Effective teams are intricately linked by a common purpose based on shared values.  They believe that they can succeed or fail together.  The healthy teams have rules of engagement – explicit and implicit guidelines of how to work together and the kinds of conflicts they will or will not allow.  

Here are some norms that can foster an excellent working relationship among teams:

1. Encourage full participation.  Sometimes when you go to a meeting, there is somebody who sits off to the side and never says anything.  However, it is essential for everybody to be heard for buy-in to occur and for the greatest amount of ideas to be put on the table. What systems do you put into place to foster maximum contributions? For some ideas, you can check out my article, “5 ways to spark full team participation.”

2. Adopt the Devil’s Advocate Role.  Some people invoke this term to have license to say something unpopular or distasteful, but a real devil’s advocate provides an excellent service.  It gives people permission to challenge, disagree, and argue productively.  It is an excellent practice to test your idea and make sure it is really solid.  If your teammate is trying to tear it apart, poke holes, and undermine it, and you cannot adequately defend the idea, perhaps it is not ready yet for the mainstream. For this tactic to be effective, you need to have trust and psychological safety. You are more likely to give and receive challenges when there is an understanding that the goal of the tough inquires is to make your ideas even better, thereby benefiting the team.

3. Establish a “disagree and commit” culture.  This idea comes from Tech Co-founder Scott McNealy’s larger point – “Agree and commit, disagree and commit, or get out of the way.”  Andy Grove, and most recently Jeff Bezos included this idea in his 2016 letter to shareholders.  Bezos expected and demanded that teammates voice their disagreement.  He also believed that no matter their point of view, once a decision has been made, everyone commits to its success.  He writes, “Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit. Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting.”  If you have two people battling to win the approval of their idea and one loses, that person could be so tied to their plan that they may not want to see the other person’s idea succeed.  But real teammates know how to spar to make each other better and then offer their sincere support and robust commitment because there is a bigger picture and a larger vision at play.  If you notice somebody not jumping on board, they may be elevating the individual over the group agenda. 

4. Speak last as a leader.  This advice was given to former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer by legendary Executive Coach Bill Taylor.  He said that when you go first and blurt out your ideas, you rob other people with the ability to share their perspectives.  While you may know the answer, it is vital to contribute last because you give the team the chance to partake in the process, synergize, and get there together, which is just as important as coming up with the right idea.

5. Elect the right people to lead the discussion.  If the conversation is about marketing, it should be led by the marketing department.  Most times, corporate politics can get in the way of the finest ideas prevailing, but the best managers put the person closest to the problem in charge of solving it because they have first-hand experience and unique insights. Innovation is not about only allowing important people with big titles to create, but driving forward excellent ideas regardless of where they originate.

6. Use the Six Thinking Hats Method.  Edward De Bono designed a system for group discussion and individual decision making by the use of six colored hats, which represent a type of thinking. 

  • The WHITE hat is logical and fact-based where you analyze data and past trends.
  • The YELLOW hat symbolizes optimism where you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit.
  • The GREEN hat is creative and provocative where you offer possibilities and out-of-the-box alternatives to standard ideas.
  • The BLACK hat is judgment, the devil’s advocate role, or why something may not work.  This hat is cautious and conservative and can be the most powerful but problematic if overused.
  • The RED hat signifies feelings, hunches, and intuition. When using this hat, you can express emotions and share fears, likes, loves, and dislikes.
  • The BLUE hat is used to manage the thinking process, it could be a meeting chair that directs the conversation and calls on certain hats when there is a lull or when contrast is required.

You can try on certain hats for a specific agenda item to yield a great variety of perspectives to form a more comprehensive picture. 

7. Use the Double Pro/Con Method.  This is great for when you are trying to foster fruitful discussion and see multiple perspectives.  If you have a group of 10, you would divide them into two groups of five.  

·      Each group of five will spend some time depositing ideas into the collective pool and then choosing the best idea they want to present to the whole group of 10.  

·      They will then divide themselves – 2 people representing pro and three people representing con and will discuss for 10 minutes so multiple points are displayed.  

·      Then they will switch roles where the three people are now for the proposal, and the two people are against it. This would be enlightening for the second group of 5 people to watch because they can see the contrasting ideas and tease out the nuggets of wisdom.  

·      You can then invite the second group to go through the method so the first group can have the benefit of witnessing multiple sides to a proposal.

Great teams do not just organically happen. When you are intentional about adding some structure and universal agreements, creativity and excellence can surely abound.

Quote of the day: “In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly.”  -Mark Sanborn

Q: What are some norms that you use which help your team perform at their best? Comment and share with us, we would love to hear from you!

*The next blog in this team series 6/10 will delve into 5 ways to spark full team participation.

As a Leadership Development & Executive Coach, I work with teams to set up universal agreements for peak performance . Contact me to learn more.

Which agreements allow your team to thrive?