Leading effective teams

Tip #6: Develop operating guidelines

Designing a set of operating guidelines at the beginning will allow the team
to systematically build its operating approach. As the team matures, you
should lead it to reconsider and perhaps modify these guidelines.
Throughout its existence, the team remains responsible for how it operates.
If its meetings, its decision making process, or any of its methods of
gathering and disseminating information become inadequate, the team is
responsible for identifying and fixing the problem. To do this, you and the
team should.
  • Establish ground rules.
  • Design team meetings.
  • Determine the team’s decision-making process.
  • Develop a communication plan
Establish Ground Rules
Effective interactions are critical to team
success. Communicate your expectations
clearly, consistently, and frequently. As human
beings, we do not adopt new behaviors very
easily or very quickly. While your team
members may understand and even agree with
your expectations, actually meeting them may
not occur for some time, and the change may
not necessarily be smooth.
As the team leader, you can create various opportunities and ways to
communicate your expectations to your team. Establishing ground rules sets
the tone for personal accountability, while minimizing the pattern to blame.
You will find them to be extremely useful in setting expectations and keeping
the team focused and positive.
Establishing Ground Rules
One powerful way to communicate and establish expectations about
participation, responsibility, and trust is to ask the team to discuss and adopt
their own guidelines. Begin by creating a list of behaviors which will help
teamwork, then select the most important ones (about five), and finally
express them in short statements. Post them on the walls of the team’s
meeting room. This device sets the stage for team members to hold each
other accountable for living up to the expectations without appearing to
Establishing Ground Rules
These ground rules allow a team member to point at the list and say, “We
agreed that all of us would participate, but we haven’t heard from Karen on this
You will find that having ground rules will significantly improve the team’s
interactions and productivity.
Examples of ground rules: (Don’t get carried away with this list. Remember to
limit the number, and feel free to develop some unique ones to meet your own
Get involved, stay involved; the team needs you!
• Take an action, then make it happen.
• Give everyone a chance; do not dominate the conversation.
• Stick to the topic.
• Show up on time; end on time.
• Keep the team leader informed.
• Be flexible, as things will likely change.
• Hold each other accountable.
• Challenge the idea, not the person.
• Do not say things outside the team that you would not say inside the
Design Team Meetings
Only the team members can fully define what they
need in order to have successful team meetings. Once
they identify these requirements, they can develop a
format that satisfies those requirements.
A team must continually ask questions to make sure they are on track. The
meeting format should allow time to ask and answer critical questions related
to its task.
You also need to document the results of the meetings. Don’t worry, this isn’t
cumbersome if you follow the public note taking approach.
Sample Format for a Team Meeting
Depending on the team task, the following team meeting format may include
some useful guidance
Use an agenda to keep the meeting focused and on time.
• Review past action items. (Throughout the meeting, the team makes
decisions that result in actions assigned to individuals or small groups
from the team. Check the status of these actions.)
• Review “Where we are” vs. “Where we should be” in terms of such
items as:
o Schedule
o Budget
o Risk factors
o Goals or targets (Eg: error rate, production rate, inputs obtained)
Sample Format for a Team Meeting
Define, analyze, and resolve issues related to the items noted above.
• Determine next steps.
• Review future action items and/or next steps.
• Identify items or issues for next meeting
Regularly raise the issue of whether the meetings accomplish what the team
needs, and regularly remind the team that they are responsible for designing and
conducting effective team meetings.
Work group team meetings are generally frequent, brief, and informal. Do not
worry about the formality of an agenda, but do make sure that your meetings
include the essential elements for effective team integration and coordination.
Examples of Questions to Ask
Team meetings should be designed to keep questions in front of the team that
will help them stay on course. For example:
• Is our current status where we ought to be at this time?
• What is necessary to get from where we are to where we ought to be, or
to the next milestone?
• Are the right people covering all the necessary activities?
Determine the Team’s Decision-Making Process
To reduce potential frustration and conflict, a team should define early and clearly
how decisions are made. Will you, the team leader, make them all? (Hopefully,
the answer is a resounding, “Absolutely not!”) Will the team vote and decide by
majority vote? (Be careful with this, because making decisions by majority vote
can fracture a team into winners and losers.) Will you leave the decisions to the
experts? (Sometimes this approach is appropriate for decisions limited to the
expert’s area of competence, but usually not for decisions that impact the entire
If the team gets stuck when trying to make a decision, you need to determine
whether or not to intervene. You basically have three options:
Jump in and take charge.
Help the team arrive at a consensus.
Let the team continue to struggle.
This balance is required when:
• Team discussion has deteriorated to disagreement over an issue, and
relationships are beginning to break down.
• The team appears unable to gain consensus on an issue that must be
resolved immediately to avert failure
Indicators of the Need for Team Leader Intervention(con’t.)
• The team appears unable to deal with the destructive aspect of one
member’s behavior.
• Team members are becoming discouraged and disgruntled over their
inability to come to a decision.
Your job is not only to make sure that it is the team that makes decisions, but
also that the team is deciding correct issues and questions
Fight the Temptation to Jump in and Take Charge
The model for leaders has typically been “someone who takes charge.” This is
our perception of leaders, and it is how we believe we should act if we want to
be a leader or have been chosen to be one. However, you should aspire to
develop a team that has greater force than any one person does on the team,
including the team leader. How do you resist this temptation so that you put the
focus on the team to accomplish the task? Here are a few suggestions:
• In a team setting, talk through your role as a leader and your intention to
have the team plan, analyze, and accomplish the task. Also, be clear
about when you believe you will have to take control. Finally, ask the
team to help you avoid running the show unless they flounder.
• Regularly ask for feedback from the team.
• Find a coach or mentor who can help you decide when to let the team
struggle and when to step in.
• Get together with one or more other team leaders to analyze and test
your performance.
• Before you step in and take control, ask yourself whether the
consequences of not taking control are likely to result in significant harm
to the team or the task.
Too much command will stifle the capability, initiative, and creativity of the
team; but so will too little guidance, direction, and discipline. Because of
traditional autocratic managerial habits, most potential team leaders err on the
side of too much guidance and leave too little room for team decision making
and growth.
The only way a team will learn to solve problems is to face them, to struggle
through them, and to determine a solution. A team leader needs to develop
patience and allow the team to learn teamwork by letting the team solve its own
How to Develop Consensus
The most powerful form of team decision making is consensus. Here each team
member agrees not only to live with a certain decision, but to actively support it
and make it work. However, consensus can take considerable time to develop,
especially when a team has not matured in its teamwork capabilities.
One question the team should always answer by consensus is: “How will we
make decisions?” When a team decides how it will make decisions team
members must then agree to abide by this process until the team decides by
consensus to change the procedure. The following ideas develop consensus:
• Clearly define the following as they take shape during the team’s
discussion. (You may want to write them on flipchart paper and post them
during the discussion):
o The specific issue
o The criteria the solution should meet
o Any alternatives
How to Develop Consensus(con’t.)
• Frequently summarize the discussion to clarify for all team members how
close to or how far they are from a consensus.
• Remind the team that the goal is consensus, not unanimous agreement
on the best solution.
Check for consensus at intervals. (A quick and easy method is asking for a show
of thumbs. A thumbs up means strong agreement, a thumbs sideways means
weak agreement, and a thumbs down means rejection. Consensus means no
thumbs down and relatively few thumbs sideways.)
Develop a Communication Plan
Information is the lifeblood of a team, so its system
for gathering and disseminating information is as
critical as the human body’s network of arteries,
veins, and capillaries. Answering, “What input is
critical to the team, and where does it come from?”
and “What information from this team is important
outside itself, and who depends on knowing it?” will
provide the information for designing a basic
communication plan.
Often an important piece of this communication plan is the sharing of the team’s
status and activities. Meeting minutes should be made available not only to the
team members, but also to other interested stakeholders.
A Basic Communication Plan
Once questions are answered and the links defined, the team then assigns
individual members to establish and maintain each of the links. These individual
team members may determine how to establish and maintain the links, but the
team must continually hold them accountable for their effectiveness. If either
end of a link is surprised by some development, you should explore where the
breakdown originated so you can avoid similar breakdowns in the future.