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Keep Staff Teams on Course

Managing teams is one thing. Getting them to collaborate is something else. Follow these steps to keep your cross-functional teams afloat and sailing straight.

By Pamela Green

Teamwork is powerful. Gathering people together from across the organization to roll up their sleeves to achieve a common goal can be extremely motivating and highly engaging. But even when a staff team has a clear mission and is aiming for a common strategic outcome, the course of action the team takes can result in a strategic drift, and instead of forming and norming, the team ends up drifting off course and storming out of the room.

What can organizations do to avoid strategic drift and ensure that their cross-functional teams collaborate to achieve their stated purposes without falling apart or becoming lost at sea? Here are six essential steps to take.

Identify the skills, expertise, information, and resources needed to generate a productive engagement. Stack the team with stakeholders who have the talent the team will need to be successful. If you have a talent gap, determine whether you'll rent, buy, or develop your talent. Do this work early to avoid a negative impact on timelines and progress. Assess how well team members know what's going on throughout the organization and value the work being carried on in other departments or divisions. Finally, team members with a strong, diverse external network will bring additional value to the work.

Team members should decide upfront how they will hold themselves and one another accountable for outcomes.

Make sure the right people are in the room. Diversity of thought is ushered in when you involve people who have various experiences they are willing to share. When diversity is shut out of the collaborative effort, you end up getting more of the same thing. In addition, if you're using a RACI-type model (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed) to define roles, consider building the team with those who are responsible and accountable. Consult with and inform other stakeholders regarding progress outside of the collaborative team. This is a lean approach to getting the work achieved in a timely, constructive, and efficient manner.

Determine project or team responsibility and accountability early. Each team member is responsible for his or her own work, and the team is accountable for the outcome. Team members should decide upfront how they will hold themselves and one another accountable for outcomes. This accountability process should include a discussion about celebration. Teams that plan their celebration early in the collaborative process have something to aim for that leaves them on a high note. It is, in essence, how they dangle their own carrot on a stick to keep them focused and engaged

Assign a facilitator. Easy to do, but often overlooked. Given the choice, people will tend to make decisions championed by people they like over those they do not, regardless of the meaning or potential outcome of the decision. Having a neutral facilitator to guide discussions will ensure that all voices are heard, conflict is managed, and the group remains on course, on time, and often right on or under budget.

Identify a common enemy. For some teams to truly form, identifying a common goal—developing an innovative and sustainable member acquisition technique, for example—is good, but other teams need a little more to stay motivated, particularly in cases where there is longstanding conflict among key members or between departments that are entrenched in their own views and positions. Identifying a common enemy sharpens the team's focus, giving them clear direction that will increase their cohesiveness and help the facilitator keep them on track.

Create a communication plan. In his influential book Managing Transitions, William Bridges describes 4 Ps for managing change: picture, purpose, part, and plan. This is a great framework to use when communicating both within and outside of the team. You often obtain early buy-in and long-term support when you communicate to people in a way best received by them.

When you focus on building a team in the right way, you will reduce the potential for strategic drift, boost team engagement, and create an environment where people want to come together to work.

Pamela J. Green is president and founder of The HR Coaching Institute. Email: [email protected]

Organizational Culture