Episode 20: Teams-Love Them or Dread Them? Ideas on Creating Great Teams

Today’s business world has us working in groups and teams more often every day. Some of you love this collaboration and get excited to learn from others, brainstorm and find creative solutions. Others dread going to team socials, team-building and the dreaded team meeting. Jennifer Owen-O’Quill and Jeff Smith will be sharing best practices for leaders of teams and groups to help get the most out of their team. We will share case studies, review several models and offer suggestions on how to handle challenging situations. We will give the listeners ways to help with decision making, roles and responsibilities and conflicts on teams. Please join us at 1:00pm EST on Tuesday, January 24th for Voltcast: Illuminating Leadership.

Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, Leadership Director for Voltage Leadership Consulting, is an executive coach, facilitator, organizational consultant and leadership guru. With 25 years of leadership experience across a broad range of industries, she has coached leaders and their teams to execute institutional culture change through effective organizational management and leadership development. Some of Jennifer’s clients include: Carilion Clinic, WDBJ-7, Fenway Sports Group, Novozymes Biologicals, Yokohama Tires, Canatal Steel, Polymer Solutions, Interactive Achievement, Corvesta and the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce. Not-for-profit clients include Washington and Lee University, Goodwill Industries, Habitat for Humanity, New Horizon’s Healthcare, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwestern VA, and CMR Institute. Jennifer coaches professionals in firms in the Southeast and across the country, including Abbott Laboratories, Baker McKenzie, and Kirkland & Ellis.


Jeff: Welcome to Voltage Leadership. This is Voltcast: Illuminating Leadership. I’m your host, Jeff Smith. We are so happy that you could be with us today. It’s going to be a great day.

We’re going to have a conversation around teams and one of the questions we get a ton is, our team is not working very well—what should I be doing? That’s what we’re going to be talking about today.

I’ve got Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, who I’ll introduce in just a moment. But I wanted to make sure that if you’re trying to get in contact with us, you know how to contact us. Our website is www.voltageleadership.com . If you want to e-mail me, it’s Jeff@voltageleadership.com . You can like us on Facebook at Voltage Leadership. You can connect with me on LinkedIn at Jeff Smith, Voltage Leadership Consulting. Follow me on Twitter @JMUJeff.

We’re just really excited—we’ve got Jennifer Owen-O’Quill back today. She has worked with us previously in discussing conversational intelligence. Jennifer works at Voltage Leadership and is a leadership director there. She has over 20 years of leadership experience in many areas. She’s a fantastic consultant, working with awesome companies and helping them achieve their highest potential.

Jennifer is married to David and has a wonderful eight-year-old son that she just loves to play with, and we’re just so happy that you’re back, Jennifer. So welcome back.

Jennifer: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me, Jeff.

Jeff: Absolutely. So Jennifer, we do get this question all the time in our practice. Folks come and just say, if you’ve got a problem—Jennifer, we’ve got a problem. The team is not performing up to par. What do I do? So where do you start when you kind of get that question? I’ve got some thoughts but maybe you can kick us off.

Jennifer: The first thing I do is ask questions. I ask, why are you feeling the way you’re feeling? What are you seeing? Sometimes, it’s that you feel the problem but you don’t really think about why you think about why you feel like it’s not right and what actually is going, whether it’s people aren’t talking to each other or are there missed decisions and deadlines?

What is creating the problem or the tension that you’re feeling? Is it really the outcome that you’re looking for? Is it really the behaviors that you’re looking for on the way there? Is it the wrong strategy or is it the wrong process? Or there are just arguments in the room. What’s going on? Always start with curiosity.

Jeff: That’s great. Yeah, curious is a great word for us. I think anytime we have these situations, I ask people to be curious. I try to ask them not to judge so much either. Lots of times, they say that it comes in as sort of an interpersonal conflict. I know that as we go through the show, it’s something that we’ll talk about and we’ll address a little bit.

I challenge them and say, rarely is it just an interpersonal conflict. It’ll often be like Head of Sales has got a problem with maybe marketing. His Sales and Operations got challenged. Or maybe it’s our product development and someone over here in quality. We’ve got challenges, right?

I ask them to get a little higher and say, let’s think about this. Are we sure that we’re all on the same page with submission? Do we have the right vision? Do we have the right goals? Do we have decisions? Clear criteria on that. So yesterday, I was with a group and they just had trouble with some clarity around who makes decisions? When is it the CEO’s turn to make a decision? Why does the team make decisions? Why does the Vice President make decisions?

One of the questions I would have is when we think about maybe best teams. What do you see on best teams? Let’s start with best teams and then we’ll work our way to some worse teams. Let’s start with the good news place. Jennifer, tell me about some best teams.

Jennifer: It’s funny, when we talk about best teams. When you see that, I find there’s electricity in the room. There’s engagement. These are teams that know how to play hard together and by playing hard, I mean thinking hard together, asking the tough questions. They create environments where the ideas get discussed and wrestled down all the way to the ground when people leave clear ideas about who’s doing what and the decision that gets made is usually not someone’s decision.

It’s usually pieces of several people’s idea that get put together because every idea’s been taken apart so there’s just the swallowing of the thought and the thinking in the room. There’s also an investigation of is this the right way to do it? Is this the way we’ve always done it?

Is this going to weigh in with the next thing we need to do? Those two questions. Is this going to win for the next thing we need to do? If we had everyone’s idea and we figured out how to put the best one together.  

Jeff: I like that. For me, building on that, yes. And I’d say there are things like the right people at the table. Like, they have complementary skills. We have people that might be a great driver but somebody else might be able to be reflective and say, what’s the process that we need? I like that there are complementary skills.

I like that there’s respect. I don’t have to love you. I don’t even really have to like you. But I get and respect your ability. Another team I’m working with right now, they don’t always want to be in the same room together, playing together necessarily. They wouldn’t necessarily go out for drinks afterwards to socialize, but you can see the respect that each person for the team has for each other.

I think when you get to that place where there’s respect, my highest performing teams that I get to work with, they have some fun, too. There’s some creativity. There’s recognition. There’s some spontaneity. And there’s some joy. For the listeners, I’d say is, you don’t have to have all these things to have the perfect team. Each team will have its own.

I’ve got another high-performing team. I don’t think they’re real high on the fun quotient. But boy, they’re passionate and they’re excited and they’re challenged. And they keep it in the room. If they’ve got a challenge, they do it in the room, not in the hallway.

That might lead us to some of the folks that are maybe you’re working on, or some teams that are like, “Jeff, that doesn’t sound like my team. It sounds more like the team that’s wah-wah-wah”. Charlie Brown’s teacher. They’re not in harmony. There’s stuff going on. Tell me about maybe some of the worst teams you’ve seen. What were the characteristics of that team?

Jennifer: Well, to pick up on what you said about the hallways. When something happens in the hallway there, too, and what happens in the room is not actually productive. What happens in the hallway tends to be even more destructive. When you get to the hallway of a team that’s not working well, there are side conversations. There’s fighting. There’s gathering your gang of people to battle the other gang of people to get your decision through.

Instead of figuring out a strategy and a ground game for the whole team, there are camps and there’s in-fighting. There’s also silo-ed behavior and the inability to think across the whole business and not have that be how to value inside the room. When you’re thinking about what’s best for your area but you don’t figure out how it works across the whole business, there’s a huge hole in your decision-making.

The other people feel that because they experience that as you don’t see my area of concern and you don’t value my part and every piece of a business contributes, from compliance to operations to business development. All of those places contribute to the success of a business and how they come together and work together—that can be tricky when you’re good at different things.

Jeff: Absolutely. All those things are important. To me, they don’t regularly get together. They almost go out of their way to avoid each other. I’d also say that it’s not even a team. It’s just a group of individuals. They kind of come together, to your point. They representing their silos, their piece of the business.

You can feel the tension. You can cut it with a knife. There is often a lack of respect. I’m not even going to value your opinion. I truly stopped listening. Practically, what I’ve seen in some of our groups, there are people spending more time on the computer or on their phones than there are in making eye contact and staying engaged in that room. They want to be anywhere but that room. So those are some of the worst teams.

There’s a concept that I want to introduce here. It’s called the outward mindset versus an inward mindset. This comes from a book from the Arbinger Institute. Stay tuned. They’ve asked if they can be on the show with us, so planning on doing that here in the next couple of months. But the Arbinger Institute again, wrote this book, The Outward Mindset.

What an outward mindset is, when the behaviors of the individuals on the team work towards a collective result, that’s an outward mindset. An inward mindset is when the behaviors of the individual support their area, their silo, or their own things that they need. When I see a best team, there is a collective result. There is a common purpose and they come together from the behaviors that support each other and that can be a great thing.

Jennifer: I would say that that’s exactly what I see. It’s the ability that people share a common goal, a common sense of purpose, and to know that just because the resources might not be coming to their area, yet success is described as success for the group and that means that some people get less in one season and get more in the next.

But if they still feel appreciated and valued and respected in the process and that they know they can’t always be at the front of the line, getting the choices and resources of time and talent in the group, and it’s the right season for them later—when everybody feels still if the organization is winning, they’re winning—that is a team that’s marching in the same direction and everybody’s enjoying themselves.

Jeff: Good. I wanted to introduce a model here, the Waterline Model. It’s a great model. It’s out there. It was originally adapted from Harrison in 1979, the Waterline Model. You can find it online. Just google it. Some suggestions to have a higher-performing team. Make sure that you’ve got strong mission and vision.

I’m working with one organization, Jennifer and I are both in the same organization here. There isn’t a clear-cut mission or vision statement. What ends up happening is each individual sort of area, they kind of pull in their own direction. When there’s interpersonal conflict, a lot of times, it’s because they don’t know what the mission is.

Should they be supporting their own sort of area in their department or the greater good? Since they don’t know the greater good, they sort of go towards that inward mindset and focus on what’s close to them. Once you know you’ve got a good mission and vision, then you want to make sure you’ve got the right structure.

What I mean by structure is, do all the members share or can they articulate the primary goals? Do they know how decisions are going to be made? Who’s doing what, when, why, how, all those kinds of things?

Again, with the group I was working with earlier this week, that was the problem. The decision-making. Who makes the decisions? There’s real heartburn about what happens when the CEO makes decisions and vice-versa? Is it a Vice President’s decision?

My breakfast from earlier today, we had a similar thing. I was talking to the CEO and they’re all waiting on him to make all the decisions. Well, we’ve got to establish those structure roles and goals. Next, what’s the group norm? What’s happening in the group setting? We may be getting down to the department level.

Who’s in? Who’s out? Who’s influencing? How do we handle conflict? How do we know that we have the right people in the right group? Now, once we get down to that, we’re ready for interpersonal. Are there challenges between interpersonal? Absolutely. What I’m saying, though, is look up above at mission, structure, and group before we get bogged down into the interpersonal and then ultimately, we get down to the individual.

There are certain times when an individual is not performing well and we need to have that discussion. But that should probably be the 20%. Then we look at individual and interpersonal, is the 80% where we should be looking at, all right, do we hit the right things are not?

If everything is going well, hey, we don’t have to check into all that stuff. But when you’re having breakdowns, we need to get below the Waterline and look at all these things. Make sense, Jennifer?

Jennifer: It does, it does.

Jeff: Cool. Let’s do this, Jennifer. I know that we’ve got some really great things around a teamwork cycle that we’ve been working with in our practice. After the break, we’re going to come back and we’re going to say, how do we help implement things like Waterline, this outward mindset, and be able to do it understanding this teamwork cycle? When we come back from break, we’ll pick up on teamwork cycle. We’ll see you in two minutes.


Jeff: Welcome back. I am so glad you are with us. I’m here today with Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, the leadership director at Voltage Leadership Consulting. Before the break, we were talking about teams. That’s the theme of the day. The Waterline Model, and quite honestly, some great teams and some not-so-great teams.

What we want to be able to do for our listeners is to be able to say, how can we help you know the characters on your team? To be able to get to a maybe more effective place, to work with people, and understand that there is a cycle that the team goes through. We use a concept called the Team Work Cycle.

Jennifer, I know you’ve been doing this a ton with our companies. Could you maybe just walk us through the model and help us understand exactly what is the Team Work Cycle?

Jennifer: Absolutely, Jeff. Here’s what a Team Work Cycle looks like. Team Work Cycle takes you from beginning to end, from the vision of a project, all the way through its execution. In Step One or Phase One or a Team Work Cycle is when the vision gets cast. It’s when the task gets broadly defined, when it’s clear what the mission for that season is going to be. That’s the initiation process.

Phase Two is the ideation phase of Team Work Cycle. That’s when you come up with the different ideas. You think about all the different ways you might accomplish that big dream or that big goal or accomplish that project. You also identify what other outside resources you might have to bring to bare on that project.

Then you move into Phase Three. That’s the elaboration process when you plan how you are going to do it. When you really look and it’ll resolve the conflicts about different ways to accomplish something. Then Phase Four is completion. That’s when you go into execution. You do the work and you get the results. You measure them and you find out how you did.

Going through that whole phase ideation—

Jeff: I think initiation.

Jennifer: That’s right. From initiation to ideation to elaboration and completion, those four phases are what takes us all the way through a Team Work Cycle. When we spend equal time in each of them, we get a great result.

Jeff: That’s fantastic. What I like to talk about when I’m working with folks is, we should be good at all of them as a leader. You don’t get to just pick one and say, I am only the initiator or I’m only into completion and execution, right? Some leaders get that confused.

As I work with folks, I ask them, though, what’s your preference? We all have preferences. In my case, I love ideation. Jennifer’s laughing and I’m sure Lee and Marissa out there for the company are totally with me. We love ideation. Let’s think of all ideas. The downside, though, is that some of those ideas need to get to fruition.

We need each member of the team to be able to do it all, but we should know where our preferences are. If you have some of those preferences in elaboration, you might not want them in ideation because that might stress them out. They’re thinking, I’ve got to do all this work. Elaborators are really good project managers and they take the 27 ideas down to the top three ideas and say, how do I go about getting this? How do I fund it? But it all starts with initiation.

In your mind, what’s the value of the initiator on that team?

Jennifer: The value of the initiator on the team is that the initiators—when that goes well, it’s such a clear vision and process for how and what and why you’re doing what you’re doing. You get clear about the purpose of activity. Here’s an example.

There’s a company that you and I both work in where it wasn’t clear what the ‘why’ was. While everybody had the capacity to be doing the work, nobody knew ‘why’ so they weren’t motivated to do it. Without the ‘why’, they were confused about how to go about it, what level of importance they had, what it was going to do for the organization in the future.

It was a really important time to pause and go back to the leadership and say, you need to articulate your ‘why’. They need to know why they’re doing what they’re doing because getting in the way of the speed of the organization. They’re naturally resisting doing work that they’re all able to do, because they don’t understand why.

That’s what’s really important about having a clear ‘why’ in business. And when the ‘why’ starts to shift, that’s something else we could talk about.

Jeff: Good. Let’s recap here. We need initiators. They scan the environment to horizon. They figure out what is it that you need to do? They help prioritize and say, go this direction. Then the ideators pick up and say, given that’s our direction, here’s all the ways that we can have those ideas.

Steve Job says to Apple, we’re going to concentrate in this thing called iPhones. We’re going to do phones. Then, the ideators are like, we probably need app stores. We need the ability to have iTunes. And here’s all the different possibilities. Lately, it is, I guess we don’t need headphones. But it’s all the ideation.

Then we move up to elaboration and say, give them that set of ideas, knowing what our big ‘why’ is, here’s our recommendation for the top two or three. Here’s how we put the project plan into it.

In the completion and execution, they go and deliver the product. They get the product out the door. They get it to the Apple stores. They’re doing great. We need all four. What happens when the initiator isn’t the boss?

It sounds like we can be the initiator from any spot, but that can cause some role clarities when the initiator is not the boss. What do you see in that situation?

Jennifer: A couple of things can happen. But when the initiator is not the boss and when the boss is not the initiator, there can be conflict. Unless there’s a good partnership between the leader and the person with the vision. And when there’s a great executor or a great elaborator or a great ideator comes across someone with great vision and they get along and they’re aligned, great things can happen. Because that leader needed that person.

But if there’s two initiators and the leader has initiation and so does the follower but they don’t have good alignment between them, then what you get ins conflict. You get an unempowered follower and an angry leader.

Jeff: Let’s avoid that. We don’t want that. People are probably like, that’s my team. We’ll get into that. In a moment, we’ll shift into some team chartering and I think that helps with the process a bit. What I also would recommend from the perspective is, you don’t have to be the CEO, CFO, COO, whatever to be an initiator. You can be a leader in any of these places.

I currently coach a CFO at a 23,000-person organization who is very comfortable in execution and completion. That’s his preferred spot. He’s had to say, okay, I’ve got people in my team that can help me with initiation. But I know I need to help set the course.

He goes into that role but he really wants to get back into execution. Just know that—you have to be good in all of this, but part of it is understanding your team. Look around your team and say, what phase are we in? And who should be leading this phase? It’s a nice sort of baton handoff. Make sense?

Jennifer: It does make sense.

Jeff: Good. Then what we’ll often say then is, okay, now we understand the Team Work Cycle. We understand sort of our vision, our goals. Let’s create a team charter. I know that’s not the Magna Carta.

I know that we have to watch it on the inside of our arm, but this team charter seems like a vague concept. Let’s talk about the team charter. What do you use a team charter for and maybe give an example of how you’ve used a team charter, Jennifer?

Jennifer: Team charters work with teams in crisis and teams that are doing great and teams that are wanting to perform better. The question is, is there real clarity about how you’re going to be together and is there real crystal clear clarity about your ‘why’? And it’s something to be revisited regularly. Every year, I think these charters need to be renewed. It isn’t something that you do once and put it on a shelf. It’s something that gives momentum and focus to an organization on a regular basis.

Jeff: What’s included on a team charter? I write them myself but as you sort of work on a team charter, what type of things do you include? For me, I’ll just give a couple of examples. I like to know the strengths of the people on the team so I can understand how do we actually come together and what are our collective strengths? We know how to draw upon that.

I also definitely want some mission-vision statements. I know our greater purpose to how to use those strengths. I’d also like to know how are decisions made around here? What’s going to be our decision-making process? This is the firsts couple of hours. What do you use when you’re doing the team charter?

Jennifer: I also like to know what people’s desired outcomes are and what their own personal pace is. I think that’s important to get out on the table because we all run at a different pace but to be clear about where the organization is going to run and what pace the organization is going to have, because whether or not you run at a faster pace or a slower pace, there needs to become an agreement about the pace of the organization so that we can set our own personal pace to achieve what the organization needs.

When we’re clear and transparent about that, that allows us to avoid some of the chemistry problems that happen inside businesses when they pick people that have the wrong idea about the pace, when the pace is hidden and not explicit than we expect.

When organizations, say honestly, we work at a fast pace here. That’s what we’re looking for. Or, we’re a traditional group and we want to take it slow. We’re a steady institution. When you hear those words, it’s important to pay attention to that because they have something to do with the agreements that that group needs to make about how they’re going to be together so that they can be aligned.

Jeff: I think that’s great. I think it’s the how are we going to be together. That’s really what a charter is. To boil down to the big words is sort of, what are we going to do and how are we going to be together? That can be what behaviors are we going to use in our group? Get real specific. Are phones allowed in the rooms or not? Are we checking e-mails in the room or are we not? If we’re not, then how do we call each other out on it?

The more specific you can get, the better clarity on that. Go for it because that helps to break down sort of those artificial barriers. Other things like, how are we going to deal with conflict? State that up front. Here’s how we are going to lean into conflict or we’re going to handle it a different way.

Other groups, they will pass around an actual ball or stick to allow people to talk. They don’t speak over each other. Setting up some ground rules on that. Does the person in the front of the room lead it? All these things matter. Other teams like to rotate who leads a meeting. But we need to know that and often the chartering process can bring those things out.

Any other best practices around the chartering process you’d like to share at this point?

Jennifer: I would say that when you come up with the values that drive an organization, often we’ll hear trust or respect or have a positive attitude or communication is important. Get very specific, like you said about what behaviors exactly that you’re looking for to get that result. That really helps clarify what’s in and what’s out.

Jeff: Some great ideas, Jennifer. Thanks for all those. So, what we’re going to do is we’re going to come back after break, we’re going to get practical. We’re going to talk about some of the best practices we see with our teams. We’re going to give you a few ideas, maybe share where we’ve seen the charters implemented effectively.

We’ll come back in two minutes and give you some best practices tips.


Jeff: Welcome back. We’ve been having a great discussion. I’ve got Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, the leadership director at Voltage Leadership Consulting here today. And we’ve been having an awesome conversation about teams. We’ve been talking about things like Waterline Model, best teams, worst teams.

We’ve also been talking about how do you go about writing a team charter and why is that important? And this thing called the Team Work Cycle. We’re going to continue this conversation about where we’ve actually put the team charter in place and it’s worked effectively.

Jennifer, give me an example from one of your clients where the team charter has been put in place and it’s really been effective and helped move the team.

Jennifer: One or two different places come to mind. One of the things, even a great team comes together when they have that initial conversation if they haven’t had it intentionally before, of how are we going to be together? Often, they know the ‘why’, which is why things are going well. And they agree with the ‘why’.

Often, that’s already in place, but the missing piece is, we haven’t taken the time to talk about the how. That’s the values piece and to build on that. So yes, these are the values that we have, but how are they going to show up? What do we really need from each other in order to be successful?

When it works well, some of the questions I might ask the group are, what do you need to bring your best self to work and when you’ve been doing the most extraordinary work, what would have been the conditions that created that experience?

And then they talk about that and they think about it and then they go back to those places in their professional lives and they’re able to describe the environment. Once we have that picture of that environment in the room, we’re able to say, okay. These are the things that are shared. These are things that we all need. And then what do you do? You leave the room. I try not to leave the room with more than five things—five behaviors we’re going to drive for.

Oftentimes, as I said before, we’ll see respect on the list, or honest communication on the list. Depending on how the trust has been in the past, trust might rate high on the list. In some places, there’s actual explicit conversation about pace and I know that that was true in our business. The pace mattered and the pace we ran at and the pace we were trying to set as a way to lead other organizations so that they didn’t burn out. That’s an important thing to pay attention to.

Being clear about exactly what behaviors are underneath those and then to revisit that. Where is this going to be placed inside? Are you going to look at it every week when you meet? Just to repeat them, just to talk about what of those values have been important to your success this week?

Another way to keep that inside of the business regularly, besides that weekly reference point, is to revisit them and plan for failure. To talk when you create them about what you’re going to do when you break them. So that there’s a, yes, these are great ideas, these are great values, and we will mess up.

There will be mistakes and missteps and misunderstandings and how are we going to come together again and walk through that? That, I think, is the most important part, when teams get resilient.

Jeff: Let me build on a couple of things. One of things that I use, I call it the pre-order. As we’re going through the process and we’re talking on the front end, we know we’re going to break some of these by accident. It just becomes when this happens, how are we going to handle it?

It’s a lot easier when we’re at the outset to go and do that. I know that there’s not a perfect time, so don’t wait for perfect timing. If you want to elevate the performance of your team right now, let’s just start now. Let’s do a team charter now and take the time.

I mentioned this thing, time, a couple of times. One thing we need to do is we have to work on ourselves. We need to find time to work on the business. We do that well. We don’t do such a great job of working on ourselves. We’re always having operational meetings but what about how do we interact as a team?

All I need to tell you is that the people who invest in that, those are the ones that have the highest level of performance with organizations that we work with. Another thought there was, good, I hear there’s this thing called values and I see some of the listeners are probably rolling their eyes going, golly, values.

It’s hard to sit down and have a conversation about values when back in operations, you’ve got two people that have called in sick or something’s happened today on the floor and it’s just crazy. At the end of the day, values are what the whole organization needs to rally around to be able to say, this is how we are with each other.

This is critical. And the ones that really are top notch organizations—it’s not that they can quote verbatim for all of those values but they know how to live them. They know how to reinforce the behaviors and do it. As a leader, take time to get to those values and reinforce the values in your organizations. Good stuff, huh?

Jennifer: And be specific.

Jeff: Very specific. We’ll get a little down into the weeds here. All good concepts. Let’s get a few best practices. We’ll start this here and continue our best practices and ideas throughout the rest of the show.

I’ll start. One of the best practices that I see is that the highly effective teams that I work with, they meet often. It comes in a variety of different ways. One of our organizations, they’re just doing fantastic. They have grown significantly from sort of small to now they’ve moved up to this midsized company. They get together every quarter for two days and they review, how did the past quarter go on day one? And on day two, what’s the next quarter look like?

Then they do a fourth quarter, two meetings. They do one for that quarter and then another one for the upcoming year. This time together, and believe me, they’re busy and there is no extra overhead in this company. But what is happening over this two and a half year journey that I’ve been with them on is that they just consistently been able to produce better and better results because they take the time to work together.

They’ve done all the right stuff in the front end, the chartering and all that, but taking the time with a focused agenda, they come prepared. They know what they’re here to discuss and this—the first day is about reviewing the past quarter, what went right, what could we have done differently? Do we want an after-action review of the quarter? And what were the lessons learned?

I would say that that was one of the most critical things. The other in that was that they generally use a facilitator so that each person can really be in the team and be a team member and let someone else facilitate that meeting. They almost always use a facilitator. Sometimes, it’s an external facilitator like us. Other times, it’s someone from another department that can come in and help t hem to be able to do it. Those are one or two tips early. How about for you?

Jennifer: I think the practice of building on what works is helpful to find out what’s working right now and see where that can be replicated or that brilliance can be shared. That’s very important, that practice of recognizing success but also not just great job, but these are the things that worked about that. Tell us about it.

The other practice I see in team charter work is that if you’re gathered around a set of values and they’re repeated and shared, then the meeting itself tends to be not a conversation of presentations. It could attack a problem. And one of the things that I see on great teams is this question of, we’ve heard all these issues that are pressing for you—what is the one we’re going to solve today? What’s the most important one for us to give our time to?

There is a sense that everyone’s time is valuable and a real awareness that if we’re putting this much thinking power in the room together, we should use it to solve the biggest problems that the organization is facing.

Jeff: Good. That’s an engaged team. Again, earlier, this month, really—I had a conversation with a team that just wasn’t engaged with each other. And I had to call them on it. It was acceptable to kind of move in and move out of the meeting and if you’re ten or twelve minutes late, that was acceptable. If you need to leave ten minutes early, that was acceptable.

When we really look at it—it was a group of about seven—how many times that we actually had all seven here fully engaged, and this was about a two-hour setting, I said, we’ve probably only had about 60 minutes of full engagement out of two hours.

I think our best practice, too, is define your rules up front and be comfortable calling each other out. Additionally, I think it’s important to know, what’s the desired outcome for our day?

I don’t know. We could have said, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m picturing that there’s a moment where I was doing work with the Cleveland Clinic and we were facilitating the serving leader program for them. We came in and we had, the other facilitator there and myself, we had our plan for the day. We were ready to go.

We asked the question, what has been going well for your organization? So that’s a question we always asked—what’s going well? And what’s your desired outcome for today? About four people in, everyone had this weird look on their face and the desired outcomes were all over the board.

We’re like, hold on, let’s just think and stop. What is going on? What happened was an announcement had gone out that morning that there was going to be some major organizational changes and this group had not been particularly involved in that. They just wanted to get back to the workplace to be able to have conversations with their teams and be with their teams.

We could have pushed through our agenda as a team, and it had been an okay day. But the engagement level had been terrible. I think it’s also the ability as a team to be able to say, what’s the desired outcome for today and make adjustments to get to the highest little priority.

To wrap up that story, what we did was said, “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s figure out how you’re going to go back and have a conversation. Let’s script it out”. And they went back and had conversations for two hours.

And we met back after lunch and did four hours. Sure, we missed part of the day. That’s okay—we could come back to it. I think best teams know the desired outcome for the time that they’re together, but they’re also flexible enough to say, hey, there might be something greater that we need to do.

Which means there was a conversation about what are we going to do in the room today and we listened to each other.

Jennifer: I think also, sometimes teams resist work meetings together to get the work done. I’m too busy. I’ve got too much going on and my area’s priorities are too intense. I can’t stop and do the meeting because my pace is so intense. That is such a miss because direct communication and the shared conversation and the ability to get the brilliance of your colleagues to help you think better is so important.

That pause and the change of thinking really helps the ability for the business to continue being strategic. That’s the other thing of not forgetting the meeting and setting aside the meeting time. You’ll do that if the meeting doesn’t have purpose. But if a meeting feels like it has purpose and it solves problems and it makes people better on the other side of it, they’ll come and they’ll be engaged.

Jeff: Let me say a few things there. Jennifer, awesome. You mean we should have an agenda.

Jennifer: We should have an agenda.

Jeff: We should have an agenda. It’s a shared agenda. We should have rules and responsibilities outlined. And I know folks out there, not all the listeners know me well. I am not the most organized dude in the world. When I’m saying these things, I am not the one that would normally bring the most structure to the world.

Jennifer: You would not.

Jeff: No, I would not. Jennifer, thank you for the feedback. It is so true. However, you’ve been in plenty of our team meetings. They’re relatively structured. They’re not perfect, but they’re relatively structured. What I would say is, the more you have the agenda, who is going to do what role? Who is going to be the one to take notes? Who is going to be the one that is going to follow the action items? Who is going to facilitate the meeting? The cleaner you can get on that, that just sets you up for success.

I can’t tell you the number of meetings that I walk into where I’m being asked to observe or give feedback and you’re like, what are they doing here? Why are we—in one of our earlier podcasts, we had Scott Eblin and we talked about how so many of our folks are like racked and stacked. What that means is that you’ve got meeting after meeting after meeting, all day. You never have time to think about even what you’re doing. You just show up to the meeting and you just kind of spout everything.

Having a clear agenda, knowing your role, and having a facilitator is absolutely critical. I’m sure you can agree with that.

Jennifer: I do agree with that and I will say that when you said role first, it’s not the role that you have at work. It’s the role that you have at a meeting and the outcome that the meeting is going to get is different than maybe the role you play day in and day out and be willing to sit in the right role for that group.

Jeff: That’s brilliant. You mean we have different roles and different teams. I get it. Absolutely important. And look, the CEO is not the only one that has to lead the meeting. The department manager is not the only one that has to lead the meeting. It’s important to know. So maybe it’s also going back to our Team Work Cycle. If we’re in a meeting of ideation and that’s not your thing, let somebody else lead that meeting. So be willing to hand off.

Jennifer, just some good practical tips. I’m looking forward to us continuing that conversation about practical tips. When we come back from break, what we’re going to do is we’re going to continue some of our best practices on tips and tools that we see on high-performing teams.

We’ll join you right back after break in two minutes. Thanks.


Jeff: Welcome back. We’re so glad that you could join us today. It’s just been a fantastic experience for us. We’ve got listeners from all over the world, from China to Iran to Canada to South America and all over the U.S. So really, thank you for connecting with us, for wanting to hear us.

I hope you’ve been enjoying the conversation with Jennifer Owen-O’Quill from Voltage Leadership. We’re going to wrap up our conversation today. We’ve been talking about teams—best teams, worst teams, and best practices. We’re going to just continue our conversation around some of our favorite tools and tips. Jennifer, we had a little break here. Did you think of another tool or tip you can share with our listeners?

Jennifer: The one thing I circle back to that I need myself, that I wouldn’t want to leave a listener without, is that there is an area that you might resist in Team Work Cycle, right? It’s when you’re having your scope of work, whether you’re a vision person or an idea person or a plan person or an executor person—if there’s a place in that cycle that you resist, be sure to have a great thinking partner and it might feel a little uncomfortable for you to be with that person because they’re good at things that you don’t naturally go to.

That’s the most important meeting you could have, that I can think of the elaborators that I know that are excellent with plans. Their pace is different. The way they think is different. That’s the most important person for me to think alongside because their brilliance is the piece that I’m missing. I think it’s important to really be self-reflective and self-aware. What am I not good at and it might be the thing that makes me uncomfortable, the people that are around me and who then can fill in and help me with that?

Jeff: I think that’s just brilliant. My friend, Cara Wilson, who used to work at Cleveland Clinic is now at Tableau and on the show. Cara is that person for me from an “I’m good at ideation brainstorming”—she is such a great elaborator and just does such a good job at saying, okay, Jeff. That’s a great idea. Now, practically, how are we going to get it done when we have seven minutes to do it? I’m like, oh yeah, Cara, that’s great. I don’t know.

She just has it. Sometimes, it feels like in our dance—my wife, Beth, is very much that way, too. She’s an elaborator and an executor—it sometimes feels like they’re stepping on my toes but because we have that trust with each other, it doesn’t feel that way. Because there’s so much comradery and good feelings towards each other when Cara, Beth, etc., when they do that, I respect them for it.

I make sure that I come back to it. I give them permission, too. I think part of a good team is giving permission to give me feedback. I would want to make sure that people know, feedback is critical in teams. Feedback is everything. Feedback is a gift. It’s just not easily received often. So positive feedback, I blush. Developmental feedback, I might be defensive and push back.

High performance teams have practices of giving feedback. A way to do that—do an after-action review. Maybe at the end of the meeting. Maybe it’s the end of an offsite. Maybe it’s the end of a quarter. How have we been doing as a team? What’s the one thing that we could do different as a team that would make us better? Ask that question.

What’s the one thing that we did well this quarter, this month, this team meeting that went great? Be open to that feedback. Now, when you get courageous, go around the room to each other and say, what’s the one thing that you do that helped our team move forward and what’s the one thing you could do better that will make our team even better? When you’re able to have that honesty, boy, that team is set up for success.

Jennifer: I would agree with that and figuring out how to ask the right question to get not confirmation about your opinion of yourself. Really something that is going to help instruct you about how you can grow and what will be the most helpful way for you to grow in that relationship with that person to get your brilliance to shine. That’s a different conversation with different people. It’s about creating the right question that’s going to allow that person to answer, honestly.

Jeff: Honestly, right. I do want to go back to it. Recognition—so we’ve talked about it in our previous shows, five to one. Five positive comments for every negative. Hey, you can go too far. If you get to thirteen to one, we’re in kumbayah land and we’re just singing together and we’re not holding each other accountable. Most teams are probably at a one-to-one positive for one negative, or even worse, two negatives for every positive.

Best teams find ways to play together, celebrate together, hit the goal and really be successful. But they take time for recognition. I know that when we get to work with folks, recognition is important. The more that we can do that, wow, that can make for a great team.

Jennifer: And specific recognition.

Jeff: Yes, thank you.

Jennifer: You know exactly what to repeat, yes.

Jeff: You are so right.

Jennifer: Great job in the meeting. You started on time, you ended on time, and you gave us a chance to really wrestle down the problem. Thank you for that. Everyone contributed, and I felt great about it. That way, the facilitator knows what to do next.

Jeff: Fantastic. I love that feedback about me. Oh wait, you’re just being specific, not about me, Jennifer. Thank you, though.

Let’s just wrap up here with a couple of things that I took from today’s show. Teams, we’ve got to work at it to make it work. We can’t just expect to show up in the same room once a week and have it work. Whether that’s do we have a check-in on Mondays, a check-in on Fridays, I don’t know what your process is, how often you need to meet. But best teams meet on a regular basis. They have a common vision, a mission, and that might have been done in a team charter. So that we’re clear, we write it down. We revisited it. And we come back to it.

We don’t assume that when something’s happening on a team, it’s an interpersonal conflict. We might go a little higher and say, let’s look and see—is there really a group dynamic problem and how do we work on that? Then, we have really great things like clean agendas. We know roleplay to know who’s going to do what. We also take time to recognize, get feedback, and we try to get together on a regular basis so we can be together and not avoid each other.

Jennifer, did I miss anything that you’d like to add there?

Jennifer: I would just go back—the last thing that I think of is that Waterline. When you see problems popping up above the surface, start with, do they know why? It’s structured right for who we are today. Do I have the right people on the team? Are my goals clear? And then, okay, now how’s the team working? And maybe there actually is a problem with an individual. It’s almost the last thing to be curious about, down under the Waterline.

Jeff: Absolutely. So, there are times where there is an individual problem, absolutely. The real thing though is that often, there’s something that’s just not quite working in that team dynamic. I love it when a team really hums, though. It’s so much fun to be able to see them successful and to be able to achieve their goals.

I would say that there are far more teams that I get to work with that are having success than are dysfunctional. Right? They may come in with a few things but I try to pull them back. I think you like to use the word “zoom out”. I like to help them zoom out, Jennifer, and say, look at this—you’re still at 18% growth. Congratulations. Right? So that’s the fun part of the job, to help them celebrate.

Jennifer: That’s right. We get to see it more clearly because it’s not happening to us.

Jeff: That’s right. We’re not perfect either. There are times where we have to work on ourselves. We have to do after-action reviews. We do our planning. We live these things, too, and believe me, we’re always trying to sharpen our own saws and get better ourselves.

Listeners, thank you so much. Jennifer, thank you for being here. Always such as great time together. You inspire me. You help me get better. You challenge me to be the best. One thing that I’ll wrap up with that Jennifer does well is that she asked for feedback and then she challenges the feedback provider to give her the last 10%. Because sometimes we hold back.

Jennifer always challenges me and the people we work with. Tell me that last 10% so that I can be better, and our team, and our organization be better. Your challenge when you get out of here is what’s that last 10% you need to say? So fantastic time together, thanks for joining us.