system, systems thinking, synthesis, team

Why You Need to Do More Systems Thinking with Your Team

For over 400 years, western civilization has increased its use of analytical thinking and the scientific method to explain almost everything in the natural world. By using analysis (separating a whole into its component parts), our society has greatly expanded the knowledge of how things work. With this knowledge, humans have invented new technologies that have freed many people from lives focused only on survival.

Yet, elevating analysis over other thought processes has led to a loss of appreciation of how human beings and everything else are interdependent elements of an interconnected, complex web of life. You might notice this overuse of analysis in your workplace. For example, I would bet that most (if not all) of the “thinking” done by you and your team is analyzing problems by looking for causes and effects.

Systems Thinking as a Complement to Analysis

I’m not advocating that you quit using analysis. It has its place. But analysis comes up short when working in a complex environment of issues and stakeholders. You know this if you have had the experience of  “solving a problem” only to have it repeatedly pop up elsewhere in your organization or system. What I am suggesting is that you and your team use systems thinking, or synthesis, as a counterbalance to analysis. Systems thinking provides an understanding of why the whole system of parts is the way it does and to focus your efforts; your team can then use analysis for determining how parts are working.

In contrast to analysis, systems thinking begins by focusing on the broader system. First, define that system and its function (stakeholders). Next, look at the interaction of the its “parts” (team members) of the system (of stakeholders). As Russ Ackoff said, “A system is not the sum of its parts but a product of their interactions.” Using systems thinking (or synthesis) with analysis will enhance your team’s ability to more thoughtfully address issues and strategize for the future.

Benefits of Systems Thinking

Here are three benefits of using more systems thinking with your team:

Your work will be more meaningful.

When you approach your work, including processes and people dynamics, with the whole system in mind, your team will work more holistically to make the system work better more effectively. This is because systems thinking emphasizes the relationships and interactions between the people and processes involved in any situation. You’ll go from feeling like “cogs” in a machine to seeing yourselves as intelligent, adaptive participants in an interdependent ecosystem. You’ll gain a broader perspective and see the interconnectivity of people and processes across many different areas. This adds to more meaning to your work.

You are more likely to make progress on complex issues over the long-term.

Using systems thinking takes you from using only a cause/effect, linear approach to resolving issues within the system. This means, you’ll move from assuming a problem lies where the symptom occurs. Instead, you’ll realize that multiple actions/reactions in other parts of the system can occur to discombobulate the system.

Your team will become a learning machine that adds greater value.

“Problems” become learning opportunities for your team. Instead of assuming a “problem” needs to be simply eliminated, your team will learn to dive into understanding unwanted situations. You’ll stop going for quick fixes or avoiding the issues altogether. System thinking provides new perspectives on why the system is not functioning well. The can then adapt to better serve the system.

Unlike analysis, systems thinking is not second nature to most of us at this point.  Over the centuries, analysis helped humans to gain new knowledge about phenomena in our world. Unfortunately, it over-emphasized the parts over the whole. Using more systems thinking can re-balance your approach to chronic, long-term issues. As your team uses more systems thinking, you will generate choice, create interconnectivity, and become more aware of possible solutions that improve the whole system.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

individual, team, team identity, team purpose

5 Ways to Transform a Group of Individuals into a Team

In the U.S., most people are taught from an early age to be individually competent and independent. It’s no wonder that most of your employees have some difficulty in knowing how to work effectively within a team. Here are five things you can do to forge a collective sense of “team”:

1. Create Routines That Signal Start of Team Space

Being part of a team is like being a partner in a marriage — both require individuals to give up some of their individual desires and aspirations in service to the group. (Read a previous post I wrote about the ego “sacrifice” required here.) As a team leader, you can reinforce this notion with routines that are designed to signal that the group is entering “team” mode and to put their individual goals to the side.

Examples of these routines are:

  • At the beginning of team meetings, consider starting with a few seconds of silence to allow everyone to bring their focus into the meeting.
  • Use a team “check-in” to allow each individual to engage with the rest of the team from the start.
  • During an initial team or project launch, ask each individual to share what baggage they intend to leave behind (past quarrels or resentments, habits, tendencies, etc.) that won’t serve the team purpose and stakeholders.

In short, you can build small habits into team processes to reinforce the notion that everyone is moving into team mode where the team and its work is the focus instead of furthering individual agendas.

2. Frequently Revisit Team Purpose

To maintain the focus on the collective team endeavor, always remind your team of its purpose. Reminding the team why your team exists is a fundamental way to establish and re-establish team focus. Everything team members do — from the behaviors needed to achieve team success, to the goals and objectives they strive to achieve, to the processes they create for high quality output, should all come from to the team’s purpose. This is also true for each decision made and the roles and responsibilities assigned. In short, team purpose informs everything your team does. Team purpose reminds your team that their collective endeavor is not about them as individuals as much as it is about the team as a whole and the benefit it provides to others.

3. Keep Stakeholders at the Center of the Team’s Work

It’s easy for team members to get overly focused on their individual agendas and responsibilities. Yet, your team’s success is ultimately measured by how well its collective work provides beneficial value for stakeholders. In fact, stakeholders and their needs are the reason for your team’s purpose, which in turn drives your team’s work. (Read a previous article on how to take yourself out of the center.)

To keep your team’s focus on stakeholders, connect with them from time to time. Staying in touch allows your team to discover how well your team is providing valuable benefit to them and whether the relationship is good. When your team sees its stakeholders as central to team operations, you prioritize the collective team endeavor of serving stakeholders over individual team member interests.

4. Make Vulnerability and Fallibility Okay

One of the big reasons individual team members can be overly focused on themselves is that they want to appear capable. Yet, each human on your team has flaws. To mask those flaws, individuals often balk at admitting they sometimes lack skills or that they make mistakes. That’s why it’s important that you as team leader show that it’s okay to admit you aren’t all knowing, may lack some ability, and will own up to mistakes in the spirit of learning. Additionally, your team might consider creating norms around these concepts.

Acknowledging human frailties permits team members to accept each other as individuals. It also can focus them on learning together as a team rather than protecting their individual egos.

5. Create Team Accountability for Individual Team Member Development

As suggested by Keith Ferrazzi, you can forge a deeper focus on the team by creating a Team Relationship Action Plan. The key to such a plan is to ensure each individual team member identifies their own areas for growth. Then, they ask for what they need from other team members to make gains in those areas. This creates mutual accountability between each individual and whole team for individual development that furthers the team purpose and goals.

To conclude, individual talent and creativity are necessary contributions to team success. However, successful teams are able to create a singular team focus to serve their stakeholders. Don’t rely on this happening naturally; consider trying some of these ideas to routinely reinforce what it means to be a team.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

team, collective, individual

Challenges of Forging Individuals Into a Team

How does a sense of team emerge where the whole is prioritized over the individual, especially in Western cultures where the emphasis is on the individual?

A team is a specific type of group where individuals come together to accomplish a shared purpose. In a team, the individual team members bring their unique talents and perspectives and work interdependently to achieve a unified outcome. This requires mutual responsibility, accountability, and support.

Move from a Focus on Individual Team Members to a Focus on the Team Purpose

With the complexity of today’s world, many companies are finding that individuals working by themselves but together with a common goal doesn’t rise to meet the demands of today’s complex and changing world. The creates an “every person for themselves” approach that falls short. Thus, the challenge for many companies today is to create true team where its “all for one and one for all”.

Forging individuals into a team requires the ability to create conditions where team members express their individual talents in service of the team, while keeping their focus on achieving the team’s purpose and serving the team’s stakeholders.

This is easier said than done because most people have been raised to focus on their own talents, needs, and goals. When this is the case, a focus on individuals is at the center of decision-making. Instead, this is where the team’s collective purpose, goals, and stakeholders should be. Consequently, the team can easily devolve back to being a group of individuals, each in pursuit of looking good individually.

As with most things in life, it’s a balancing act. A healthy team must strive for a balance between encouraging the individual team members to fully contribute while ensuring the shared team purpose drives the work.

Here are some things to monitor if you want to forge a collection of individuals into a high-performing or even transformative team:

Strive For Your Team’s Individual/Team Balance

A team leader along with the team must strive to create conditions where individual team members:

  • know which unique skills, knowledge, and abilities they contribute to the team.
  • are willing to reflect on their abilities and their limits to grow through the challenges of working with others.
  • have interesting and purposeful tasks to perform.
  • are willing to engage in productive conflict to find creative solutions with others.
  • are willing to ask for and offer help when needed without judgment.

Additionally, the team as a whole must:

  • agree upon a shared purpose, norms, goals/aspirations, and priorities.
  • recognize and appreciate individual contributions and encourage individual growth.
  • prioritize its work together with the stakeholders and shared purpose at the center.
  • take collective responsibility to improve as a team and to assist each team member in their individual development
  • engage in dialogue and productive conflict to find creative solutions
 Warning Signs That You’re Losing the Individual/Team Balance

To strike that individual/team balance, there are also things to avoid.  For example, signs that the focus is too much on individuals include:

  • individual opinions and preferences drive decision-making over what’s best for the team and its stakeholders.
  • the team allowing a louder or outspoken team member to dominate team discussions frequently.
  • the team allows individual preferences or behavior to derail group progress towards a shared goal.

Signs that the team might be stifling individual participation include:

  • group think sets in — team members don’t challenge interpretations or points of view out of habit or because they fear not being seen as “team players”.
  • a dogmatic or misguided group personality emerges that isolates the team and creates difficult interactions with others outside the team.
  • the team as a whole dismisses individual contributions (+ and -) that could lead to breakthroughs.

Building a great team is not easy. When you get full team member participation that serves the purpose of the team, it will be a thing of beauty.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

 

failure, learning

Why You Should Prize Failure

Failure happens when a desired or expected outcome doesn’t materialize. It can happen whether or not there was something you could have done about it, too. Whether the mistake is a small glitch or a major flop, failure often weighs heavily on you personally because you’ve been conditioned that, without exception, “failure is not an option”.

This is a lot to overcome. In most people’s experience, nothing is perfect; you and the people around you are flawed, and the world is constantly changing. Thus, you’re not always going to get things right on with mistakes, foibles, and failure and re-frame them as ”learning”:

1. Failure points to weaknesses in behavior, skill, processes, your overall system, or level of support provided.

Use an error to examine a weakness in how you are performing the work. People involved may need to build technical or interpersonal skills. The steps designed to produce the work output may be inadequate. Also, you might need to increase follow ups or check ins during a process to increase the ability to get and give needed guidance.

2. Failure provides you new information and data about what does and doesn’t work.

Mistakes help you home in on what will ultimately work well, especially when you are in uncharted territory. Repeated, incremental failures can help you fine tune toward success.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

3. Failure can highlight false assumptions.

Consumers didn’t embrace the Ford Edsel in the late 1950s in part because the company mistakenly assumed consumers wanted big cars when they wanted smaller, more economical ones. The maker of Coke incorrectly assumed that it would convert Pepsi drinkers if it made its product taste more like its rival. While it’s too bad that these companies went all the way to market with ill-conceived products, they did learn that their thinking was flawed at a fundamental level.

4. Failure can create curiosity that leads to inquiry and more engagement.

With an eye towards learning, you can use failure to focus your team on the work. To do this you must avoid blaming and shaming individuals, which can drive a wedge in the middle of your team. Instead, focusing on what happened can bring your team together to solve problems. Additionally, your team can go one step further to share what they learned with others in your organization.

Perfection is not the goal. Nothing and no one will ever be 100% error free. Rather, view the performance of work as a creative process that can teach you a lot through the errors, mishaps, and failures that occur along the way. Be grateful you have opportunities to discover what and how you can improve the next time.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER OR BLOG? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

team, purpose, trust, psychological safety, goal

5 Reasons Your “Team” is Not a Team

Although there are countless books about creating better teams, participating on and leading teams remains a top frustration in most companies. Here are 5 reasons your “team” might not actually be one:

1. There are no shared goals or values.

Your “team” may believe it is working together and headed in the same direction, but when push comes to shove, each of you pursue activities that serve your individual interests and behave without accountability to each other. In other words, your oars are rowing in different directions.

In contrast, you know you are a team when you are a group that shares a few core values and pursues a measurable goal that will define the team’s success. Once a measurable team goal is set and values identified, each of you ensure every person on the team understands how to behave according to those values and is held accountable to do so. Further, you understand how each person contributes to achieving the team goal through individual competencies (e.g., ability to build consensus, drive for results, etc.) or technical expertise.

“Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.” — Casey Stengel

2. There is low trust or no trust.

With little or no trust, members of your so-called “team” withhold their best and secretly look for ways to “win” at someone else’s expense without regard to a common goal. 

Team trust is strongly correlated with team commitment and follow-through on promises made to each other. To work together effectively as a team, each or you must believe the others have your back.  Also, when setbacks occur (and they almost always occur), you have to believe/trust everyone else is doing his best. This helps your team avoid the blame game and to get back on track quickly.

3. There is not a clear path to achieve the team goal.

When you only have a destination but no map to get there, a group of individuals will spend precious time wasting uncoordinated effort in different directions.

Mapping the route to achieve the common team goal assists your teammates in understanding how and when all team members’ contributions come together to achieve success. A clear path often includes quick wins to gain momentum and milestones to mark the way.

4. Communication is not open, honest, and transparent.

If people on your “team” are more concerned with withholding information and opinions while masking what they really see happening, team accountability and effectiveness are severely hampered.
To behave as a team, you must communicate in a forthright manner to get on the same page, to stay on the same page, to coordinate action, and to hold each other accountable to team commitments and values.

5. “Team” members are overly focused on their own contributions, wins, and reputations.

Ever seen a scoring basketball player point to the teammate who passed him the ball? Acknowledging contributions by teammates reinforces the notion that each person’s success is dependent on the contributions of others, no matter how small or behind-the-scenes.  No one does it alone. Recognizing each other’s contribution to the team fosters better relationships and, in turn, more trust.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.