When I am asked to facilitate team building or team training, here are the first two questions I ask and why I ask them:
1. “What do you want to accomplish? What will be different as a result?”
I ask to make sure that what they are requesting will get them where they want to go – to avoid agreeing to deliver the wrong solution.
2. “What is the purpose of your team?”
Often leaders call their direct reports their “team,” although the only thing that really connects them is that they report to the same person and in reality, they are not a real team.
A team is a group of people who need each other in order to accomplish their work.
Just because everyone reports to the same boss doesn’t automatically make them a team. Teams are organized around real work, not the person they report to.
If you want to know if the people who report to you are really a team, ask them these questions:
Shared Purpose: Is there a common purpose that ties us together?
Interdependence: To what extent and how do we need each other in order to accomplish our work?
Access: Do we have the access to each other that we need to share information and communicate?
These questions usually start an interesting conversation. Sometimes people assume they have distinct responsibilities but during the course of the conversation discover a larger and important purpose they had missed – like a shared responsibility to ensure the success of the entire department or to use each other as resources — something that creates a big picture view and takes them out of a silo mentality. Becoming aware of they larger purpose they all serve changes their ideas of what they need to be communicating with each other.
Sometimes they might already agree they have a shared purpose, but during the course of the conversation develop a deeper understanding of what it really means. They get energized and naturally begin to identify better ways of working together.
But that’s not always the case. In today’s complex organizations, you may find that you have several distinct teams reporting you. Or it might be that the real team is a cross-functional team where direct reporting relationships are with both you and another leader.
Not every collection of individuals should be a team.
What’s important is to recognize the real teams so you know where to focus your attention and resources for team development.
3. “Do you really want a team?”
Developing and supporting teams requires effort and attention. You need to provide structure and direction early on, and then at some point, you need to start stepping back and letting go of control, or they will never become a high performing team.
For some leaders, letting go of control feels like a huge risk. I have worked with leaders who intellectually understand letting go of control is the best thing they can to do for their team, but it runs counter to all of their patterns and instincts. I have the deepest respect when these leaders choose to develop a real team, for they are the bravest leaders I have met.