Team Work Magic

Erik de Haan and Dorothee Stoffels share their thoughts and experiences of team-working, after it has been thrown into the spotlight during the COVID19 pandemic.

Over the last few months, teams and how they work together have really been in the spotlight as team-working has virtually all gone online overnight. We have seen so many inspirational and hopeful messages about teams in this challenging time that we felt moved to share our thoughts and experiences based on our work both as Team Coaches, but also as members of faculty for the Team Coaching Program at Hult Ashridge Executive Education.

Some of these might feel quite radical and our intent is to provoke you to stop and think, re-evaluate and decide how you want to show up in teams. Although usually not a fan of lists, we will offer you some ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ about being and/or leading at this moment in time in our current reality.

First the Do’s:

1. Realize the survival value of teams for us all: we were formed over millions of years to live and work in small groups, to be part of something, to belong!

2. Nurture the team back – the team is nurturing you biologically, so take some time to celebrate what is good about your team, and give as much explicit support and praise to others on the team as you can.

3. Provide and ‘be’ the stability your team needs – with stability and containment the best work of individuals can emerge. As you feel how teams have the potential to nurture you and others, you realize how much you need them to be stable and there for you. Be part of creating a ‘safe space’ in teams by being available for others; allowing open conversations; providing and receiving challenge to and from the team.

4. Look upon your fellow team members with forgiveness and beneficence: as Aristotle already noticed all our intentions are ‘towards the good’ even if they do not always work out that way.

5. Look after the ‘us’ and the ‘them’: teams benefit from clear boundaries but also from good relationships with other teams – so conscious reflection on ‘us’ and ‘them’ is helpful.

And then the Don’t’s:

1. Don’t work in ‘yet another team’ unless you absolutely have to: Research has shown that everyone in a team is at least 25% less productive than working by themselves, through communication losses, social loafing, and other challenges. So, if you do not need a team, or do not need to meet, then don’t.

2. If you work in a team, do not let the leader speak. If the leader speaks it will be mostly to share what she or he already knows – and most of it the rest of the team will know already too. We are biologically wired to be very attentive to our leaders. So, the best use of the team time is for the leader to listen, and to be swayed. Upwards communication is the sole added value of a team.

3. If you carry on working in the team, don’t use a facilitator or team builder. Again, they will only take up time, complicate the communication further, and some of them might even say what everyone already knows – just like the leader might. After all, facilitators and team builders are temporary leaders, without much need to listen. Engaging a Team Coach, whose aim it is to help the team reflect, learn and raise awareness of patterns and ultimately make herself redundant is a much better use of your limited time and resources.

4. If you are still working in your team and it is not going well, don’t worry and try to reflect. Reflection is the single known improver of teams. Reflection makes a team make better decisions (just like upwards communication) and it demonstrably makes the team more innovative, resilient and productive.

If you are still with us and still working in a team, give yourself a reward. You have done very hard work and you need to be rewarded for it. Regular breaks, informal moments, celebrations, appreciations for all team members. They deserve it as they have overcome their natural selfish-gene tendencies to rise above themselves and do something for the whole. And it sure hasn’t been easy (see the other principles).

Erik de Haan and Dorothee Stoffels are both Program Directors on the Team Coaching for Organization Consultants Program. Erik is also the Director of the Ashridge Center for Coaching.

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