The biggest source of breakdowns on a team?

Business people and puzzle

I shared Amy Edmondson’s four key leadership behaviors for managing extreme teams in a recent blog post.  They are:

  • Build an engaging vision
  • Cultivate psychological safety
  • Develop shared mental models
  • Empower agile execution

In this blog I explore empowering agile execution.  This is all about balancing autonomy and control.  It is a topic most team leaders tell me is one of the most challenging.  We want the team to be as agile and flexible as possible, but we also need them to work together to achieve a specified outcome.

Conflict arises from individual expectations

When a group of individuals come together they each bring their personal expectations.  This is how we expect things to be and how others should behave.  As you can imagine, if these aren’t discussed, they often lead to conflict.  Another team member doesn’t live up to our expectations and we think lesser of them, leading to conflict.  This often simmers below the surface and is a key reason for disharmony in a team.

Create shared team expectations

The team leader’s role is to recognize the need to create shared standards of behavior.  This is involves an inclusive group discussion to agree on what the team considers to be acceptable (and not).  After this initial agreement, it will take time for the team to adopt these behaviors.  The leader must role model the shared behaviors and hold others accountable if they do not.

Examples of shared team expectations

In Amy Edmondson’s book, Extreme Teaming, she talks about two examples of shared team behaviors.  The first one is decision making.  A project team has created pods of experts who have authority to make specific decisions.  By delegating decision authority, the project accelerated progress and improved decision quality.  The project team were also very specific about what decisions had been delegated.  This is where the control element comes in.  It is an example of providing guardrails to help the team go faster.  If the guardrails were absent, confusion may occur slowing the team down.

In the second example of a shared team agreement, she talks about executing to learn.  This is an example of a shared team culture or behavior.  It recognizes when we are innovating, we won’t know the best way at first.  By learning through iteration we will figure it out.  This requires the team leader to establish a culture of accepting failure as necessary to learn.  An alternative is to play the blame game, and this leads to hiding failures and the loss of any learning.

These are two examples of shared team behaviors.  There are many more and the important thing is the conversation you have with your team.  What shared agreements does your team need?  What is and is not acceptable behavior for it to achieve its goals?