Building Teams the Inner Game Way

The Challenge of the Team Vehicle

No one doubts that high-performance teams are meant to be the engines that drive success in today’s business environment. Though much has been written on team theory, and there is no scarcity of experiential team trainings contrived to create “team bonding,” the pathway to team effectiveness has remained elusive. Variables such as group pressure, social and self-image, group think, management of diversity, motivation, inclusiveness and empowerment have all been called critical factors for the success or failure of a team. However, to truly transform a group of even highly competent individuals into an ongoing high-performance team cannot be accomplished either by teaching team theory or by trying to engineer an emotion based camaraderie. The weakness of most team building interventions is that they do not cut deeply enough to the core of what it is that keeps intelligent people from functioning at their best in teams. The widespread consequence is that corporate teams, their many meetings, and the cumbersome decision-making process, tend to be viewed, at least by many, not as the engines of corporate success but rather as necessary evils that at their best only support mediocrity.

Re-defining “Team”

The initial difficulty can usually be found in the many complexities that tend to infuse the very concept of “team.” In reality, a team is simply a group of people that has come together to pursue a common goal. When prevailing social norms, corporate politics, or individual agendas are brought into what a team is expected to be, a variety of distractions from team purpose is inevitable.

Our Credo

The best hope for creating high-performance teams lies in the acknowledgment of the innate need in all human beings to push towards excellence and continuous learning. This most human of attributes is an essential part of our evolutionary make-up. However, we also admit to the confronting fact that, of all species, we humans have the greatest tendency to interfere with the full discovery and expression of both our individual and collective potentialities. Thus, unless a team can summon the courage and clarity to recognize its habitual ways of getting in its own way, it can never hope to make the changes necessary to achieve its potential for team performance.

The IGEOS Approach: A Look in the Mirror

The IGEOS is an integration of twenty-five years of work in the field of individual performance and coaching, The Inner Game, with Effective Organizational Systems, a leader in the field of organizational and team performance. The essence of our approach to team is to hold a real-time, accurate mirror that reveals not only the great potential of teams but also the surprising ways we tend to interfere with that greatness. Such a look can be confronting. Yet we believe it is only by being willing to take an honest look in such a mirror that the motivation and clarity for team transformation can occur. Once our unconscious and unproductive habits of working together are viewed for what they are, they have a difficult time surviving in the light of new team awareness.

Common Team Pitfalls

Over the years in helping teams be effective, IGEOS can predict most of the major pitfalls that lure individuals and teams away from the pathways toward their stated goals.

* Individual Interferences

o Evaluation apprehension: The fear of being evaluated and judged which causes defensiveness and dishonesty in team communication and resistance to learning.
o Social loafing: Letting others do the work resulting in lack of participation. Abdication and loss of responsibility/accountability.
o Playing Politics: The team member chooses personal preferences and influence over team effectiveness.
o Unwillingness to clarify ambiguities: Clinging to the familiar instead of acknowledging what is unknown. Fear of uncertainty results in making ungrounded assumptions instead of prudent exploration in the interest of avoiding the discomfort of uncertainty.
o Lip service: Not honoring agreements.
o Unwillingness to communicate: Including the failure to listen; the failure to give adequate thought before speaking; a reluctance to be concise; a withholding of needed information or questions.
* Group Interferences
o Group Polarization: Two opposite positions are put forth and team members polarize. The result is a paralysis in decision-making and/or the withdrawing from participation.
o Poor decisions: The group usually out of frustration may agree to a course of action that individually none of the team members would have endorsed.
o Mediocre Thinking: The Group often seeks to reach consensus based on maintaining harmony rather than on the most productive solution.
o Group Fragmentation: The group fragments when work requires sub-teams. Allegiance shifts to the sub-team with little or no awareness of overarching goals and impact on others.

What IGEOS offers

IGEOS offers three basic interventions to help teams re-form themselves into capable vehicles for corporate success

* A Team Assessment
o The first step toward increasing the effectiveness of your team may be a thorough assessment of the team and its team members. The assessment provides a quantitative and narrative evaluation of how the team and individual members are performing against the following basic criteria: the clarity and awareness each member has of the common goal.
1. Motivation to fulfill the common goal.
2. The acceptance of ownership, responsibility, and role.
3. The awareness of pitfalls that sabotage the team.
4. The awareness of factors of team cohesiveness.
5. Understanding and acceptance of team strategy, agreements, and performance measures.
The team assessment can be of great value in itself, but it also provides the insight and often felt need for further team training.
* A Team Training: A Simulator
o IGEOS offers a three and five-day intensive team training, which function as a simulator for up to 100 participants at a time. Team members engage in a series of simulated team tasks designed to mirror as if in slow motion the best and the worst of their team behaviors and attitudes. The simulator provides a learning environment safe enough to explore new behaviors and challenging enough to decide to make real and lasting changes.
o The simple goal of the training is to enable each team member to shift from an individual to a team mindset. While working together on the team tasks, participants have frequent opportunities to recognize the gap between thinking like and individual and thinking as a team member, and to do whatever it takes to close that gap.
o The simulator makes it obvious when someone acts from an agenda diverges from that of team success shows the unrelenting requirement of discipline, awareness and commitment. One simple example – about one hour into the training, the facilitator may ask the group to decide if it is time to take a break. Invariably at least a few reply with a “no”, before realizing that they could only be speaking from an individual perspective while presuming to be answering for the entire team.
o As individual and team obstacles arise, each team-member is asked to accept full responsibility making the necessary personal changes as well as for the success of the team. The role of the training facilitator is to be rigorous in holding to the highest standards as team members become more conscious of their unproductive habits and explore a new team awareness, responsibility and commitment.
* An Artful Coaching Plan
o In the process of taking responsibility for team success, participants not only learn to monitor their own team behaviors, but also learn to coach other team members.
o To ensure that understandings and changes that have taken place have the best chance to produce the desired results back in the workplace, IGEOS offers a coaching program, which utilizes both internal and external coaches.
o The coaching context and methodology is the same as participants have become familiar with during the training, namely Awareness, Responsibility, and Commitment. Coaching becomes a practical and time effective way of keeping the principles and agreements of the training sustained and evolving under the ongoing pressures of real work situations.

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