By Susan Begeman Steiner
If you spend most of your days working in a large company, you have definitely experienced life on a team. Teams are like families:
• They gather to get work done
• You almost never get to choose who is there
• Dysfunction is the norm
Ideally people on a team are motivated, experienced and happy to get to work with each other. Everyone has their own reasons for believing in the same thing and the work is effortless and even fun. Sound familiar? Probably not.
The reality is a bit less exhilarating usually, but there are ways to make life on a team more fulfilling --“Rituals.” Rituals are a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order. On a team, rituals can provide a structure that can be quite comforting, but also allows for a feeling of belonging and, yes, family.
Ritual #1 People coming/People going
Team membership changes over time – that is a fact of life. One of my clients asks new team members to bring an intro slide to their first meeting. On the slide are bullets about their role, background and also a personal glimpse into their private lives, along with a photo. He can tell you that one person on his team is a scuba diver, one has 6 children, one used to be a nun.
When people leave his team, which sometimes happens with no notice, he sends a thank you email -- copied to the entire team -- acknowledging the person for the specific difference he or she made on the team.
Ritual #2 Starting the Meeting
It’s good to start the meeting with a ritual, especially if some are joining by video or audio. Yes, someone is always late or having trouble connecting, so this gives some time for everyone to gather. But it also can give each person a chance to speak up at the very first of the meeting, which increases the odds of them speaking up later as well. One of my other clients starts her meetings with a question that can be answered in One Word. For example, “What is one word that describes how Q3 is going so far?” Or a fun question, “If you could have one super power, what would it be?” This can take up the first 10 minutes of the meeting, but it pays off handsomely in participation.
Ritual #3 Ending the Meeting
There are several versions of ending the meeting such as Plus/Delta (what worked in our meeting, what didn’t work) to Talking Points (clarifying what we say to others about the meeting, so we are speaking with One Voice). The trick with this ritual is making sure that the final 10 minutes of the meeting are reserved for it. Otherwise, as is will not happen. Instead the meeting runs over time and gets cut off at the end as people have to leave. But rituals are rituals and the Facilitator needs to be empowered to enforce this closing ritual.
Ritual #4 Rotating Roles
The most successful (and fun) team meetings I’ve observed are those where the meeting roles (Facilitator, Timekeeper, Coach, etc.) are rotated among the members. I first encountered this method with Anderson & Rust Consulting. Everyone takes part and helps run the meeting. Those without a role at a meeting are expected to participate fully “on the field.” They will probably have a role at the next meeting, so it is in their own interest to support the others. The meeting Facilitator vets the agenda even of time, even though he or she might not be the actual team leader. The Facilitator owns the agenda during the meeting and keeps things moving, adding his or her own style and “spice” to the proceedings.
Ritual #5 F2F Fun
With many teams meeting virtually these days, it is important to have face to face (F2F) meetings at least once or twice a year. Virtual (via video) is helpful, but even that is no match for being able to shake someone’s hand or have a beer with them. At F2F meetings, the ritual is Team Building, designated time to get to know each other. There are oh so many important things to discuss at a F2F meeting, but if you forego this Team Building Ritual, you will be missing the glue that binds the team together during virtual times…which is almost always. I favor a combination of an effective team building exercise (in the room) with a dinner or other activity that is actually fun (outside the room).
Rituals help a team come together, feel like family and eventually approach the Holy Grail of teams -- High Performance. Contact us if you want to learn more about team effectiveness in the real world.