thinks she should do and in a round about way, help her get to the answer or possible answers.  It didn't take long for her to stop calling... :-)  I often do the same with my staff and the clients I support.  It would be so much easier just to answer the specific question or do it for them but then they would be dependent on me which does nothing to grow their expertise and skills.

(c) istockphoto.com #870829
I have found that the same mindset is helpful when thinking about how to organize my team members to perform at higher levels.  Individuals working on their own can only do so much.  They only have the expertise, skills, and knowledge that they have acquired and each individual is at a different level of capacity.  But, together they are far better, far better.  Teams are proven powerhouse structures, if they are setup well.  For teams to work effectively, there needs to be a high degree of trust between the members, they need to care about each others work, and ideally they care about each other as people.  When team members go through adverse situations together, their bonds grow even further and as individuals they become stronger and more capable.

I watched a great movie the other night: Coach Carter.  In the movie, a past basketball star and successful businessman who attended a low performing high school many years earlier chooses to take on the job of coaching the schools basketball team at his old school.  The team had a history of low performance, the players were generally low performers academically, undisciplined, and from troubled families.  The coach helped them turn things around in all these areas and the players developed trust and a genuine care for one another.  In one scene, one of the players, who had been kicked off the team, wanted back on.  The coach assigned him 1000 push-ups and 1500 suicides and one week to complete them.  When Friday came along, he hadn't finished yet - his team mates one by one said they would complete some push-ups and suicides to help him complete on time.  They choose to 'suffer' for one of their own.  That's a power stage in team development.

For our last team meeting of the school year in June, I designed an activity for my teams to experience.  I often like to include an experience for my team that involves using technology that they deploy for students in our schools.  The activity was digital story telling using claymation and stop motion.  I had them organized into their usual work teams (about 50 people) of 4 or 5 and they had to brainstorm together and write a script for their story about a real customer or technical service event or situation.  The next step was to use colored clay to create their 'movie' characters and scene props.  Then they had to learn (none had ever used this tool) how to use iStopMotion on iPads.  They had stands to mount the iPads to keep them steady while 'filming'.  They would then 'act out' their script using their clay characters and props, capturing each movement (like animation) using the app.  After they were happy with their capture, they had to add voice overs to their characters.  The culminating moment was when each team in turn air-played their movies to the big screen for all to see.  I had budgeted about 75 minutes for this but eventually skipped the rest of the agenda to allow them the couple of hours they needed.  I have never seen adults working so well in teams and being so engaged.  There was laughter, fun, serious design work, deep thinking, and emergent leadership within the teams.  A few of my staff afterwards said, "you had us doing a team building activity didn't you".  Well, they had me :-)

I have worked hard the past few years to add and build capacity in my team and to empower people to make decisions.  You are never quite sure if you are making progress, but this summer I saw the evidence.  I took a sizable amount of time off this summer for vacation and my team members worked through numerous significant projects and operational improvement work with vary little oversight from me.  I am proud of my team members and impressed with their accomplishments.  Secondly, one of our IT architects said to me when I returned that he and another architect were talking about why they work here.  They agreed it wasn't because the money is good (it truly is not - this needs to be fixed) but because they have the freedom to architect and invent our future and to make things better for so many.  Both of these evidences are powerful ahas for me.

One more sports example...  I like to watch professional golf and am so impressed with Jordan Spieth, a young 22 year old who has taken the golf world by storm this year winning two majors and coming in fourth in one and second in the last one after which he was declared the best in the world.  Whenever he is interviewed, he most often uses "we" when talking about his past, current, and future performance.  The "we" includes his caddie.  He recognizes that it takes a team effort to perform well.  Not all golfers appear to think this way.  This should bring to mind all those people in our lives, work and personal, that are part of our team and our success.  Be humble and realize who has helped you become successful.  As individuals none of us can go very far on our own!

Not to paint a perfect picture... we have some work teams that are not working as well as they could.  I own responsibility for this and plan to invest energy in helping them improve.  As a formal leader, I see my role as figuring out (observe, ask questions, listen) what my team members need and finding ways to get it for them, to remove obstacles where possible, and to invest in their direct leaders so that they are successful in supporting their team members.  I have work to do there as well.  It is definitely a work in progress but I am pleased with where we have arrived and look forward to helping my team members become even more successful and happy in the work they do for our students, teachers, and staff!