Infrastructure for Frontline Teams
Teamwork can be a joyful and extremely powerful experience. It can bring the best out of people and enable them to produce great results together, way beyond what they could achieve individually. But more often than not, meetings and teamwork turn into a painful waste of time.
If you already have a healthy workable infrastructure for Strategic Navigation in place, everyone in the company will be on board, eager to help and ready to put their shoulders to the wheel. Next thing you need is an infrastructure that enables and sustains a creative and effective effort from each team.
Let´s tap into a typical coffee table conversation soon after a company has conducted its first Strategic Dialogue. A work structure for all Front Line Teams has just been introduced. It consists of short bi-weekly meetings supported by a toolkit to help them make the strategy happen on the ground.
“Have you people started using that damned toolkit the management have dragged in?” George from finance engaged the button for ‘flat white’ on the coffee machine with an irritated index finger poke.
“You never liked to be controlled, did you,‘Georgy boy’?” Ann, from quality control added two sugars to her black coffee. “Like having to do what the boss tells you to do.”
“Well, have you? Started? What’s your view of it?”
“Yes, we’re using the toolkit. And it works well for some pretty good reasons.”
“And what are these reasons if I might ask?”
“You might. But to answer, I first have to ask you: have you been in a good meeting recently?”
“Okay, I confess. Our meetings suck. Happy now? There are sooo many issues with our meetings.
“Well … what are the issues?”
“Come on! You know… wrong people in the meetings … nothing ends up on an action plan. People interrupt. People think they understand – but they don’t. Misunderstandings. Tom occupying the whole meeting with his rants. Thinking aloud, as you know.”
“Yeah, and people don’t do what they are supposed to do. Some people are sitting quiet. Kind of hiding. Nobody asking an additional question to clarify things, instead they guess and argue based on guesswork.”
“Agree, but what about the toolkit.”
“Do you remember the fun lectures about team behaviour in the strategic dialogue event? They’ve put in functions that take care of most of our weird ways.’
“The toolkit has a section in it where we set up our own code of conduct. We have just a few points. For example: Smart people ask when they don’t understand. It is rude to interrupt. If you can’t express yourself briefly, think before you speak.”
“Think before you speak?”
“ Well, we all know Tom. He’s actually learned to prepare himself. Now he puts his thoughts down on paper before speaking, instead of sucking up all the space by thinking out loud.”
“ Seriously. And everything we say now ends up as an action that somebody actually has to complete. We don’t talk in circles anymore. We cut big actions down into small steps that actually get done. We measure our progress. We actually measure the money we save.”
“That’s a lot of actuallies. And now everything is just peachy and everyone understands each other, eh?”
‘Of course not, but we chose one of us to monitor it. If there is too much unclarity in the room, he or she moves in and makes sure it gets cleared up. We also chose an ego watcher. When he or she senses there is too much ego in the room, an ego break is called for. Then we all sit silent for one minute with the simple question; who am I serving?”
“This is all in the toolkit?”
“More like a handrail that makes us do the right thing. Like a question. Have you thought about this or that. A space for us to be creative.”
“So … no straight jacket …?”
“Nope. Just questions aimed at making us grow up.”
“No structure at all?”
“Lots of structure, but it brings the best out of our team!”
Such a structure for team work is designed to bring out healthy and fully functional team behaviour. For that to happen you need a handrail with a number of boxes to tick off. Code of conduct has to be on the agenda. Measuring results and progress must be asked for. Good management of action plans must be supported. Standardisation is a must, it simplifies set up of meetings and formation of new teams. When someone moves to another part of the company, he can get to work with a minimal amount of ‘set up time’.
Highly efficient teamwork is fairly uncharted territory for most people, since so much of meetings and teamwork is dysfunctional. What does it look and feel like when team members work together in an almost musical fashion? Or like a successful football team? What is it like at work when you know you are an important player in a winning team? What is sorely needed in most companies is an infrastructure that makes this quality of teamwork show up everywhere, in all kinds of teams and meetings.
Here are a couple of questions you might want discuss with your colleagues:
- Are your Team Leaders trained to get the best out of their own team?
- Do you have ‘Standardised Handrails for Teamwork’ to help them get traction towards their chosen goals ?
- Do you provide them with handrails that help them avoid the most common pitfalls in teamwork, reflect on their progress and learn as they go?
If you believe you have ‘sleeping assets’ in this area, you may want to read the other articles in this series:
- Speed, Trust and Infrastructure
- Infrastructures for Strategic Navigation
- Infrastructures for Frontline Teams
- Infrastructures for Complex Workflows
- Infrastructures for Dynamic Leadership
- Infrastructure for Self-Organisation