Teams have been a primary focus of my professional life. This is a bit strange, perhaps, since I was never good at team sports and the art of fitting in with a group has always been a challenge for me. But somehow I have always instinctively sensed the wisdom in Meg Wheately’s quote “I don’t know but collectively we can” and I am blessed to have been mentored by by colleagues who also recognized the power of teams even before it was a fad.
Beginning in 1991, I was part of what began as an organizational experiment in self-directed teamwork. Over time the experiment evolved into an organizational culture in which teams managed and organized their own work without managers and supervisors. Fortunately we were an organization that valued risk taking, reflection and learning from our experiences because there were a many times when we questioned what we were doing and how to be more skillful and effective in empowering team-based decision making. For 20 years, I was part of this learning and growing process as an internal consultant and trainer and eventually as part of a leadership that served as a collective executive (in place of a traditional CEO).
More recently, I have come to recognize that what we often considered to be radical and cutting edge is actually just one manifestation of a rich set of perspectives and practices that are based upon nature’s abundant models of self-organizing living systems. The more that I learn about living systems approaches, the more grateful I am for my rich experiential history in this way of working. I also realize that my experiences and perspectives and the skills I have developed are valuable to other organizations who want to improve teamwork and participatory leadership.
Despite the prevalence of self-organizing systems in the natural world, modern people do not know how to naturally and effortlessly work in teams. Teams develop in predictable ways and experience common challenges with decision making, communication, trust and conflict resolution. By naming and normalizing these struggles and by helping teams develop processes and norms and skills at self-management, their level of understanding and their effectiveness can be greatly enhanced.
Working together as a team can be fun and personally rewarding as well as incredibly creative and effective. My work involves helping teams to discover the joy of collaboration and to develop skills and processes to manage themselves and their ongoing development. I support existing and newly formed teams and work groups through consultation, training, coaching and systems/process design and I provide guide and support organizations in developing a culture of teamwork and collaboration.
Team building can also be augmented with coaching. Formal leaders can often experience significant challenges in learning to let go of control and in dealing with the changes in how they add value in a team environment. Team members can be challenged by the loss of familiar hierarchy and as they are called upon to be more autonomous and to assume responsibilities for functions that were formally handled by a supervisor or manager.
No two teams or organizations are the same. So, like all of my work, team building is individualized based upon deep listening, an assessment of an organization’s vision and goals and rooted in a respect for the history and culture of the client organization.
As organizations become increasingly collaborative and participatory and less hierarchical the role and style of leadership changes. Leaders are no longer expected to be the person with all of the answers or the one in control of everything. In fact such leaders are finding it more and more difficult to lead knowledge workers and they are finding that their old skills of command, control and prediction are becoming increasingly ineffective and problematic.
Fortunately, leadership is an acquired skill. The research is showing more and more that people are not born leaders and that the skills of leadership can be learned. Leadership training is no longer reserved for formal leaders either. Innovative organizations are learning that the organization is served when leadership opportunities and training are available to everyone and there is a culture of abundant leadership.
The leadership training that I provide starts with the premise that leadership development is personal; to be an effective leader means knowing oneself and having emotional intelligence, communication skills, relationship skills, authentic presence and the ability create a culture of learning and collaboration.
I am experienced in using the Leadership Challenge, a training program that utilizes peer feedback to identify strengths in five domains of leadership. This training program is effectively delivered in a two day workshop for 10 to 12 participants with follow up sessions to support the participants in implementing their personal leadership plans. I’ve trained close to 20 groups in this approach and have helped organizations adopt and integrate it into an internal organizational leadership development program.
Having taught a graduate level Leadership and Management course through the University of Colorado, I also have the resources and skills to customize leadership development training to meet the needs of an organization.
Groups and organizations are living systems and, as such, they are capable of self-organization and finding adapting solutions to problems. From this perspective, change flows and new structures and processes emerge in response to changes in the environment. With groups that recognize their capacity for self-organization, my role is to host conversations by creating a safe context, asking powerful questions and providing just enough structure to allow the group to work on the creative edge between order and chaos. With such groups, my role is to support the group in having the conversations and doing the work that is needed. Rather than facilitating a process toward a predetermined outcome, I help the group sense what wants to happen to achieve the group intention. This work is not always pleasant and fun as often a team needs to deal with conflict and the shadow of conversations that have been ignored and avoided. As a host of these conversations, it is my role to hold the safe space where difficult conversations take place for the sake of organizational functioning and development. I bring to the design and hosting of conversations my experience in circle processes, Open Space Technology, World Cafe, Appreciative Inquiry and other conversational approaches as well as extensive experience working within teams and organizations.
Teams, like individuals (and all living systems), benefit from feedback to help them improve. Especially as teams become more self-managing, it becomes important for them to have good information on which to evaluate their effectiveness and to base their quality improvement efforts.
A particularly effective form of team feedback is a team 360 Degree Assessment. The content of the assessment can be customized to reflect the values and concerns of the team and organization. It can be administered anonymously to team members, internal or external customers and other key stakeholders. The results can be aggregated and analyzed by respondent type and they can be used in a team work session with a focus on understanding how the team is perceived and on setting quality improvement goals and an action plan for achieving the goals. It is especially valuable for a team to re-administer the assessment to determine success in reaching quality improvement goals.
I have training in the development of relevant 360 Degree Assessments, I have access to a software tool that administers the assessment and protects anonymity and I use my hosting and facilitation skills to help the team process the results and to develop an action plan. My approach is to begin with an understanding of the organizational and team goals and then to develop a customized assessment to address these goals.
I am trained and certified as a Flow Game host. The Flow Game is a board game designed to guide individuals in exploring individual questions and discerning direction. It is also very effective in a group setting to help a team discover the next level of clarity of their collective purpose and to work with a collective intent. The game can be played in sessions ranging from a half day to multiple days and can be incorporated with other team building, planning or conversational experiences.
My preferred role in organizational work is as a host of conversations but not all organizations recognize that they are self-organizing adaptive systems or they lack the skills and experience to function in a self-organizing pattern. In these situations, I function as a more traditional consultant facilitating the group toward an intended outcome. In the process, I am always looking for opportunities to help the group develop skills for self-management and shared leadership but I am willing to provide the requisite level of direction and structure as a consultant/facilitator. I have extensive experience facilitating planning sessions, decision making processes, systems mapping and quality improvement processes.
My consultation work also takes the form of providing content information such as my experiences with behavioral healthcare issues, the use of clinical and business information in healthcare decision making, design of healthcare information systems and processes for quality control and improvement.
“We need to stop meeting like this.” This seems to be a common expression in almost all groups and organizations. Meetings are essential for coordinating actions but many meetings are painfully inefficient and ineffective. They don’t need to be! There are many simple practices that, when adopted by a group, can transform meetings into productive interactions. I take many of the Art of Hosting technologies and present them in the plain and simple language of business that any group can use to improve meetings. I teach these skills in an interactive training session that can be followed up with observation and coaching of actual meetings.