Successful Team Management (Part II)

In Part I, we discussed the stages of team development and how consultants can help groups determine their purpose and direction. This part deals with enhancing groups' skills in achieving their purpose.

Decision Making
In my experience in consulting and leadership, reaching a decision through consensus can be most difficult, but, in my opinion, worth the trouble. The business world seems to program employees with a
"win-lose" mentality. Group members can often, without intervention, polarize into camps based on this paradigm, and never reach consensus. Some ways consultants can help groups reach a decision making point are:

The Thumbs-Up Method: All group members are asked to vote when a decision point appears to be approaching. Members are asked to vote with a "thumbs-up" if they can live with the decision, even if it is not their first choice. If they cannot bring themselves to live with the decision, they must vote with a "thumbs-down." The group has not reached a decision if all parties cannot vote affirmatively.

Pro and Con Evaluations: In this scenario, a group leader assists in posting all pros and cons in a given decision as given by group members. This process can happen in person, in writing, or via electronic means. Then the group meets to evaluate and score the pros and cons on a scale of 1 to 10. The totals are then tallied, and the group can make a decision based on the scores. This process helps prioritize the positives and negatives of any given course of action, and brings more logic and less emotion to the table.

How can a group leader manage conflict between two or more headstrong individuals with differing views? Often these types of conflict can plunge a group into frustration and inaction. In my experience, these steps have proven effective in resolving these differences.

1. Meet individually and privately with the group members in the conflict. Seek to understand their position and feelings. Try to narrow the focus of the conflict: is it over ideas, implementation, or personalities? Often, just the process of getting the concerns out in the open with the group leader will be enough to defuse the hostility.

2. Use open-ended questions in your facilitation. Forcing positions with questions such as "Don't you agree that...?" or "Will you support this option?" often put people into uncomfortable corners. Instead, use questions that give freedom to participants to express their concerns for the whole group. You might consider themes such as "How do you feel about...?" or "What are the pros and cons of this course of action?"

3. Develop and explore a worst-case scenario. Examine the risks associated with a given decision and its implementation. As this process occurs, participants often come to understand objections that seemed unreasonable before.

Team Leadership
While one of the recent buzzwords of management is "self-directed teams," the truth is that teams eventually need someone to emerge as a leader. Some ways for formal or informal leaders to steer group work include:

1. Focus on roles. Help the group members understand the various roles of group members (creativity, organization, strategy and reality-checkers) and to see that each role is important. There is a place for every member.

2. Demonstrate how team effort builds on prior efforts. If all members are important to the group process, a leader or facilitator must help the team members understand their interrelationships.

3. Use good listening skills. Follow the recommendation of Steven Covey to "seek first to understand, then to be understood." Only when a member is satisfied that he or she has been understood in his or her intended context will the member feel valued and involved.

The principle of synergy is the idea that groups together functioning properly can accomplish more than the sum of the efforts of the individual members. Synergistic groups should be the aim of every consultant, and by using many of the tools outlined in this article, synergy can be an achievable goal.