Transforming Team Trajectories

Most leaders tend to reach out for support in understanding and developing their teams and organisations in response to a particular catalyst. Not all the time – but most.

It can be in a climate of growth, downsizing, public crisis, struggling performance or any number of other diverse factors. One thing is common – a strong belief in some part of the system that ‘things could be better’.

Even organisations experiencing what would appear to others, to be overt ‘success’ are struggling with their own dynamics in having the ‘right’ conversations, making ‘good’ decisions and building ‘healthy’ working conditions. Note the very deliberate use of inverted commas – because each of these words tends to be defined quite differently depending on the environment. Nevertheless, there tends to be an undercurrent when they aren’t so great.

In first interactions between consultant and teams, it’s not uncommon, for people to be scrambling over one another (provided the correct conditions are created) to tell you what the ‘problem’ is and how it could be solved if everyone else just behaved a little differently. It is surprisingly rare to hear someone, on first engagement, detail themselves as playing any part in the creation of the environment they are often able to describe so articulately.

So you end up with a rather colourful collage of stories… some are quite similar, others so different it’s hard to believe they form part of the same picture at all. And here is the challenge for the consultant and, increasingly, the leader – to find a way in the overwhelming surge of impassioned information to work out what really needs to happen to effect a sustainable change for the better.

Whilst interesting, engaging and often powerfully compelling, these stories are leading you so far, but ultimately masking the real answer.

The key is understanding ‘structurally’ what is happening. By that, we mean stripping all of the colour out of the picture in order to diagnose what behavioural change would be required to effect a different outcome. Most of the time – the answer doesn’t lie in changing very much. At a behavioural level there are usually one or two crucial components missing or overused in a team’s interactions or one dominant behavioural propensity at an organizational level which stifles the rest.

A sniper who makes a miniscule correction to their aim will, over great distance, hit targets metres apart. In the same way, if you imagine a team to be on a particular trajectory, the smallest of tweaks in one direction or another to the ‘structure’ of a team’s interactions significantly changes the dynamics of that team over time. It is this considered, nuanced style of sustainable behavioural change which truly refines teams to be at their most successful and effective.

How do you, as a consultant or leader, identify the stuck structures which lie beneath a team’s most dysfunctional behaviour?