In my Making Teams Work course, which includes a demanding team project, one team wrote some very compelling Lessons Learned and they have allowed me to share them with you. While they were writing about their student team, it struck me how applicable they are to all teams:
There were a number of lessons that came out of the process. While many of them are things we knew previously, or even learned through the course materials, having lived these lessons makes them all the more meaningful and likely to remain with us. For the purpose of this analysis, we will focus on the lessons related to teamwork and not the things we learned about social media, hunger or the other aspects of our project.
Lesson One - There will always be problems. Having a predetermined approach to dealing with issues is a significant help in addressing and working through problems. Going forward we plan to always include a team charter process at the outset of new projects, and to include agreements and expectations around how to address conflict, violations and setbacks. It won’t be easy. No one ever wants to talk about a prenuptial agreement before a wedding. But being thoughtful about course correction and worst case outcomes is a good investment in future harmony.
Lesson Two - Teamwork is work. Obviously doing the project related aspects were work, but managing the dynamics of the team itself is also work - and it is often harder than task work. Teams benefit from discussing and establishing explicit team norms, which prevents the development of inappropriate norms. But even if these norms are discussed early on, they are still not an easy conversation. Our team realized and collectively decided that it was imperative to devote time and energy to resolve any conflict as soon as it was identified.
Lesson Three - The team isn’t working if the team isn’t working. The team dynamic has to be a priority to sustain healthy and productive relationships. The more our team members valued membership in the team, the more motivated they were to perform. Addressing the need for increased sense of commitment and attraction to a team allowed us to learn how to enhance our group cohesion. This led to every team member performing at their best.
Lesson Four - Pay attention to each other. The biggest mistake teams can make is to just dive into the work without establishing or nurturing relationships. The ability to read other’s mood and attitudes is important because knowing what someone looks like when they are engaged is the first data point in helping get them re-engaged when they aren’t. We only learned this because it was a specific expectation of this assignment.
Lesson Five - People are more important than projects. Life presents the unexpected and sometimes taking the time to be there for each other and listen to each other is more important that the original agenda. Of course, we want to be as productive as possible, but one of the most valuable times for our groups was at the beginning of each meeting when we would go around and check in on everyone. When you are working within a remote group, you don’t always have the ability to see or hear what may be going on and until you have that face to face meeting, you don’t always know what that individual is going through (good or bad).
Lesson Six - Learn from conflict. We tried to forecast and predict that conflict would occur. Therefore, establishing norms was a priority for us. We intentionally made our norms very detailed in order to be able to easily identify deviations. We communicated that we needed to address any issues that were potentially deviating from our norms early on. This was to eliminate the risk of any potential issue or problem escalating beyond the point of comfort. What we realized was that any conflict, no matter big or small will still bring a sense of discomfort to the team.
Lesson Seven - Observe your norms. When our group originally formed, we quickly took note that there was a lot of chemistry. Our forming conversations flowed nicely and working on the early assignments (i.e. the marshmallow project) seemed natural. Many teams have the tendency to ignore team norms, especially when all seems to be working seamlessly as the team dynamic is. But our norms set the expectation for how we would work together and served as a yardstick at those times when we weren’t living our norms. By being conscious about the creation and documentation of our norms we were better able to call each other out during the times when we needed to re-establish them.
Lesson Eight - Find technology that works for everyone. Technology is never as dependable as we want it to be. Being a part of a team that has members from various time zones made us try a few different modes of communication – ranging from join.me, google hangouts, texting, conference calls, canvas, etc. There were times that communication got missed, but for the most part, we were able to manage depending on the needs of the team. Additionally, we would have complications with connections and there would be interruptions. We learned that there were times we would need to record meetings or make sure we always had someone scribing to recap key points.
Lesson Nine - Embrace your team self. The person you know as an individual do-er may not be the person you are on a team. We all have our personalities which are fairly constant, but being on a team can bring out aspects of each of us that we don’t normally experience when working by ourselves. That’s a good thing. The team will get what it needs, and you will discover something about yourself. For us, we generally found working as our team selves easier and more fun than working as our individual selves.
In the course, the students create a team charter and you can see some of the elements I ask them to consider for the charter in a previous blog post.
What are some of your best Lessons Learned from being a part of a team?