(In this series of posts offering excerpts from the book, 'The Wisdom of Teams' by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith (Harvard Business School Press), the excerpts are in bold.)
Yet, in our research, we did not meet a single team that had all the needed skills at the outset. We did discover, however, the power of teams as vehicles for personal learning and development. Their performance focus helps teams quickly identify, skill gaps and the specific development needs of team members to fill them.
The shared commitment in teams encourages a healthy fear of failure as opposed to debilitating insecurity among those challenged to learn. Finally, each team member’s sense of individual accountability to the team promotes learning. Once harnessed to a common purpose and set of goals, natural individualism motivates learning within teams. Except for certain technical and functional skills, most of us have the potential to learn the skills needed in teams.
Consequently, when challenges arise, team members can respond, confident that they have the trust and support of their teammates—so long as the actions taken make sense in light of the team purpose. In other words, risks that otherwise might not be taken get done as a matter of course.
People make a mistake if, upon reading a description of useful social roles, they think they must assemble a team at the beginning with “all the right parts.”
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In a "CorporateTheatre" workshop, for every new activity and assignment, participants are regrouped into new teams. This is done very simply. If 3 teams are required for a particular activity, the group is asked to count from 1 to 3, and all the 1s, 2s, and 3s are then clubbed together. Thereafter they are given their assignments, the parameters of performance are defined, and deadlines announced.
Invariably, barring an occasional participant who may have done theatre before, the vast majority would be experiencing theatre for the first time. In spite of this, without fail, each randomly formed team finds all the necessary competencies in terms of acting, direction, set design, making props, make-up, and costumes. And this happens within deadlines that could range from just 30 mins to about an hour and a half depending on the nature of the assignment. Unbelievable as it may seem, in over 15 years of facilitation I have yet to come across a single team that did not deliver productions and performances beyond their own or their audience's (client's) expectations.
In the process participants discover that once the clarity (of the collective goal) and commitment (to the collective success) are total, teams find the new and necessary competencies and create the required resources. There is no comparison of competencies, only a celebration of strengths. Each one contributes what they can do with all their commitment, and one person's weak area is complemented by another person's strengths and vice versa. Teams discover new possibilities and true learning and growth happens at the level of the individual and the team as a whole.
When confronted with intensely competitive and challenging objectives calling for individual leadership, they pick the person who seems to be the most competent in that particular area of expertise, irrespective of experience or hierarchy. Interestingly, people thus selected to represent the team at higher levels of challenge, often fail. But there is no 'blame-storming'. Instead, they huddle together, console the person concerned, and each other, analyse what went wrong, and decide what to do better the next time around. And strangely, more than 85 percent of the time, it is a team that fails in the beginning that goes on to win in the end. The initial shock of failure seems to make the team more sensitive, receptive, interdependent, alert, and determined.
A significant learning that emerges from the group when processing the experience is that there is nothing called "fear of failure". In fact unless a team is prepared to risk failure they will never achieve great success. The fear therefore is not of failure per se. Rather, it is the fear of being UNFAIRLY BLAMED FOR FAILURE. When everyone in the team has complete trust in each other's clarity and commitment on this project, now, there is no fear of being blamed. Teams take on risks and often end up performing far beyond even the most exacting expectations.
What never ceases to amaze and delight me is that every single time people form a new team with a new challenge, it takes only minutes to manifest all these possibilities at the level of the ideal. Each workshop reinforces my conviction that the ultimate challenge of leadership is to enable, empower, and sustain the infinite possibilities of 'natural' teams.
To use "CorporateTheatre" parlance, Define the destination, don't define the journey.