Flipping Your Team

Have you ever seen that TV show where the host buys a run-down unloved house then turns it into a beauty and sells it? They call that flipping. The flippers clear out unnecessary junk, refresh the fixtures, tear down walls, change the layout, and sometimes build additions. Then they make a big profit.

All too frequently teambuilding sessions are the flipping equivalent of getting rid of clutter, slapping on some fresh paint and taking a quick gain. That approach makes sense on the surface. Standard team-day fare is quick, relatively easy and safe. It usually involves exercises focused on the team mission/vision and/or outcomes such as team values statements or team charters (with maybe some fun, celebration, and education too!). Just like the quick flip, you will get short-term gains from the typical team building agenda but it won’t have the transformative impact that makes a real difference to your bottom line.

If you want to shift your team it will take more than the usual teambuilding exercises. A lot more. How do I know? That’s what I do for a living – I flip teams.

To flip your team you will have to renovate, not redecorate!

Here is an example of what I mean. I recently worked with a team of one manager, two supervisors and 12 staff. They were “working lean” after some downsizing. The client asked me if I would facilitate a one-day team building session to review their vision and create a team charter.

People don’t usually ask for team charters when everything is happy so I dug a little and discovered that they were having some “problems” in team meetings and two of the team members seemed to be avoiding each other lately (rot in the walls?).

As a team flipper I look for signs that there is something under the surface - and this was that

Discussions about the wording of the vision, values exercises, charter building, cake, games, balloons, etc. (the original request) would not do the trick. Those activities don’t get to the issues. They gloss over them (often with a patina of false cordiality).

Instead I suggested we start with a needs assessment (the team version of a home inspection). Asking a client to pay thousands of dollars to diagnose a problem they think they have a handle on can be a hard sell but he reluctantly agreed.

The assessment showed that the house needed more than a refresh (surprise!). We needed to rebuild the foundation, tear down the walls, clean up messes, and fix broken connections. We started planning a major renovation.

When we got further into the project it became clear that the team was

actually three teams trying to work like one and, as a result, being very inefficient (with people getting frustrated and disengaged in the process). So we shifted some walls and they became a department with a leadership team (manager and supervisors) and three sub-teams that were mostly self-sufficient after some roles were switched around.

As the team built their new structure they were able to clarify areas of responsibility, roles and processes. They also created strategies for more effective meetings, cross-team collaboration, and staff development for succession planning

When it was done, people were happier, more engaged, and felt a sense of ownership for the new model. The manager found a lot more time for other priorities because many of the fires he was putting out were no longer making it to his desk. His supervisors felt more in control and were better able to work with their people. People’s relationships improved because they resolved conflicts and had cleaner processes. The manager was even able to make a successful argument for an additional team member.

The team had been flipped!

If you made it this far and are still paying attention you can probably see what the moral of this story is (because there is always a moral, right?). Do you want to make a lasting difference with your team? If so, you need to address deep structural concerns, have difficult conversations, and break through old patterns. It takes more effort and it can cost more money (especially if you hire someone like me) but it’s worth it and it’s what you have to do if you want to flip your team.

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Lane Sherman has been intervening with teams for over 12 years. He is the author of “The Keys to Collaboration: How to build a great team or fix the one you’ve got” and has an MA in Leadership. Lane has extensive experience with cross-functional, leadership, and self-directed teams. He is comfortable with high-stakes negotiations and facilitating delicate, challenging conversations when there are competing interests and unclear outcomes. He works across all levels of organizations to help teams and organizations achieve transformational results. To contact lane, email to lane.sherman@shaw.ca or go his website www.lanesherman.com

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