You get the Team you Deserve

Yes, I do believe this!

The Universe is not Fair

When I say “you get the team you deserve,” I don’t mean that if you are good (whatever that means) you will be rewarded by being allocated a great team of people to support you in leading change or managing your project.  And I certainly don’t imply that if you are a bad person, then the universe will punish you by seeing that you get allocated the dross of your organisation to support you.

If only life were that fair. It isn’t.

You get what you are given …

For most of us, however, it is true that we get teams allocated to us with very little opportunity to pick and choose.  Even in a consulting environment, where I used to work, where there is a vast pool of talented and keen colleagues, project managers rarely got their pick of the pool. We usually got our choice of “whoever is available”.  And often, the best people are busy.  Such is life.

… and you get what you look for

What is also true is this: how you view the people you get on your team will massively affect how well they work; their motivation and enthusiasm, their flexibility and resourcefulness, their capability and results.

If you take the view that you have the best people you could get and you then work hard to engage them, motivate them and develop them, investing your time and effort in their success; then they will develop, they will work hard and they will be a great team.

If, on the other hand, you take the view that: “I have been given the dross of the organisation, they can’t possibly cope, I’ve warned my boss and at least I have an excuse when it all goes wrong” then guess what?  That’s right; it’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy:

You’ll get the team you deserve

So What’s New?

Positive Organizational Scholarship

In my last post, I talked about Positive Psychology and how I expected it to affect my thinking significantly.  One aspect that Sarah Lewis introduced me to was the research work of Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy.  It’s complex, jargon-ridden stuff and I have not read the original material yet (a chance to use my  background in non-linear mathematics and physics in a work environment at last).

What I do understand from Sarah – who made it all seem very clear and obvious to me – is this.  Teams that ask each other questions; … and listen to the answers; … and look for positives in what they hear; … and focus on each other, rather than themselves, … they perform well.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it?  But what Heaphy and Losada have done is to start to put some numbers to all of this and, I understood, are also showing that this is not just a coincidental correlation; there is cause and effect at work.

Action Centred Leadership

In my recent book, The Management Models Pocketbook, one of the models I describe (see my website for a list of all of them) is John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership.  I would say that this model is a valuable resource for anyone leading a team – not least project managers and change leaders who have to marshal a team quickly and keep them performing well under conditions of uncertainty and  pressure.

The Importance of Team Communication

In my critique of the model, I commented that the big “missing” for me was an insufficient emphasis on team communication.  Adair places the team leader at the heart of the team – possibly because of the origins of his thinking in military training.  I prefer to lead by enabling the team to perform together, so foster good “intra-team” communications.

My model of team leadership places communications explicitly in my list of four top priorities, rather than as an implicit part of the leader’s role.  Losada and Heaphy’s work gives me more to say on how to get the best from team communications.  A valuable addition to all our learning.

The “so what?”

Read about Positive Organisational Scholarship and crucially, start to pay attention to the way your teams speak with one another.

Listen for and encourage:

  • Enquiry
    – questioning each other, rather than stating opinions
  • Appreciating
    – valuing the positive in what colleagues say, rather than decrying things you find fault with
  • Focus on “you” rather than on “me”
    – this is about team members focusing on others’ needs and opinions, rather than their own: not about finding fault with you

You can access two highly technical articles, by Marcial Losada and collaborators Emily Heaphy and Barbara Fredrickson respectively, by clicking these links:

The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model, Heaphy and Losada

Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing, Federickson and Losada


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