Tag Archives: teams

The one with the charabanc

I have seen the future…

Not the whole future and no I can’t tell you when Apple is going to launch the next  iPhone but recently I went to see the mock ups of something we are building in the organisation where I earn a crust. It was very exciting and I could tell you more but you know, then I’d have to…well not kill you but speak to you sternly. It’s been built in Bedfordshire and therefore involved an outing so with 2 members of my team we charabanc’d out of London and went to see the future.

Including travel, the visit itself and grabbing something to eat we were together for about 5 hours and although the *actual* visit was stimulating having that time together allowed us a relaxed discussion in a form we don’t usually get on a day to day basis. We got to know each other a little better, had a few interesting debates on our combined position with respect to certain topics, we got to air some issues that have been bubbling under for a few weeks and we even found some time to laugh (and it wasn’t AT me – even better).

Why share this? The previous week I had been doing some work with a cross functional group of managers and one of the inputs was the Katzenbach & Smith work on teams. It’s well known, well cited and has stood the test of 20+ years so I often use it. One of the things Messrs. K&S suggest is that good teams spend time together. My workshop design paid a small dividend when one of the participants uttered the classic line,

“We spend lots of time together in meetings”, quickly followed with another favourite of mine,”We don’t have time to spend time together”

Now call me a kool aid drinking OD idealist but my response to the first is that meetings are usually about task, they are about getting stuff done – lists are ticked and action plans updated and then it’s off either to the next one or back to the desk to actually do some work. My response to the second is that time spent getting to know and understand each other will make every other minute you work together more effective and rather than seeing it as time wasted instead of working, see it as an investment in making the team more effective. In this particular workshop the debate lasted just shy of 25 minutes and I was pleased to observe at least 2 pennies dropping in the room with respect to the idea of a true team rather than just a group of people who happen to be in the same payroll budget.

I read something yesterday morning about the 10 most horrifying team builds – read it, it will make you squirm and whilst I am a known exponent of the planned and structured team build I refute the notion that the only way to build a team or group of people to be more cohesive is through structured and facilitated exercises (as marvellous as some of them are). Our charabanc to Bedfordshire didn’t deliver immediate ‘just do it’ actions for the organisation but what it did do was help us as a team frame our thinking about what is coming and improve our understand of the context in which we will be operating and how we will help the organisation understand this but most importantly for me we moved an incremental step forward in our understanding of each other, how we will effectively work together and got to know each a little better as people. A fine day out!

P.S. The future’s purple!

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The one with the grand slam

The Welsh rugby team won the Grand Slam last weekend. If the Six Nations Championship escaped your notice that means they beat the other five teams and in doing so also won the Triple Crown. If you’re Welsh or a fan of rugby you will understand the significance of this but otherwise you may have missed the fervour that surrounds the annual championship.

Being a Welsh rugby supporter has for most of my life been a torrid experience. I was born at a time when Wales were a dominant force in world rugby (The Gareth Edwards Years) and by the time I was aware of what was going on we had entered a phase of history that felt to me like “Most gracious plucky loser”. Moving to University in England made it worse, standing in bar after bar every year smiling graciously and congratulating a succession of winners with the occasional win pulled out of the hat (followed by a serious intake of beer!)

In the last 7 years Wales have managed to win the Grand Slam 3 times (and even got a mention in my brother’s wedding speech) and put in 2 respectable displays at successive World Cups and being a Welsh rugby fan is feeling a lot better.

Why write a post about this? Well Wales won the Grand Slam! But apart from that it struck me on Saturday as I reflected on the win (and the fact but for a close finish against England it could have been a very different outcome) that NOT supporting the Welsh rugby team and NOT watching the matches has never really been something I’ve considered. However haphazard our play, through a succession of players and managers I have religiously turned the  TV on to watch and even splashed the cash to attend when I could get tickets (the trip to South Africa is mostly a haze!)

Why the commitment to a team that has changed several times during my life time and leaders who have changed even more often? There is no central hero figure, no membership card and my life changes very little whether they win or lose. That said had Wales not secured a win against France on Saturday the metaphorical black arm bands would have been on and it would have been a quiet weekend in Tring.

I sit with friends (Welsh of course) and we all shout, pace, get nervous, excited and completely emotionally invested in something that has no real consequence what so ever. We get no bonus, no pay rise, no promotion – committing to this process takes time, effort, resources and heartache yet we still do it… Why?

Like many people I’ve read Seth Godin’s “Tribes” but being a supporter or a fan has no leader to follow but rather an emblem (in our case the three feathers) yet year after year we commit to the turmoil and upheaval that results from committing to any sporting team (a commitment that most organisations would give their left arm to have)

I don’t really have an answer to any of the questions and have really posted this as a ‘thought in progress’ to see if any can point me at relevant stuff to read or has a point of view to share. Would be great to have some input if only to move my thinking on…

Post Script (you probably only want to read this if you’re Welsh)

I was thinking about the post Gareth Edwards, pre-2005 period and trying to think of my personal 5 memorable moments and in no particular order, here they are:

Jonathon Davies’ try vs. Scotland 1988 – a ridiculous reverse pass, a chip ahead, an astounding burst of speed and over goes Jiffy. I remember being truly shocked at it but it’s still a smashing piece of rugby to watch

Robert Jones’ try vs. Australia 1987 – the first ever rugby world cup and Robert Jones (not me) scores a try under the posts to secure our third place in the contest (a position we have yet to top). An awesome moment and against the Wallabies – couldn’t happen to a nicer team.

Paul Thorburn’s kick vs. Scotland 1986 – 64.2m the longest penalty ever in an international test match and the kick that no one thought he would make. I met Thorburn some years later and a very modest man who still gave a wry smile when asked about it.

A wag in the crowd vs. New Zealand c1999 (Wembley Stadium) – a very personal one but the All Blacks were a class act (as ever) and with 8 or so minutes left on the clock were 48 points to 3 ahead. During a break in play a loud voice from the back of the stand exclaimed with some conviction, and a strong Welsh accent “come on Wales, we’re still in it” – the laughter bordered on ovation!

Scott Gibbs’ try vs. England 1999 (Wembley Stadium – and I was there!) – I was there hosting clients, mostly English but there were 2 other Taffs amongst them. We’d taken stick all the way through the game and with the clock running us out of time, Scott Gibbs jinked around the English defence to go over. Neil Jenkins obliged by converting it and Wales won the last ever match of the 5 Nations. I don’t remember much of the rest of the day….

 

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The one to identify with

As part of a variety of workshops and team days I have regularly asked the question “what team are you in?” The answers are diverse and range from “team <individual’s name>” to their functional team to the particular country team or the entire organisation. It’s an interesting question and to me speaks to the individual’s perception of their role, maybe their motivation, their esteem in the organisation and what network they see themselves as part of.

Identity is one of those things that is present on all parts of our lives. Think back to the school yard – everyone was in gangs that were identified by a characteristic usually involving sport or social status (or is it technology now?). When you start working there are labels like the new starter, the graduate, the temp. As much as people seem to like labelling others (i.e. she’s an employee of X) it is more pertinent to the individual as to what label they choose to accept – how and what they identify with.

In his 2001 book Haslam describes organisational identity as akin to a psychological bond between the employer and the employee and Ashforth & Mael describe it as “the perception of oneness with or belonginess to the organization”. Haslam goes on to suggest that individuals who identify with their organisations see themselves as members and see the organisations values as aligned to their own either on a conscious cognitive level or a more emotional “pride” level. Employees who identify with their organisations will work longer for the greater good, often involving individual sacrifice and are more intrinsically motivated to deliver increased performance.

Different organisations treat this topic very differently. From recruitment and induction through to values workshops, employee surveys, town hall meetings etc etc etc, how organisations try to manage this and measure it is a topic much bigger than a) this post and b) my interest currently, but it does seem to me that at times we are skirting around the central tenant and looking at the superficial, do people actually feel like they belong to your organisation or is it just a transactional relationship?

I was having a conversation with a pal of mine at the weekend. She is an executive in a fairly large business and was talking about the commercial challenges they are facing at the moment. She went on to say that the senior team (of which she is part) have spent 9 months searching for the silver bullet and have finally realised it’s not one thing but a series of smaller things combined that will change their fortunes.

I am not suggesting for a moment that the topic of organisational identity is a) as straightforward as presented here or b) a silver bullet for organisations BUT it needs to be part of the discussion. The next time you have the opportunity ask some people which team they are in and why they think that, I’m not suggesting it will immediately change your fortunes but I would lay a sizeable bet it will be an interesting conversation.

P.S. What team are you in???

 

Afterword:

I wrote this post over the weekend and had done a little tweaking and nuancing (not nearly enough I’m sure) but then had a conversation with another friend who’s son has just started playing rugby at a local club (under 7s – VERY competitive) and the conversation strayed onto the World Cup. Having watched my team (Wales) but up a valiant but eventually unsuccessful performance against the reigning world champions, South Africa, I have the silver bullet (!!). All employees to wear rugby jerseys – not one of the 30 odd men appearing on that pitch yesterday were in any doubt as to their identity or what team they were in…

 

References:

Ashforth, B., & Mael, F. (1989). Social identity theory and the organization. Academy of Management

Review, 14(1), 20–39.

Haslam, S. A. (2001). Psychology in organizations. The social identity approach. London: Sage

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