Team Innovation

Today, businesses large and small like to say they are “team oriented” (whatever that means). I guess it means they work in teams. Big deal. Does that improve their performance? Does that mean that the quality of their product or service is better than the competition? Does that allow them to complete a project more timely, profitably or effectively? Is teamwork really a better way to go about solving problems than say the “hermit” approach? What about Thomas Edison or Leonardo DaVinci or Alexander Graham Bell?

If you’ve ever worked on a team you know there is one thing that can not be avoided: CONFLICT. At some point someone is going to disagree with somebody else and then, look out! Getting to a simple solution can take hours or days while these two “team-members” fight over minutia. Sound familiar?
Let’s face it, often times, teams can hit roadblocks that can sabotage their success. There are a number of things that can be done to ensure good teamwork:

Conflict is Good
As team leaders we must not allow ourselves to think that we solely carry the burden of resolving conflict. I see so may managers, owners and team leaders rush to squish the most subtle sign of conflict within their team. Without conflict we can not reach the best solution. This also places us in a patronizing, parental position that encourages your team members to abdicate personal responsibility for resolving conflict. It keeps them from developing the skills to necessary to grow, mature and hold each other accountable. Allow the team to detect conflict and manage only those that escalate.
Guidelines for Managing Conflict

As leaders we need to model guidelines that set the tone for resolving conflict. In this way we will be educating our team members to take responsibility. These should include:

•No personal attacks
•No heated outbursts
•No backbiting
•No hostile assumptions

Establishing Expectations
Over the years I have noticed that communicating expectations to the team is paramount in achieving exceptional team performance. The following are areas that team leaders should develop clear expectations for members:

1. Work methods – Make sure your team knows the methods and procedures you expect them to follow when completing the job. If they do not they may frustrate themselves by taking the “long route” and end up disillusioned.

2. Deadlines – Make sure that the team fully understands the time frame for completion. This should include non-negotiable dates as opposed to to dates that can slip.

3. Responsibilities – Ensure that every team member understands their role in the team process. This should be communicated one-on-one with each team member prior to establishing the team. Also ensure that the team members responsibilities are consistent with the teams responsibilities.

4. Priorities – It is critical that team members know the proper priorities. What’s to be done first, second and so on.

5. Performance – Paint a picture of the outcome for the team. Show them a vision of a “good” job vs. a “bad” job. Make sure they understand the degree of effort that you expect them to each contribute to the successful solution.

6. Measurement – Establish a system to measure performance in small increments.

7. Communication – Establish a format for consistent communication with the team. This forum will give you the ability to ask the right kind of questions to determine whether the team is “on-track.” At this pint you can provide feedback to the team and make suggestions on course correction.

8. Resources – Make sure that your team members understand the resources that are available to
them. This could include staff, facilities, technology, equipment, outside consultants and so on. Encourage them to use the resources to their best advantage but in a cost effective way in order to achieve their goals.

As leaders it’s our job to foster innovation. Team members look to us for confidence, guidance, direction and innovation. What can you do to set the stage for creative thinking in the teams that you lead? How can you get your team to discover the best solutions in the most cost effective manner. Remember teams are not just resources, they are people. As I have said many times, we line in an age of relationships. How can you create relationships that go beyond just getting the job done. How can you create relationships that can produce the kind of Edison, Bell and DaVinci innovation.