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Team processes issues result often
from defensive interactions

Team processes issues support often the diagnostic about the quality of a business team. I will use the following list of processes to highlight some recurrent issues: 

  1. establishing medium/long term objectives and priorities

  2. deciding on solutions for problems/opportunities

  3. preparing action plans

  4. following up results, learning and taking corrective measures

You should be able to map easily your own process set. You will find two sub-processes useful for all processes above in the team skills pages: "Decision making" and "meeting management".

Then I will discuss how defensive interactions can be the cause of many of these process issues.

A. Establishing medium/long term goals and priorities

Typical issues are:

  1. Allocation to the team (members) of objectives over-specified in terms of specific actions and/or under-specified in term of results to be achieved and context explanations. This limits the potential creativity of the team and risks to reduce the commitment for actions which could be perceived as really unnecessary and/or poorly adapted to the team reality.

  2. Objectives and priorities for each team member are established and confirmed in unilateral discussions with the team leader. This can exacerbate and (seriously) delay the identification and resolution of the normal tensions/conflicts between some team members objectives.

B. Deciding on solutions for problems/opportunities

I see two classical issues for this type of decision making:

  1. Speeding up the problem/opportunity identification phase and moving to solutions before having a serious joint exploration and consensus on "what are we trying to find a solution for?". This can lead to apparent disagreements about the "best" solution, persisting after the final decision and lowering action commitments, when in fact the disagreements are more about the definition of the target problem!

  2. Lack of shared understanding of the exact authority of the team leader and/or the the team member(s) expert(s) in the problem field. The issue is not the level of authority for a specific decision, but the unresolved differences in perception about this authority level, and particularly changes in authority level that the team leader imposes without explicitly explaining it to the team. This leads to unexpected, and often undiscussed, setbacks and disagreements, thus lower action commitments.

C. Preparing action plans

Although action planning if fairly well mastered in companies, I regularly observe the following issues:
  1. Lack of clarity about "who does what for when". This obviously leads to responsibility "black holes" during implementation and avoidable delays/tensions.

  2. Action plans with no/limited prototyping and/or testing. Usually under the excuse of "we need short term results fast", the crucial phase(s) of prototyping/testing are reduced to the bare minimum. When they are not just forgotten, undiscussed or even killed. In our fast changing contexts, this leads often to bad surprises with major delays and waste of resources. If recurrent, this leads then to cynicism about any sizable change initiative.

  3. A major cause for the above issue is chronic misunderstanding of "how to change other people behaviors?" and also of "how should we concretely do it?". So we often impose to other people - teams - the same issues we suffer from: number 1 and 2 above. 

D. Following up results, learning and taking corrective measures

To my knowledge, there is no universal answer to many of the above team processes issues: team building is more an art than a science. The most effective approach is to ensure that learning "what works here and what does not work here" does take place. With other words:

Team managers at all levels make absolutely sure that:
  • evaluations are done by the most competent team members

  • projects/actions plans, realities and results are analyzed

  • lessons are distilled and shared across all concerned teams

  • lessons implications are systematically embedded into the teams processes.

There is only one, major, issue here when:

  1. The management culture does not demand effective team learning from a critical mass of team managers.

Defensive interactions are a key root cause for these process issues

Defensive interactions do constrain mutual learning and have thus not only a very strong direct impact on issue 8 - and indirectly on all team process issues - , but also a direct impact on issues 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 above.

So whenever we use a team building technique to improve any of the above process issues, we must make sure that the team is also:

Otherwise the changes will be short lived, and after a few weeks or months the team will be confronted with the same process issues !

Return from team processes to root team building issues

Return from team processes to team building results

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