Most team leaders understand that focus, participation, action planning and commitment are important for team success — and find managing the “process” challenging. Two common challenges are 1) keeping the team on track and 2) generating commitment toward achieving the goal.
Teams are often a group of diverse individuals (with a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints). It takes sound planning, structure and an effective process to foster team commitment to a shared vision and accomplish results. There are many methods that can help, but here are a few to consider.
Warm-up: Icebreakers can be helpful to “warm” the team. They often promote team-building, trust, rapport and familiarity with each other — some encourage creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking. There are hundreds of icebreaker ideas to choose from; the most effective provide the team with insight into each other and those that promote shared laughter and fun.
Creative idea generation: Brainstorming is a group technique to generate a large number of ideas and/or potential solutions to a problem. Unfortunately, most team leaders don’t lead brainstorming sessions in a way that maximizes the creative synergy or potential of the team. There are a number of “dos and don’ts” for effective brainstorming. A few guidelines:
- Brainstorm at the beginning of meetings (preferably in the morning) when people are fresh.
- Go for quantity — record all ideas (on a flip chart or whiteboard).
- Encourage creativity and fun (laughter aids participation) — even wild and crazy ideas can generate a winning formula.
- Encourage people to build on the ideas of others.
- Allow plenty of time.
- While the team is brainstorming, do not allow anyone to use this time to criticize, reject, ridicule or evaluate ideas (no speeches, pontifications or arguments). Suspending judgment during this time allows participants to freely generate unusual ideas and “out-of-the-box” thinking.
Visuals help support clarity and creativity. “Mind mapping” is another technique that promotes creative problem solving via the use of nonlinear visual diagrams. In this exercise participants put up “branches” of words, ideas or tasks around a central issue or subject (represented by a circle at the center). Some teams use mind mapping to problem solve using each “branch” to represent who, what, when, why and how.
Refinement and consolidation: Once the team has collectively generated new creative ideas, the team often needs to decide (unless the leader is deciding) which idea is the best solution. There are a number of processes that can help — here are a few:
- Establishing evaluation criteria. It’s a good idea for the team to generate criteria to judge which ideas best solve the problem — examples: “should be cost effective” or “should be able to complete by our target date.” Consider establishing a scale (0 to 5) to determine how each idea best meets the criteria.
- Narrowing the list. Again, there are many methods for teams to prioritize and make decisions. If the idea list is long, it may be helpful to let the team “group” related or similar ideas and generate a heading idea that captures the essence of those that are similar. Another useful technique to narrow a list is called “dot voting.” It’s a simple and quick way to give everyone votes and flush out what the majority of the team wants. Each member gets a set number of color-coded dots to “vote” on their favorite ideas.
Evaluating strategies: A valuable technique to further examine upcoming change, decisions and strategies is a “Force-Field Analysis” (developed by Kurt Lewin in 1947). Using this method, teams chart two important forces — what is working toward the desired state (helpful forces in the team’s favor, such as new markets, products, technologies or other resources) and those working against it (restraining forces such as competitors, lack of resources, organizational apathy, etc.). This method helps teams visualize, understand and make clear all the forces acting on an issue. Using this technique can provide a team with new insights in the assessment of potential strategies.
The plan to move forward: Without action there are no results. Promote accountability with action plans that make clear to the team “who will do what by when.” What gets measured and tracked is often what gets done!
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