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We Fix Our Technology When it Breaks – Why Don’t We Fix the People that Run It?!

People aren’t machines, we’re all quick to agree—but it’s difficult not to compare the inefficiency of business teams to the efficiency of the technology we’ve created that moves at the speed of light. 

Business teams are filled with intelligent, skilled, and able people who are frustrated by unclear direction, starts, stops and miscues, along with faulty hand-offs that result in dropped balls.  

Technology on the other hand is programmed for a clear purpose, stays on track, produces data, and generates results.

When technology breaks down, nothing works—and everyone panics.  The failed technology must be immediately reprogrammed and repaired.  Yet often we do not fix people breakdowns with the same kind of urgency as when we scramble to get technology back up and running.  

In the case of failing or flagging teams who do not meet their metrics, we…
. . . Call an all hands meeting,
. . . Talk to our managers
. . . Give it six months longer—at the peril of our finances and survival.

The difference is that organizations know how to fix technology—they call in the experts.  Organizations don’t know how to fix people and teams; so they muddle through hoping they’ll get better.

As individual professionals, team members are quite often bright to brilliant—hand-picked after an exhaustive search.  Yet as a team, they often just don’t gel.   Team meetings are often more like reports on individual activities rather than a team creating the strategy and synergy to win.

The biggest opportunity for organizations today to reduce costs and exponentially increase effectiveness is through team alignment and creating a team template that accelerates team effectiveness.  It is the low-hanging fruit for organizations around the world.

The obvious hugely overriding advantage that human teams have over technology is their ability to see opportunities and threats and to make midcourse corrections.   The days of self-organizing, self-directed teams are past, although many organizations don’t know it. 

The limitation of technology is that it continues along the path that it has been programmed to follow and depends on the input people give it.    In the scenario where people are replaced by machines, our observation is that technology is nowhere even close to replacing the thinking skills of people.  Technology is unlikely to ever have the passion, will, and motivation, which is really God given.

Yet, as we all recognize, people are being replaced by technology process, even to the point of customer service increasingly being done by automation at every point in a transaction.  We would not have Amazon products on our doorstep tomorrow if it were a function of human action.

Yet human teams still have the upper hand because of their thinking skills, but not if they continue to operate as they have in the past.  In order to be effective today, business teams must operate with a new organizing and operating system. 

To the extent that teams don’t operate within the new “Team Template,” they operate at their own peril—they’ll lack the speed, agility, and effectiveness to compete in a faster moving, even more competitive world.

The following are the elements of the new Team Template:

Team Selection Intentionality/Playing for the Super Bowl.  In the past we’ve asked the question, “Who do we have available?”  Today the question is, “Who are the players who will take us to success, with or without the organization?” 

Teams must have a sense of their critical importance—they are no longer “hope we can get it done” teams; they have to be a professional team playing for the super bowl.  Tenure is a thing of the past—you have to play each day to keep your position and to improve your numbers.

Creating the Team Feeling/Having Each Other’s Back.    Teams must go through the team formation process.  Each team must go through the process of formation sessions where people learn about their backgrounds, beliefs and values, understand the team mission, have skin in the game, and are as aligned as sports or military teams—no one is where they are because they landed there.  Each team member is committed to each other and to the mission.

Metrics, Accountability, Winning.    We’ve worked with organizations for years where team members worked 12 hours a day without a clear understanding of how what they were doing was contributing to the ultimate goal of a profitable organization.  We have seen teams working for years with no yard markers and no goal posts.  Every employee must be a part of a team, have a defined role, and performance metrics.  The individual team member must know when they have advanced the ball and when the team has scored. 

The New Dynamic—Team Templates

The New Team Template turns an afternoon tag football game into a playoff level competition in the NFL.  The team template becomes standard operating procedure for the organization and management of all teams in the organization. 

These are the types of teams that organizations have to identify organize, measure, and manage:  1) Ongoing teams to manage functions, 2) Project management teams that add new products and services to the organizations 3) Product development teams, creative in nature, bringing new opportunities to the organization 4) Client teams that are dedicated to sales and to serving specific clients.

Each team is one, formed and managed in variations of ways, but all  following the same template. 

  1. The team is authorized, designed and created—it does not suddenly emerge.  Its mission is defined and the budget is allocated by appropriate management level.   Team Leader and members of the team are selected from within the organization or hired from without and interviewed for the team before they are assigned. 

  2. The Team—whether ongoing functional team or project team—uses specific tools and processes to ensure effective, focused, efficient work:
    1. Team formation/rapport/trust building process, using Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or other personality profile. 
    2. Based on this foundation, the team uses agreed upon tools for engaging in passionate conflict to get to the best answers.
    3. Tools for giving direct, respectful feedback (such as Radical Candor) are put in place and used consistently.
    4. The team agrees to an “agree or disagree but commit” principle to ensure buy-in to decisions of the team and team leadership.
    5. Annual 360-degree feedback provides regular input on each team member’s performance.  Each team member develops a Game Plan to act on their 360 feedback and shares that Game Plan in the team.

  3. Roles and Goals.   The goals and timeline of the team are defined and stated.   Teams can recite how their project relates to the business objective.  Teams are organized to achieve a stated result. 
    1. Goals ladder up to the organization’s strategic direction and priorities
    2. Roles are clearly tied to goals
    3. Goals and roles have metrics attached.

  4. Team Communication platform and team communication guidelines are established.  The communication platform is designated, whether a communication platform or conventional email and text. 
  • A plan for instant, realtime communication, designating when there will be one on one communication, sub-groups of the team working on specific detailed issues, or when communication involves the whole team. 
  • Regular meetings are set, and the procedures for setting up impromptu meetings are established. 
  • Feedback is gathered quarterly to ensure communication is efficient and effective.

  1. Key cross-functional hand-offs and alignment are measured.  An annual Team 360 provides feedback from other teams on how effective the team is and how easy (or difficult) they are to work with.  The team develops a Game Plan to address issues that arise in their Team 360.

  2. Results are measured.  Measurement tools for team progress are put into place. 

  3. Realtime status of the project.  The team leader will be responsible for tracking the realtime progress of work.  Deadlines will be monitored against milestones or sprints.

  4. The completion of projects are noted and celebrated. The completion of major projects are noted, project evaluations are completed, and rewards for superior performance are put into place.

  5. Project teams are given new project or reassigned.   Functional teams continue their work, ensuring that they are constantly aligned with the organization’s changing goals, performing at the highest levels, and evolving as the organization evolves.

Whether an entrepreneur’s, C-Suite’s or Board’s vision is achieved depends on assembling and forming effective, goal-achieving teams.  Old-school teams that rely on traditional “blocking and tackling” management and operating as a silo in the organization won’t work.  It is too slow, too archaic, and too traditional.  The new Team Template makes teams and people agile, outcome-focused, metrics-hungry and ambitious to achieve.

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Carol Kallendorf, PhD. | (512) 417-9756 

Jack Speer | (512) 417-9428


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