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Powerful Team Development Programme in Africa

Team Alignment, Team Process, Team Practice – Why All Are Necessary

In their book ‘The Wisdom of Teams’ Katzenbach & Smith write, “Teams are the key to improving performance in all kinds of organisations. Yet leaders consistently overlook opportunities to exploit their potential, confusing them with teamwork, empowerment or participative management.”

In developing this proposition a good starting point is to distinguish between ‘team building’ activities (such as drumming, rafting, braaing, fire-walking, abseiling and the like) and ‘team achievement’ issues that focus directly on goals, effectiveness, performance, and delivery.

For organizations that prefer to put achievement before bonding, or who believe that bonding and ‘building’ are natural spin-offs of performance excellence, there are three components that must be addressed.

The first component concerns the degree to which team members have a common view of the team’s goals. It addresses Team Alignment. It requires that team members all understand and accept their team’s purpose in relation to the goals of the organization.

The second component concerns the degree to which team members apply a common approach to achieving theses goals. It addresses Team Process. It requires that team members impose a disciplined methodology capable of managing their relationships and interpersonal dynamics.

The third component concerns the degree to which team members have an opportunity to see themselves as others mostly see them. This requires that the team be placed in a simulated environment in which its commitment to the first two components can be practiced, evaluated and assessed.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Team Alignment without Team Process is meaningless, while Team Process without Team Alignment is directionless. And in the absence of Team Practice both will be less effective when it comes to a team becoming the key to improving performance.

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In this article each component will be described and explained.

Team Alignment involves clarifying the team’s purpose in relation to the goals of the organisation. Here aspects such as leadership determination, financial acuity, market leadership, economic awareness and customer focus are carefully assessed as appropriate to the purpose of the team in question. This necessary analysis also enables the team to see the extent of divergent team member views that may well exist around these important business goals. Where such divergence is found it must be fully resolved. As team goals will require a concerted effort to achieve success they must be clearly identified.
Team Alignment also requires that team members enjoy the same or a very similar understanding and acceptance of where their biggest obstacles and challenges lie. Chasing close on the heels of every team is an ever present and ever threatening abyss that seeks to constrain the team from achieving excellence. These real threats must be clearly pinpointed before they can be put to the sword and effectively dealt with. If they are not the team will fail to reach its real performance potential and continue an unhappy and frustrating existence as either a working group or a pseudo team.

Team Process involves imposing a straightforward and essentially simple methodology in a disciplined yet flexible way. It is through such disciplined action applied within a logical framework that teams are able to overcome the negative drag of the conflicting interpersonal dynamics that make teams dysfunctional.

Team Process must permit team members to identify where in the Process they would most prefer to make sustainable and equally valued contributions. This task is made easy by means of a non-judgemental and non-psychometric online questionnaire.

Team member contribution preferences are described in the management language that describes the Team Process. Consequently team members can see themselves within the Process. They can recognise areas where high and low contributions are dominant, and they can easily understand why certain tasks are carried out reluctantly while others occupy most of their time. They now have a reliable team profile capable of highlighting the gaps that need to be better managed in order to improve team performance.

Team Practice now requires that the team be given an opportunity to see itself in action. It is probably fair to say that a team that sees itself in action can understand itself in action; and a team that understands itself in action can improve itself in action.

But how can this be done?

Once a team has gained the necessary direction and traction by dealing with its Alignment and Process components, it can be placed in a simulated environment in which its commitment to these two components can be practiced, evaluated and assessed.

Such an opportunity exists at SAMTRA* in Simon’s Town where a magnificent and very realistic ship’s bridge simulator enables a team to set sail for Dover and Singapore. During these voyages the team is required to make a number of strategic decisions that will determine its ultimate success. The nature and type of strategic decisions made will take their cue from the team’s ability to put into practice its degree of Alignment and its commitment to Process.

Video recordings enable the team to see itself in action during detailed debriefing sessions where learning points are highlighted and analysed in relation to real work issues facing the team.

In this way, through the disciplined combination of Team Alignment, Team Process and Team Practice, working groups at all levels of the organisation will be in a position to advance and mature into effective leadership teams.

*SAMTRA, the South African Maritime Training Academy, is a Section 21 company established to conduct training for the greater maritime industry using state of the art Ship simulators.

Following intensive training in Denmark, SAMTRA instructors can now apply many of the new management development initiatives currently underway in Europe. These initiatives involve using the simulators for corporate team effectiveness aimed at non-maritime managers.

In designing this novel and exciting programme, SAMTRA has worked closely with The Achievement Process Africa – a consulting firm specialising in organisational change and team performance. The result is a powerful learning experience, called The Bridge.

What happens on The Bridge?

When the team first enters the simulator it has already been armed with new knowledge. Specifically it has learned to apply an achievement model.

The model is brought to life by integrating individual team member contribution preferences to produce a team profile. Team members are able to identify with the model because they can ‘see themselves in it’. Contribution preferences, team alignment factors and the team profile are identified prior to the workshop by two separate online questionnaires.

On the second workshop day the team is required to apply their knowledge of the Achievement Process while taking account of their individual contribution preferences and the insights provided by the team profile. They do this while ‘sailing’ from Calais to Dover and onto Singapore.

The extent to which they able to consciously apply these elements when on the bridge will have a direct bearing on the quality of their decision making and problem solving. This in turn will determine whether they reach their destination and achieve their objectives.

The two maritime exercises in question involve the team being faced with a series of challenges that vary both in their content and complexity. Every decision taken has a particular consequence.

For example, during the first exercise a cracked engine valve presents the team with two options: either (1) alter speed or (2) maintain speed but alter course. The decision that the team makes is not material as either will lead to a different set of consequences that again require the team to solve new problems and take further decisions.

Thus while there may, from a technical point of view, be a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ maritime option, the feedback focuses entirely on how the problem was addressed and how the decision was arrived at.

It is from this perspective that the team sees itself in action and begins to understand that positive team dynamics, derived from the disciplined application of a commonly understood process, is indeed a significant factor when it comes to goal achievement.

During the debriefing sessions that follow each exercise selected video clips of key moments are highlighted and discussed. Who dominated unconsciously? Who was (or felt) excluded? How were ‘gaps’ managed and overcome? What could and should have been done differently? Why? Team development occurs and team effectiveness increases from the answering of these and similar questions.

For more information on The Bridge, please visit www.bridged.co.za

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