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Look Out the Window: The Secrets of High Performing Teams

by Deborah Rinner, Vice President, Tero International


What are the secrets of high performing teams?

Instead of studying humans, it might be wiser to look out the window and study nature. Did you ever wonder when watching a flock of birds how they managed to stay in formation to achieve their goal? Has the thought of how bees know and replicate the process of extracting nectar, the roles they must play in the hive and the timing of what they do to create honey ever perplexed you?

Ken Thompson who wrote "High Performing Teams Based on Natures Designs" has come up with the "Seven Secrets of A High Performing Team." Thompson is an organizational bio team practitioner. He studies the natural world and relates the implications and learnings to organizational structure. Thompson believes teams have a life of their own. Command and control in nature isn't what works. Knowing what the team needs to live does.

So what does a human team need to live, to achieve and to accomplish goals? Let's look at Thompson's first three "secrets."

Secret Number One

Clear Rules of Engagement. Thompson identified the first thing functioning teams need to discern is what engagement will look like. He states there are three questions that have to be discussed prior to a team functioning to ensure engagement.

The first question is, "What are our ground rules?" Establishing them early and with everyone is essential.

The second is, "What will break trust?" There are two types of trust breaking team members need to identify upfront. He calls them the red and the yellow cards. What would someone do that might destroy trust completely? That is a red card. The yellow cards are what someone might do that will damage trust rather than destroy it. A yellow card example given is of the free loader - the team member that doesn't fully commit to what is needed unless it seems like that would be in their interest. Talking about potential red and yellow cards alleviates misunderstanding and conflict.

The third question with regard to rules of engagement is, "How are we going to share information?" Some information can be public, some will remain private. The ability to recognize the difference, to keep communication channels free from pollution and honoring what's kept inside and what goes outside is crucial to avoid conflict, with regard to trust and to ensure everyone stays engaged.

Secret Number Two

What can we count on each other for? Thompson asserts that goals and rules obviously frame the answer to this question, but so does karma. What you put in determines what you get out. If a team member doesn't put much in, in relation to goals and/or following the rules, they cannot expect to get much in return. He calls the need of someone who has the false expectation of getting something, or counting on someone when they haven't put anything in or have been able to be counted on as "expectation alignment." A high performing team member will have alignment between what they contribute and what they receive.

Secret Number Three

Shared Values. Look at a flock of birds and you will visually recognize what shared values look like. Thompson identifies three bird traits that portray how shared values look.

Arguably, birds do this with limited intellect, hence the term bird brain. It must then be possible for humans on a team.

Although these three points are titled secrets, when we look at nature as well as the teams we have been assigned to in the past it is easy to see they are more of a truism than secret. They ask something of us, and yet if attended to give us something of great value in return. The experience of synergy, the accomplishment of goals, and the ability to recreate success with each and every team we work with.


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