Diagnosing & Coaching Teams: The 3 Essential and 3 Enabling Conditions of Team Effectiveness (Part 2 of 2)

Diagnosing & Coaching Teams: The 3 Essential and 3 Enabling Conditions of Team Effectiveness (Part 2 of 2)

Part 2 of a two-part series by Ruth Wageman, Ph.D. & Krister Lowe, Ph.D.

…The most powerful way to build an effective team is to implement team norms (clear rules of engagement) that build constructive interactions and collaborative work processes… -Richard Hackman, PhD

In our first article (http://www.teamcoachingzone.com/diagnosing-coaching-teams-3-essential-3-enabling-conditions-team-effectiveness-part-1-2/) in this two part series we explored 3 Essential conditions—a real team, a compelling direction, the right people—that create the basis for team effectiveness. In that article we also introduced some research on leadership teams from around the world that suggested that the majority of such teams (approximately 80%) tend to be mediocre at best. The conditions for great teams just weren’t present.  In this follow-up article we share insights into 3 Enabling factors that further help to explain team effectiveness so that team leaders, team members and team coaches can gain insights into how to more effectively diagnose and coach teams.

The 3 Enabling Conditions – Sound Structure, Supportive Context, Team Coaching

The three Essentials named above form a solid platform for great teamwork. In addition, three more factors can breathe life into that basic structure and act as catalysts for high team performance: Sound Structure, Supportive Context and Team Coaching. Each of these are briefly described below.

#4 – Sound Structure

Many teams struggle with what to do together and how. Teams require structure to channel their productive energies. The research on the 120 teams found three important elements to consider: Team size, Task Design and Team Norms.

Often, most teams are too large, resulting in a greater opportunity for process losses—inefficiency or internal breakdowns. When teams get larger than 5 members the probability of “process losses” increases exponentially and actual productivity tends to go down. The number of links between members—not just the number of members–increases the chances of miscommunications, coordination problems, and other challenges in team interaction processes (see graphic on right).

Many teams also are asked to perform work that really isn’t a team task. Team tasks should be designed as whole and strategically important pieces of work. The focus then should be on putting only those tasks on the team agenda. Teams should be held accountable for achieving end goals, but given the autonomy to decide how they get the work done, so that their creative energies can be unleashed on the task.

Dr. Richard Hackman’s quote at the beginning of this post alludes to the third essential aspect of a sound structure: “The most powerful way to build an effective team is to implement team norms (clear rules of engagement) that build constructive interactions and collaborative work processes.4” When teams don’t have clear rules of engagement for how to play it creates the conditions for fumbling. Norms can’t be just a list of wished-for habits: they need to be enforced once created in order for them to become virtuous routines. This is a critical role for all team members, but in particular for the team leader.

Team size, task design and team norms then provide teams with the structural clarity on the who, what and how of their work which acts as an accelerant and drives the team forward together. The sub-dimensions in this Enabling condition provide team leaders, members and coaches with a target rich environment for interventions. For example, helping a team identify the main task(s) they need to be working on and keeping them focused on strategic, meaningful, and interdependent tasks is an important potential coaching area. Another is for team members to develop their own set of norms, as well as ways to enforce them, so that all can contribute to holding the team accountable for both the process as well as the outcomes of teamwork.   Finally, many team leaders welcome sound support in reconfiguring the size of their team.

#5 – Supportive Context

No team exists in a vacuum. The organizational context can significantly moderate the team’s effectiveness. While constraints from the environment can spur a team’s creativity, an overly austere or unsupportive organization can really take the wind out of a team’s sails. One of the authors of this post (Dr. Krister Lowe) recently worked with a number of teams in an organization that rated supportive context low on the Team Diagnostic Survey™. As a result, these teams tended to retreat into their own fiefdoms in order to protect their scarce resources, which resulted in significant barriers to cross-silo collaboration. In addition, during the team coaching sessions, where the results of the survey were shared many of the teams mentioned feeling unnoticed and unacknowledged for their contributions to the organization. Teams, just like individuals, need to be witnessed and appreciated and to feel like they are valued partners in what is happening in the company. Four sub-dimensions comprise this important Enabler: rewards/recognition, information, education/technical consultation and material resources. One common challenge for teams and team leaders is being proactive in requesting the supportive resources they need to make great teamwork feasible, rather than hitting roadblocks created by the organizational structures and systems around them. It is not uncommon for teams and team leaders to assume, when needs arise, that the cavalry will emerge from somewhere in the organizational context. By then, it is often too late. Engaging with the team’s organizational context proactively is an important area for coaching in most teams.

#6 – Team Coaching

Just as great sports teams have coaches that both support as well as challenge them to stretch to higher levels of performance, teams in business settings also need coaches. The “function” of team coaching is one than can exist in a formal role (e.g. an external team coach) or can be developed as a competency distributed across the team and its members. The team coach—a leader, a team member, an internal or external team coach—helps the team and its members pay attention to the team’s process and dynamics. It’s important to note that while coaching individuals may help a team, team coaching focuses on the team’s dynamics as a whole and seeks to maximize synergies or process gains while minimizing process losses.

In summary, when the 3 Essential Conditions (Real Team, Compelling Direction, Right) people are augmented with the 3 Enabling Conditions (Sound Structure, Supportive Context, Team Coaching), increased team performance becomes more likely. As the model below depicts, one of the essential factors that links the two sets of conditions is team leadership. Leadership is a function that is required in all teams and that can be embodied in a formal team leader or in a more collective and distributed manner across team members.

Diagnosing & Coaching Teams

The model described in this two-part article series provides team leaders, team members and team coaches with an evidence-based framework of team effectiveness. Whether designing and launching a new team or helping to rebuild and refocus an existing one, having a common framework can be helpful. Practically, the model can be used as a diagnostic tool. For example, it could inform the development of interview questions for a team assessment. It could also be used as the basis of a contracting meeting when designing a team intervention with a client. One of the authors of this post (Dr. Krister Lowe) recently was meeting with a client to explore approaches to developing leaders and managers. A team coaching approach was suggested as means for not only delivering on tangible business results but also using the process to provide a learning vehicle for managers to learn more about leading teams. The 3 Essentials and 3 Enabling conditions were sketched out on a piece of paper for the client. The visual model helped the client envisage what was possible, which led to request for a team coaching proposal for a number of teams in the company.

Team leaders, team coaches and learning and development professionals looking for a more rigorous approach to diagnosing teams may consider using the validated instrument—the Team Diagnostic Survey™—which can be used in a pre and post manner for measuring team development and performance.  (To learn more about The Team Diagnostic Survey™ and an upcoming certification workshop on November 9-11 in New York City, see the recommended resources below).

In addition to aiding in diagnosis, the framework provides a holistic tool for orienting team leaders and team coaches where to focus intervention efforts.   Whether in helping a team assess more clearly why it needs to be a team (i.e. real team), or helping develop a compelling direction that galvanizes it’s members, or assisting the team to develop shared ways of working (i.e. norms), the model reveals many potential entry points for coaching interventions.

In closing, the increasingly complex and dynamic challenges bearing down on organizations, requires collective leadership and action. This can best be achieved through high performing teams. However becoming a high performing team is easier said than done. It requires discipline and focus. This article provides some direction and evidence for where teams can look to begin their journey from being a working group to becoming a real team and to the holy grail of transforming into a high performing team. We hope that in the coming years the odds of being a high performing team become much better than 5:1. The mounting challenges facing humanity won’t wait for us to increase our collective effectiveness one struggling team at a time. Perhaps we can make the transition from the age of the heroic individual leader to the age of collective leadership a bit smoother.   Learning how to collaborate more effectively in teams is, in our view, a great place where immediately we can invest more energy.

We look forward to your comments and feedback on this two-part article series as well as to hearing what you have found that leads to greater team effectiveness in your organization.

References

  1. Hackman, J.R. (2001). Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances. Harvard Business School Press.
  2. Wageman, R., Nunes, D. A., Burruss, J. A., & Hackman, J. R. (2007). Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes to Make Them Great. Harvard Business Review Press.
  3. Wagman, R., Hackman, J.R., and Lehman, E. (2005) Team Diagnostic Survey: Development of an Instrument. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 2005, 41, 373-398
  4. Hackman, J.R. (2011). Collaborative Intelligence: Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems. Barrett-Koehler Publishers.

ADDITIONAL LEARNING RESOURCES

Ruth Wageman, PhD

Ruth Wageman, PhD

Director at ReThink Health and an Associate in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University

Ruth Wageman, Ph.D .is a Leading Scholar, Advisor, and Educator in Organizational Behavior and Collaborative Leadership. She is the lead author of the essential book Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes To Make Them Great and the author of numerous articles including “A Theory of Team Coaching” in the Academy of Management Review as well as ”Team Diagnostic Survey: Development of an Instrument” in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Sciences. She is a co-creator of the Team Diagnostic Survey—among the most rigorously researched and well-validated team assessment and coaching instruments. Dr. Wageman is currently a Director at ReThink Health and an Associate in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

Krister Lowe, MA, PhD, CPCC

Krister Lowe, MA, PhD, CPCC

Organizational Psychologist & Host of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast

Dr. Krister Lowe is an Organizational Psychologist, a Leadership and Team Coach, and the Creator of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast and Website (www.TeamCoachingZone.com). Dr. Lowe is a specialist in team coaching, conflict resolution and performance management and has more than fifteen years of experience consulting to diverse organizations in more than 25 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. His coaching, consulting, facilitation and training interventions have reached more than 25,000 people globally. He is the Host of The Team Coaching Zone podcast–a weekly interview show that explores the art and science of team coaching–and that has a listenership in more than 90 countries around the world.

Diagnosing & Coaching Teams: The 3 Essential and 3 Enabling Conditions of Team Effectiveness (Part 1 of 2)

Diagnosing & Coaching Teams: The 3 Essential and 3 Enabling Conditions of Team Effectiveness (Part 1 of 2)

Part 1 of a 2 part series by Ruth Wageman, Ph.D. & Krister Lowe, Ph.D.

…research that compares the performance of teams with what is produced by an equivalent number of individuals who work by themselves almost always finds that the individuals outperform the teams… Richard Hackman, PhD

Despite the buzz about “high performing teams” and our desires to build them and to participate in them, in reality they tend to be more the exception than the rule. In fact with the increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) surrounding organizations these days, high performing teams could become an endangered species. The operating environment is making it increasingly challenging for teams and organizations to succeed. Astonishingly, the team you are on has a 5:1 odds of being poor or mediocre performing rather than being high performing. One study conducted by Ruth Wageman, PhD (one of the co-authors of this post) of more than 120 leadership teams across a range of industries around the world found that only 21% were high performing, 37% were mediocre performing and 42% were poor performing (Source: Wageman, R., Nunes, D. A., Burruss, J. A., & Hackman, J. R. (2007). Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes to Make Them Great Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review Press).

Let’s pause and reflect on that for a moment: your odds of being on a lousy team are not much better than flipping a coin! We all know what extraordinary achievements can happen when groups of people get their act together and channel their collective energy towards a compelling purpose. We can land a human on the moon; we can develop a means of instantaneous communication that encircles the globe; we can eradicate threatening diseases; and before we know it we

will have self-driving (and perhaps even self-flying) cars and all sorts of other innovations that we can scarcely begin to even imagine. The chances of these next level-innovations coming to fruition improve exponentially with the work of a high performing team. The world is just too complex and too fast moving to rely on individuals working in isolation to solve critical problems and to increase the quality of life. Yet creating a high performing team is no small achievement. It requires effort, discipline and practice.

So if you were going to wager all your money on the conditions that most powerfully result in highly effective teams, where would you place your bets? In this 2-part blog series we share highlights of research conducted by Dr. Ruth Wageman, Dr. Richard Hackman and a number of other scholar-practitioners from Harvard University that shed some light on the answers to this question.  The research is based on studies of teams from around the world in a variety of industries, nations and organizations—some you have never heard of and others that are well known such as IBM, Philips Electronics, Reuters, Sainsbury, Shell, Standard & Poors and Unilever. The research identifies two sets of conditions that hone in on what leads to highly effective teams—3 Essential Conditions (Real Team, Compelling Direction, Right People) and 3 Enabling Conditions (Sound Structure, Organizational Support, Team Coaching). These two sets of conditions explain more than 50% of the variance on three team success criteria:

  1. The team’s performance meets or exceeds quantity and quality standards both inside as well as outside of the organization;
  2. The team gets better and better over time
  3. Both individuals and the team learn and grow over time

The above-mentioned research informed the development of The Team Diagnostic Survey™—a team diagnostic and coaching tool that has been used with thousands of teams around the world and that provides further evidence to support the ideas presented in this and the second article in this series. (Source: Wagman, R., Hackman, J.R., and Lehman, E. (2005) Team Diagnostic Survey: Development of an Instrument. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 2005, 41, 373-398).

In this post (Part 1 of the 2-part series) we will examine the 3 Essential Conditions of team effectiveness. Next week in Part 2 we will examine the 3 Enabling Conditions.

The 3 Essential Conditions – Real Team, Compelling Direction, Right People

Research by Hackman and Wageman identified that three prerequisites were needed in order to unleash a team’s potential. These include a real team, a compelling direction and the right people. When these essential conditions are not in place, chronic collaboration problems and dysfunction are likely to ensue. These conditions are at the root of a solid and basic team design. If you can’t establish these three essentials, you may be better off pursuing a working group approach (i.e. where individual contributors report to a formal manager and are responsible for their individual piece of the group’s output and where they work independently vs. interdependently) than trying to use a team. Each of the 3 essential conditions is briefly described below.

#1 – Real Team

Is this a real team? An amazing number of “teams” are teams in name only—a group of individuals who have nothing in common other than their department or reporting relationship. Not all groups are teams, nor does all work require a team to accomplish it. Interdependence is one of three sub-dimensions of being a real team that is useful to consider.   If the work consists of loosely-aggregated tasks performed independently, then being a team probably isn’t required and attempts to do so may result in worse individual and collective performance. However, if the work is interdependent, then pursuing a team approach may be your best bet. The conscious choice to “be a team” is an often overlooked first step–a step that generates the commitment necessary to fuel the team. Being a real team requires more than merely exchanging information. It requires creating new knowledge, systems and processes together.

A second important factor for creating a Real Team involves the boundaries of the team (i.e. the team’s membership is clearly know to all team members). Only 11% of the leadership teams in the research cited earlier actually agreed on how many members were part of their team! It’s hard to imagine a team performing at a high level when it’s unclear who is part of the group.

The third factor involves stability (i.e. membership doesn’t change too frequently or time is too short to evolve into a team). Trust, norms, and psychological safety take time to develop. Creating real teams requires more than just convening a group of people and calling them a team. It requires thoughtful planning on how the team will launch and develop.

#2 – Compelling Direction

As with most individuals, teams need focus. Left to their own devices, groups of people tend to define fragmented or even conflicting purposes. Teams that have a crystal clear sense of their unique added value in advancing the organization’s strategy or completing meaningful work are more likely to hit their stride and sustain momentum. A compelling direction acts as a north star. It helps with managing competing priorities and with managing the day-to-day crises and interruptions that naturally occur on in a team’s life.

There are three ingredients of a Compelling Direction: challenge, clarity, and consequence. A compelling direction should be challenging and stretch the members’ capabilities just as much as the individual challenges they may face in other areas of work. It should be clear so that team members can visualize what success looks like. And it should be consequential—it must be important in the overall strategy of

the organization and resonate with the values of the team members. In the research on the 120 teams cited earlier, poor and mediocre teams tended to have a clarity to challenge ratio that was skewed towards having more challenge than clarity. Meaning that senior executives tended to demand a lot of their leaders and managers—without providing a true north star that guides just what the team contributes as a collective.

#3 – Right People

A third and critical essential condition for team effectiveness is having the right people on the team. Getting the right people on board comes down to two important elements: skills and diversity. A seat at the table is not an entitlement that comes with one’s position in the organization. Team members should be invited to the table based on what they can contribute to the purpose and to the substantive work of the team. This also includes teamwork skills. Not all subject matter experts make good team players. In addition to skills, it is important for teams to have a mix of diverse perspectives in order to foster creative thinking and problem-solving. When members are too alike there is a risk of thinking too narrowly and with insufficient complexity vis-a-vis the task. Diversity of mindset can also go to the other extreme where members are so different in their backgrounds and experiences that they struggle to understand each other’s perspectives. In such cases dysfunctional conflict is likely to ensue.

In summary, having a real team, with a compelling direction and the right people goes a long way to building a vehicle that can transport the team to its final destination. If you can’t get these three basically right, it’s best not to try to use a team at all.

In practice, the 3 Essentials provide team leaders, team members and team coaches with a useful framework for designing, diagnosing and coaching teams. For example, when pulling a new team together, team leaders can use the 3 factors as a checklist to guide high-quality team design. Thinking through the essentials has to occur prior to the team’s formation, in consultation with the team’s stakeholders, and then be brought to life during a team launch. During the launch, all the team members can explore the three factors in more detail and begin to make them their own. The 3 essentials provide an overall structure for the team, which can then be forged into a more refined and detailed team charter.

Team coaches also may find the 3 Essentials useful when diagnosing a team that is already underway. A coach can run the checklist, perhaps through one-to-one interviews with team members and stakeholders of the team, or through a more structured and rigorous process using the Team Diagnostic Survey™—a valid and reliable online team diagnostic instrument (see end of this post to learn more about the TDS) designed to measure the Essentials and Enablers for any kind of team.

As the team’s work unfolds, it will likely be necessary for the team to revisit the essentials and to ensure alignment as inevitable changes in the operating context occur. The 3 essentials then are best viewed as dynamic conditions rather than as static or fixed elements that once in place can be checked off on a to-do list. The 3 conditions can be the focus of coaching interventions by the team leader, team members themselves, as well as by internal and external professional team coaches.

Now that the basic chassis and engine of team effectiveness has been identified through the 3 Essentials, we can turn our attention to the factors that will ignite the engine and accelerate the team vehicle down the road to success. In Part 2 of this blog series on Diagnosing and Coaching teams, we will explore those factors—the 3 Enabling Conditions of a Sound Structure, a Supportive Context, and of the availability of Team Coaching.

References

  1. Hackman, J.R. (2001). Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances. Harvard Business School Press.
  2. Wageman, R., Nunes, D. A., Burruss, J. A., & Hackman, J. R. (2007). Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes to Make Them Great. Harvard Business Review Press.
  3. Wagman, R., Hackman, J.R., and Lehman, E. (2005) Team Diagnostic Survey: Development of an Instrument. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 2005, 41, 373-398
  4. Hackman, J.R. (2011). Collaborative Intelligence: Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems. Barrett-Koehler Publishers.

ADDITIONAL LEARNING RESOURCES

Ruth Wageman, PhD

Ruth Wageman, PhD

Director at ReThink Health and an Associate in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University

Ruth Wageman, Ph.D .is a Leading Scholar, Advisor, and Educator in Organizational Behavior and Collaborative Leadership. She is the lead author of the essential book Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes To Make Them Great and the author of numerous articles including “A Theory of Team Coaching” in the Academy of Management Review as well as ”Team Diagnostic Survey: Development of an Instrument” in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Sciences. She is a co-creator of the Team Diagnostic Survey—among the most rigorously researched and well-validated team assessment and coaching instruments. Dr. Wageman is currently a Director at ReThink Health and an Associate in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

Krister Lowe, MA, PhD, CPCC

Krister Lowe, MA, PhD, CPCC

Organizational Psychologist & Host of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast

Dr. Krister Lowe is an Organizational Psychologist, a Leadership and Team Coach, and the Creator of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast and Website (www.TeamCoachingZone.com). Dr. Lowe is a specialist in team coaching, conflict resolution and performance management and has more than fifteen years of experience consulting to diverse organizations in more than 25 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. His coaching, consulting, facilitation and training interventions have reached more than 25,000 people globally. He is the Host of The Team Coaching Zone podcast–a weekly interview show that explores the art and science of team coaching–and that has a listenership in more than 90 countries around the world.

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