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Taking the Helm: Individual behavior is crucial to team dynamic

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Taking the Helm: by Paul Ferdais

Teamwork is often front and center in the minds of leaders, because an organization succeeds or fails based on how well the team works together. When leaders consider their teams, they shouldn’t forget how important each individual’s contribution is to their overall success. If a team is failing, examining each person’s behavior can help determine how best to improve.

The behavior I’m referring to is not about work-related things, such as how to do a particular job. If a leader needs team members to perform a task differently, that can be done by laying out a new standard operating procedure or having a one-on-one feedback session.

The focus here is on team members who don’t want to do the new procedure or don’t effectively interact with others.

To bring change to a team, leaders need to focus on what they can do to help others want to change their behavior. A leader can’t simply tell someone to behave differently. No one will change their behavior just because they’re told to. For example, if someone tells a smoker to stop smoking, will they do it? Do they quit based solely on the suggestion? Probably not. If they aren’t ready to quit smoking, nothing anyone says will influence their behavior.

The same thing happens when we’re told to be a better listener, not to be a jerk, don’t be a know-it-all, don’t be smug, play nice with others, change our tone of voice when speaking, talking too much, etc. Unless we want to change, we won’t change.

So what can a leader do to help build an outstanding team that takes under consideration each individual’s behavior? Fortunately, Marshall Goldsmith, one of the top executive leadership coaches in the world, has focused his career on answering this question. He’s created a framework to help transform teams through a series of short meetings to discuss ways to improve as a unit.

Here is how leaders on a yacht can use Goldsmith’s framework to make sure all team members are on the same page.

Bring the team together for a meeting in a location where there won’t be distractions. Hand out three pieces of paper to each person and ask them to write the answers to the following questions. To promote honest feedback, the answers should be anonymous.

After each question, collect the papers, review the individual scores, and then tabulate the average score for questions one and two.

Keep in mind that this framework is for team development. It’s not about the leader and their leadership skills. (If that is the main obstacle to the team’s success then the leader needs to take it upon themselves to do what they can to improve their own behavior.)

Question 1: On a scale of one to 10, with 1 being the lowest, how are we doing working together as a team?

If everyone says 10 and at the same time the team performs poorly, then either team members are not giving honest feedback or they do not see themselves clearly.

Question 2: On a scale of 1 to 10, how well do we need to be doing?

Questions one and two help clarify where the team is currently and where it wants to be.

Question 3: What is one thing we need to do as a group to go from where we are now to where we need to be?

Read each response for the final question out loud. The leader must guide the team to come to an agreement on just one thing they can do to improve as a team. Perhaps the decision is that everyone needs to work on being better listeners. Or perhaps more effective time management, or less horsing around, or less arguing, or whatever.

Now it’s time to implement the change. For the next 30 days, all team members are to hold each other accountable for this new behavior. If listening is the skill decided on by the group and someone demonstrates poor listening, other team members are to gently point out the poor listening. The team holds itself accountable.

Thirty days later, have another meeting. Ask everyone how they think the team has improved at the selected skill and as a team as a whole.

Using this kind of framework helps teams develop by holding everyone accountable for changing their behavior.

A former first officer, Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group (www.marineleadershipgroup.com). Comments are welcome below.

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