A new angle on teamwork – or should that be a new angel?

Woman with angel wings

How to get teams to implement strategy and major change once you’ve communicated it.

I’ve been blogging recently on the internal communication of business strategy. But all your employee engagement activity may fall on stony ground if the people you’re trying to inspire can’t work well in their teams to put the strategy into action.

In fact, you might even be a victim of your own success. You did a great job creating common goals, you energised the entire organisation with your internal communication campaign, you even got local teams creating concrete action plans for the first time. But now people have to work together in their teams to implement these plans. Not only that, but individual teams need to collaborate with other teams within the site, country or internationally to co-ordinate their activities.

Stormin’ Normin’

If you don’t help them do this, you’ll end up with fully fuelled ‘unguided missiles’ flying all over the place; missiles even Stormin’ Norman Schwartzkopf couldn’t control.

And, if you remember your team-building theory, Stormin’ and Normin’ are exactly what will be going on in your organisation as part of the five stages of team development first proposed by Bruce Tuckman and since developed by others: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.

Sometimes, simply calling attention to this model is helpful for teams that are storming as they realise that all this initial conflict is a natural step on the road to performing!

But there must be more you can do to help teams function well – without resorting to building rafts, losing people on an orienteering course or (killer app?) going bowling. (All these activities can have a value in building teams, but they’re not usually the kind of thing communicators and HR professionals at the centre can roll out across the organisation).

Belbin: Team Roles

So what can you do? Well, I’m a big fan of Dr Meredith Belbin’s Team Roles. Belbin described a Team Role as “a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way”.

Helping people recognise their preferred role(s) can help teams work together smarter and better.

If you need creative ideas, turn to a Plant (ideas person). If you want to get those ideas checked out to see if they’ll work, ask a Monitor Evaluator to look over them. If you want to get them put in place on time, perfectly, get an Implementer and a Completer Finisher on the case.

I once worked in a team of six, which featured five Plants (ideas people) and one Completer Finisher. Boy, we had some great ideas – but we never delivered any of them!

Sometimes a strength in one situation can be a weakness in another context.  Monitor Evaluators are likely to be objective, impartial and good at weighing up all possibilities to make the right decision. Yet they may also come across as unenthusiastic and may be among the least inspiring people in the team. But this allowable weakness is a price worth paying for the strength they do bring to the party. Indeed, truly effective teams are made up of people with strengths in all nine Belbin Team Roles.

So, in the training you provide leaders and managers to equip them to communicate and implement the new strategy or change, introduce them to the Belbin concept. That way, they can get their team members not only to recognise the valuable role they each play, but also to fulfil that role with gusto – because that’s how they’ll make the biggest contribution.

Time for ‘Prayers’

Remember the poor lonesome Implementer from my team of six? She was often ridiculously busy and to be found in a quiet corner, eyes closed and mouth moving as if in prayer. Which got me thinking…

Without wishing to cause offence to those of a religious persuasion, I wondered what the ‘prayers’ would be for each Belbin Team Role. So I wrote some, as a bit of fun:

Plant: Lord, grant me the power to have yet another brilliant idea, but forgive me if I don’t get all the details right…
Resource Investigator: God,helpmefindamanwho’llsolvethisproblem. ThoughinfactIknow severalanditwillbe fab and when it’s done I’ll… Oh look, a new contact to meet…
Coordinator: Lord, I’m sure with all my experience I can bring total clarity to this challenge. If you could just help me clear my diary and ask others to help…
Shaper: God, send me Thy challenges and I will step up and walk through fire to deliver, though I might upset others in process, hey ho, especially if they wind me up…
Monitor Evaluator: Lord, let me consider all the facts and explore all the options and verily I will make a good decision, so long as there’s no rush, and you don’t want me to inspire any disciples…
Team worker: God, would it be okay if I listen to everyone’s ideas, I’m sure they’ll be great, I don’t want to cause upset, I think that would be a plan, I’m not sure, especially since this is so important…
Implementer: Lord, you know you can always rely on me, give me your ideas and I’ll make them happen, just let me focus, and don’t throw any curved balls at me…
Completer Finisher: God, give me thy projects and I’ll deliver on time. Can I just check I’ve spelt your name right? I’d get Peter to check, but by the time I‘ve asked him I might as well do it myself…
Specialist: Lord, I’d love to help more widely, but I simply must focus on my unique area of expertise and see things through to the end. Can I show you this latest research, it’s fascinating…

Earlier in this post, I suggested that your challenge is to influence the way people in your organisation work – to get teams performing better and coordinating their activities, perhaps internationally. Reading this, you might have thought you didn’t have a prayer. Well, you have now – and a new angle on teamwork (or should that be a new angel to guide you on your way?)