I enjoyed breakfast yesterday in good company at an inspiring seminar by Professor Peter Hawkins (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/peter-hawkins/0/177/b27), talking about Team Coaching. Now, i’m not going to attempt to explain the detail of what he talked about, as i can come nowhere near to doing it justice, but there were a couple of key concepts that i took away from the event which i thought were worth exploring.
The first was the idea of shared endeavour. Essentially, he examined how the dynamic of Leadership and Followers was well explored, but looked at how they are only really productive when aligned around shared endeavour. On the one hand, this is pretty obvious, but on the other, it caused me to think about the number of teams i have been part of who probably lacked a shared endeavour, or at least, where we failed to articulate it properly.
I realise that this is a basic principle, but it’s easy for us to spend so long thinking about goals and visions, or so long looking at practical performance management or process efficiency, that we can fail to take a holistic view of what we are endeavouring to achieve. To an extent, this is probably different between different types of teams, and may relate to the extent to which the endeavour is owned or dictated to the team. Teams can be formed, or can spontaneously emerge, and behaviours and attitudes must surely differ between them? Emergent teams can be more spontaneous and results focused, for example, the types of teams or groups that emerge from informal social spaces to respond to particular needs that are shared by the group. An example of this would be where a community around Open Source software development (the type of software that isn’t owned by a multinational company, but which is open for anyone to edit and share) identifies a requirement for something that needs various specialist skills to develop. We find that sub groups, working teams, emerge from this, focused strongly on a common task: a shared endeavour.
A different pattern, and one which is surely more common, is within more formal environments, where teams are constructed for specific tasks and events, such as to build a new product, manufacture a tractor or devise policy. In all of these cases there may be shared endeavour, but maybe less ownership of it, at an emotional level, within the team? Or maybe not, it’s just an idea that i’m thinking about: who owns the endeavour, who has the dream and who reaps the rewards.
This is particularly significant in small businesses, which are often built around the vision/drive/emotional energy of one or two individuals. How far out can ownership of that vision go? How many people join the team before some of them are just there for a job and don’t really care at all?
This struck me when i was out at the Innovation Centre the other day with Nick, Dave and the other aspiring tech startups. Small teams of two, three or four individuals, positively sparking with energy and vision, all unfocused to an extent, all trying to achieve unrealistically ambitious goals, but all managing to convince you, somehow, that they might actually do it. Teams with endeavour so shared and so strong that you virtually want to climb aboard to see where it takes you. But how do you grow that? How far out can ownership go? How do you focus a larger team?
Team coaching is an interesting idea, coaching a team to deliver against specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), rather than the more usual individual ones. It tied in with Professor Hawkins notion that you can coach a problem, rather than an individual: essentially that, instead of taking a reductive approach and working with individuals to improve performance, you can take a specific issue and workshop it with whoever is most appropriate to solve it. As i understand it, your place in the room isn’t assured, it’s about building the most suitable team to coach and resolve a specific problem. This probably has parallels with the type of technology problem solving systems that are best exemplified by the Apollo moon missions of the 70’s, where problem solving (the coaching of issues?) was streamlined to an art form. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Moon-Voyages-Apollo-Astronauts/dp/0140241469) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Chaikin)
Effective teams are easy to recognise, but harder to build. I like the idea that we should look at a more holistic solution than simply working on the individual building blocks, the members of that team, but rather look at some level of coaching within the team itself, focused around a shared endeavour.