“What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.” ― Pablo Picasso
Over the past few years we have been developing an approach to team performance we have named Intentional Teams™. Our research with leaders of great teams showed that they didn’t leave anything to chance. They build their teams purposefully. This approach makes sense to us, but it’s not always the whole story.
Let me demonstrate with a personal example: Many years ago I owned a small sailboat, an old wooden catamaran that I painted bright orange – I was at university and all things bright seemed like a good idea. The boat sat around outside for a year or two before I got round to trying it out.
The experience was instructive. A healthy wind was blowing as I unloaded the boat from its trailer, set up the mast and raised the mainsail. I pushed the boat out into the water, hopped aboard and I was off. However, there were several factors I had overlooked: the wind had picked up and the waves were about three feet high; the boat had a habit of digging its nose into the waves, not riding over them; and there was a large crack just below the deck on the left hull, which, it turned out, was masterfully hidden by the orange paint.
My dreams of sailing effortlessly on my ‘new’ boat came to a soggy end. I managed to return to the shore before the left hull filled enough to become a sea anchor. I was embarrassed with my lack of progress and furious that the boat had let me down. On reflection, my thoughts evolved – the boat wasn’t at fault – I was. I had rushed to action and in doing so had put myself in danger. I had failed to check my equipment and had assumed that my ‘repairs’ would suffice on the water. In Picasso’s terms I had intended to sail my boat but I had failed to check its safety and so failed in my intention.
Teams need preventative maintenance as much as boats. Getting ahead of and managing bad news, anticipating problems and making changes before they are needed are some areas that teams can work on. In successful teams we found preventative maintenance was focused on:
- Managing sponsor expectations
Sponsors and senior stakeholders take an active interest in the work of their senior teams, often because these teams are doing work that is critical to the organization. The temptation to micromanage can very enticing. Teams and their leaders have to analyse what senior sponsors will be interested in and find methods to answer questions before they are asked. Being aware of the Board or Executive meeting calendar and agenda and anticipating when the team might have to report can be a useful strategy to get ‘ahead of the message’.
- Look forward and anticipate events
Keeping the team’s peripheral vision clear is critical to not being caught unawares. Regular mini planning sessions can be an important element in anticipating unforeseen events. Great teams build in focused sessions that allow information to flow in from all team members regardless of their seniority or specialty. Ensuring a diversity of information on a regular basis allows teams to maintain their peripheral vision and catch items that otherwise might take longer to see and react to.
- Constantly managing effective communications
Communications are a major challenge for teams managing complex projects or operations. Preventative maintenance allows teams to constantly challenge and improve their communications practices. Meetings, for example, are a constant challenge for teams – by challenging the effectiveness of meetings a team can streamline its meeting frequency, duration and effectiveness.
- Using the culture of the team to prevent conflict
Interpersonal disagreements and personality conflicts often derail team effectiveness. Leaders of intentional teams quickly step in to manage these corrosive elements of team life. A key tool is the culture of the team and the agreements that have been forged around this culture. Culture is based on repeated behaviours. If the acceptable behaviours have been identified and agreed to by everyone on the team, the leader has powerful tool to hold team members to account when they are operating against the agreed behaviours.
Going sailing without checking the seaworthiness of your craft can lead to bad outcomes. Not conducting preventative maintenance on your team can also lead to undesirable results. A small investment in getting ahead of the issues and challenges of your team will allow you a smoother ride in the long run.
In coming blog posts, we will explore each of these preventative maintenance topics further.
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