Have My Team Goggles On



Previous posts in this series focused on the importance of Teams in our daily lives. They shape so much of our daily interactions. They create a sense of togetherness in a world that often seems alienating. Yet despite their importance, Teams are quite difficult to see in their fullness. And if we can’t see them, the odds are quite slim we will be able to intentionally change them for the better over time. That’s part of the reason so many Team members report just 20% of their Teams are effective, and almost 100% of Team members have no idea what to do to make it better.

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So, we are getting ready to see some Teams. We just need three things:

1. A way of seeing – a set of lenses – to help bring into our field of view four primary dimensions of Team experience, to cut through the fog, to see the unique constellations of what goes on within our team.

2. A way to talk about the quality of the things we see when we look through those four lenses.

3. A simple starting point, a port of departure for our foray into this messy and opaque world of teams.

But before we put on those Team goggles, acknowledge with us three truths about Teams: they are uniquely messy, subjective, and systemic.

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Messy

I’m messy. Yes, my desk is messy, but I mean something a bit deeper and more global than that. I mean: I’m a human that is constantly evolving within a changing world. I’m letting go of old habits and quite unpredictably forming new ones. I’m quite rational but also at times conflicted, confusing, and paradoxical.

And you are, too.

And when we put 7, or 9, or 15 of us together, I’m not sure what that thing is, except messy to the power of “x”.

At its essence, a Team not only has all the unique and emergent messiness that each of its members has, it has more. Our messiness is compounded. No sense fighting it. It just is.

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Subjective

“Is it warm enough? I think it’s too warm.”

“That was the best sandwich ever.”

“We overcame huge obstacles to deliver that piece of work.”

Because we are sense-making humans, we often compare our present experience against what we previously experienced, and also what we hope to be experiencing. This constant testing forms our opinions.

But because we were shaped by different histories, molded in different cultures, and rewarded and punished for different things, we are going to naturally disagree whether or not our Team has “good enough goal achievement,” or “sufficient trust,” or “productive conflict.”

We are beautifully diverse in many ways, especially in how we participate in, experience, and evaluate our Teams. We disagree. We need to embrace that.

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Systemic

It’s all connected. That whole “the leg bone’s connected to the hip bone” thing.

Our trust is connected to our ability to resolve conflict. Our shared vision is connected to our decision making. Our problem solving is connected to our goal achievement. What makes a team a unique Team are those things that are wonderfully unique, yet intrinsically connected and reinforcing in subtle, and not so subtle, ways.

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The Team Elements model

1. Let’s start with the end in mind: The Quality of the Outcomes that a Team tries to achieve. These outcomes are the tangible and intangible results of our efforts, including:
  • Goal Achievement
  • Desired Climate
  • External Impact
  • Rewards

2. But these Outcomes do not arise from chance or magic. They are fed by the Quality of Work we engage in, by how well we take action together. These include:
  • Clear Responsibilities
  • Problem Solving
  • Decision Making
  • Accountability

3. Our ability to take action together, however, is embedded in the things that connect us and shape our sense of identity. This Quality of Relationship includes:
  • Norms
  • Shared Vision
  • Mutual Commitment
  • Conflict Resolution

4. To be able to find our way into this lattice of connection, we must first know ourselves. If we listen to what’s going on in our own heads and hearts when we’re on a Team, we’re tapping into the Quality of Conversation, the things each of us thinks, feels, knows, and does when we’re together, including:
  • Safety
  • Trust
  • Openness
  • Knowledge of Team
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Goggles On

With these four lenses, we can now see our Teams for the unique, messy, connected, dynamic entities they are. And we can see them in our individual, subjective way.

The lenses also give us a way to have a new type of discussion about our Teams, one that bridges and spans the intimate conversation in our minds, to the big things that hold us together, to the work we do every day, to the outcomes we achieve.

The lenses create a platform for us to place our own individual, subjective assessment of each of these 16 elements in light of what our teammates think about the very same topic. We each get to say “Hey, I think this Team is SO good at holding each other accountable.” Or maybe “This place feels SO dangerous right now. I’m worried about what I think may happen next.”

Finally, this platform for Team self-assessment and dialogue brings us something incredibly rare: insights about our unique DNA, our Team’s fingerprint.

With those insights, we can make pragmatic changes in a healthy way, rooted in a sense of OWNERSHIP. Team members can tap into a deeper sense of the importance of this sacred space and of the connections between how I feel, how we relate, how we work, and the outcomes we achieve for our customers and our organizations.

Powerful? Yeah. Archimedes said: Give me a lever large enough, and I can move the world. For us: “Give me goggles clear enough, and I can see my Team.”


What do you see when you look at YOUR Team? We would enjoy hearing your thoughts below.

Microscopes and Telescopes: Pulling Our Teams Into View and Into Focus




Look at your Team. Look closely. What do you see?

Maybe…
·      Faces around a meeting table
·      Boxes on an organization chart
·      Line items in a budget
·      Cooks in the kitchen
·      Nurses in an Operating Room
·      Friends on the soccer field

No doubt, these are the most visible manifestations of your Team. They are the “things” you see, that you can make sense of, and that you believe participate in a world of influence with you. But is that it? Or is there more to see? It depends on how we look at them.

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What’s that in my water?

Before about 1590, the smallest object one might be able to see with the naked eye would be the width of a human hair. And what a fine world that was! What more could one possibly see, or need to see, smaller than that?

The Dutch Golden Age produced a wealth of advances in art and science, and a father and son team, Hans and Zacharias Janssen, developed the first microscope. And with that, a new universe inside our existing lives became apparent. Critters in our water. Mold spores on our bread. The implications of these new views into everyday life were profound.

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The Long View

Just a few years later and in the same Dutch city as the Janssens, Hans Lippershey was granted a patent for the telescope. Again, a new universe came to life. Mountains on our moon and spots on our Sun became “real” to us. Enemies gathering on a distant mountaintop. [Yes, they had been there the whole time. It was simply that we could see them now. We humans have a decided bias toward believing only that which we see.]

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See your Team in four dimensions

More than just faces around a table or boxes on an org chart, your Team is a complex, dynamic, and unique organism. It deserves to be seen as it is:  messy, sure – but understandable. We can and should stare into this Team so that we can begin to see it for its wonderfulness, for its uniqueness, and for its true utility.

In the coming weeks, we’ll dive deeper into this. At its highest level, we see the Team operating in four lenses (think: the different lenses on your high school microscope. Turn it to its next setting, and suddenly you’re at a different magnification. You’re still looking at the thing on the slide, you’re just seeing a new world open up to your understanding.)


The Quality of Conversation is about:

What’s going on in our minds when we’re with this Team? Questions like:
How well do I know these people?
Can I trust them?
Am I able to be open with them?


The Quality of Relationship is about: 

The BIG things that help individuals relate to each other in the group and create a sense of identity.
Questions like:
What’s the big picture?
What’s acceptable behavior on this Team?
Are we all committed to this?

The Quality of Work is about:

We can examine the activities we engage in every day, our interdependence, and if we are aligned in making progress.
Questions like:
Do I know what my role is?
Are we able to solve problems and make decisions?


The Quality of Outcome is about:

The output and impact we desire. 
Questions like:
Did we accomplish what we set out to do?
Was it worth it?



Back to your Team, that collection of faces looking at you from around the table. Each person likely is having some conscious (or unconscious) internal conversation about how they feel being a part of this Team. Each likely has varying levels of comprehension of the Team’s purpose and rules of the road.  Each is able, to varying degrees, to contribute to the work of the group. And each is helping achieve the desired ends of the team.

Put together, we have a multi-lensed tool to help us see our Team in a way that acknowledges the complex interactions between these spheres.



Those are pretty useful lenses for seeing a rich complexity and vibrant messiness…both within yourself and within the Team.


There’s some cool stuff at the other end of these lenses. We should take a closer look. There’s a whole universe to explore.

Your Universe In The Palm Of Your Hand



Here at Team Elements we're kicking off a series of blog posts focused on teams. If you're an average adult, this will take about three minutes to read. Two to scan.  One to skim.  In exchange for that time, we'll see to it that you get a juicy nugget of insight, a tool you can use, or a point-of-view you may have never considered. Let’s dive in.

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If you're like most people, you spend huge parts of your week in Teams, either at work, play, or home. When we ask our clients to count the number of Teams they're on, they often say 9...or 15...or 24. We live busy lives, and our activities are arranged to be accomplished in small social systems that have a purpose, intend to get things done, and in which we are interdependent with each other to accomplish what we want.

Count the number of Teams you’re on.  What did you get?

Most of our clients also report that at best only 20% of those Teams are effective or highly effective.  And of the remaining 80% of ineffective Teams, virtually none get help in improving their teamwork.

This is not the way we should be organizing ourselves, our communities, or our organizations for success.

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At a minimum, it’s good to know that our human tendency toward cooperation and getting things done in small groups is, in fact, a hallmark of our evolutionary journey.

Teams were important to our survival early on. But are they still important today?

You bet.  In Teams we find all sorts of things that give our lives order, interest, and meaning.  We encounter community, support, and challenge.  We form bonds that persist years beyond the Team itself.  On the flip side, we get, confusion, conflict, and consternation.

At times, things seem to flow so well that we get chills.  [These peak experiences are to be savored, because they are relatively rare and not wholly replicable.]

At other times, it’s fight-or-flight, as we feel a shot of adrenaline kick in.  Subterfuge.  Betrayal.  Humiliation.  It’s amazing what our species is capable of.  Unless you’re a sociopath or someone with a profound personality disorder (and we’ll deal with those in this forum over time), you just can’t wait to safely vent some anger or disgust to a friend.  Or have a good cry in the parking lot.

But if we spend so much time in Teams, and the stakes are so high, why is it so hard to attend to how our Teams work, what our experiences in them are, and the quality of what they produce?

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To us, Teams seem like what astrophysicists describe as “dark
matter.”  Not only is it there, not only is it important, but it seems to be about 26.8% of everything in the universe.  Yet we have hardly a clue what it is or how to study it.  One can only imagine what will become known – and possible – when we finally grasp what dark matter is and its role in the universe…and our lives.



Let’s go back to that count of how many Teams you are on.  Take any one example:
  • Do you know what drives that Team's success?
  • Are you good at getting work done?
  • Do you have line-of-sight to the important Big Things that help this team connect and orient?
  • Do you know how others feel when they're with this Team?
  • Do you trust these people? Do they trust YOU?
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say the answer to many of those questions are either “maybe” or “no.”

The difference between dark matter and Teams?  We can learn about and impact Teams, whereas only astrophysicists can study dark matter.  We can be our own scientists.  Using Team Elements tools, we get to hold in the palm of our hand the variables for Team effectiveness and actively shape our reality. Our own universe in the palm of our hand.

Our goal for these first few posts?  To help you “see” your Team. To pull it from unobservable, to unobserved, to observable, to observed.  We first develop the capacity to see, then we choose to see.  When we finally see our Teams, we’ll be fascinated by what we learn.  And how we can shape our worlds.

Join us.