Leaders spend a great deal of time focusing on building strong teams, selecting the right people with critical skill sets, managing diversity of thought and matching complementary strengths. They structure their organizations based on the capabilities needed to accomplish organizational objectives and optimize opportunities to control as many variables as possible to ensure a cohesive team.
But what happens when you don’t get to pick? What happens when you’re assigned to work with a group of people and must determine how to best work together to accomplish a goal? This frequently occurs when you are part of a team with a shorter life span, sporadic interaction or representing diverse and distant stakeholders. Thus, the ability to craft the members of the team and spend time in team building is reduced. For example, you’re:
- Assigned to a one-off project. You may be subject matter experts appointed to work together to solve a complex problem. Members are identified solely based on their area of expertise.
- Part of a volunteer group. You have a common passion for the task at hand but come together infrequently or for a brief period.
- Managing through a crisis. When a quality, health or safety incident occurs it’s “all hands-on-deck” to quickly address and resolve it.
- Evaluating a situation. This includes sitting on a jury, judging a shark-tank like presentation or preparing a group assessment of others’ performance.
- Participating in a community-wide coalition. Leaders of diverse and separate organizations come together to address a common problem that will benefit their respective constituencies in areas such as economy, social, health or education.
Or, you’re playing in a golf scramble. This was the case when I found myself as part of a foursome recently. In full transparency, our group included my husband paired with his weekly golfing buddy, and my cousin paired with me, the latter very sporadic golfers. As a group, our relationships varied from a first-time meeting to very intimate, and we had never golfed all together. Our only pressure to excel was self-inflicted by our competitive natures. But ultimately, the learning was not so much about golf, but about operating as a team. In particular, a team that must form, storm, norm and perform all within a brief period of time to achieve a goal. Under pressure to complete our round in four and a half hours, we moved swiftly through that process.
Formed – We assessed each other’s capabilities and interests. The four of us spent the first 3 holes learning each other’s strengths and adjusting to each other’s styles, dealing with the individual frustration of not providing the value we wanted to the team and trying to improve our alternately poor shots.
Stormed – We asserted our own capabilities and interests. When the “best ball” shot wasn’t obvious the more experienced golfers (the guys) took the lead in determining which ball to play. Us less experienced golfers (the ladies) felt we had to go along with them because we couldn’t depend on our shots to get us out of trouble. But we weren’t always happy about it. Yes, we grumbled in our cart and schemed about how we would gain the upper hand. Oh, and did I mention that they weren’t interested in looking for our cute lost balls?
Normed – We appreciated each other’s capabilities and interests. As we warmed up to the course and settled in, we learned when we could count on one another to make certain shots. We began to strategize on how to optimize shots on each hole. And we ladies began to insist on using a few of our “best balls.”
Performed – We maximized each other’s capabilities and interests. Finally, we began shooting par, a birdie even popped up here and there! We felt confident in our strokes and moved smoothly around the course. Our scores improved for each hole.
What Lessons Did We Learn Along the Way?
How to use the strengths of each member – When you’re baking a loaf of bread, you’ll normally use a lot of flour, but without the smallest ingredients, like a little bit of yeast, your loaf won’t rise. A surprisingly small strength may turn out to be the glue that holds the team together.
How to provide and accept encouragement and support – With your new team, you must decide to exhibit mutual respect, even when you don’t agree with all the perspectives and can’t yet appreciate the varying skill sets in the room. Be open to the learning that may take place as you interact with and support one another.
How to assert value to the team – When you do feel that a key asset is being overlooked, whether yours or someone else’s, first understand the motivations of others in the context of the goal. Then present the value of that asset in a manner that aligns with that motivation and goal.
How to protect what’s important to you – Given that we were playing a difficult course, we lost more balls than normal. This was fine until we lost a ball that we really liked, and we ladies realized that the guys weren’t as concerned about looking for them. It was a small thing, but important to us, so we stopped using them in risky situations. Don’t offer something you value if others aren’t yet ready to value it. Use your emotional intelligence to align your gift with the team’s needs.
Having a dream team is a wonderful aspiration, but there will be many situations where that’s just not possible. Instead, you’ll have to adjust your approach to fit the circumstances and people assigned to you. But, in the midst of that, you can find a way to accomplish your goals.