Take a look at this painting...
Notice the way the painter (van Gogh, of course) uses color to create light and shadow, which helps add contour. He draws with perspective, which creates depth. Brush strokes create the illusion of texture, such as cobblestones on the street, or wood on the frame of the doorway. Figures and shapes create the impression of movement, action, and build a scene which our minds can easily interpret. Now you understand some of the most critical elements in painting, right? So… now you should be able to paint a replica of this masterpiece, or at least be able to create something similar which is just as impressive and iconic.
Can’t do it? Neither can I. We can probably almost universally agree that one cannot simply be shown a great painting, told what techniques, brushes, paints, and colors the artist used in painting it, and then be expected to reproduce it.
There is a fundamental difference between knowing what one needs to do, and actually developing the skills and ability to do it.
Yet we are currently living through exactly this sort of coaching fallacy every day. All around us, thought-leaders, authors, managers, coaches, just about everyone – are deluging the internet with just about everything they can image about the characteristics and behaviors of great teams. For example:
High-performing teams deliver amazing results with high quality.
High-performing teams collaborate together to solve the most difficult problems with ease.
High-performing teams have a common purpose. They work toward shared goals.
High-performing teams manage inter-team conflict and are balanced.
High-performing teams celebrate diversity.
In fact, let me share a little collection of just some of the various attributes, characteristics, and skills found in various articles and publications about “how to build high-performing teams.” Spoiler alert! Like looking at a piece of art, this information doesn’t tell you anything about the things you need to do to start developing your teams toward high-performance. It just shows you a pretty picture of what awesomeness looks like.
So what? We, as individuals, managers, leaders – as a culture – are often far too focused on what things look like – great teams, great cultures, great companies, great innovation – and in trying to explain how incredible, amazing, wonderful, efficient, or effective that greatness is, we fail to consider or share with people the more important knowledge about how they can actually start to improve, themselves.
It’s the difference between showing someone a great painting, instead of helping them develop into a better painter. Or to use a sports metaphor, watching Messi and Ronaldo score goals doesn’t help me to become a better soccer player. To improve, I have to develop my own skills.
I suspect the harsh truth is that most of the enthusiastic authors who blog about and are so excited about high-performing teams have never worked in one, never led one, and never built one. Maybe they’ve seen one or two up close? I don’t want to detract from their exuberance, and I applaud the enthusiasm. Yet I also acknowledge the fact that people need more than pretty pictures to help them improve their own situations.
Fortunately, the skills that high-performing teams and organizations use to normalize greatness are skills that every individual, every team, and every organization can develop, too. Communication, collaboration, situational awareness, problem-solving, agility, leadership – even and especially empathy – are all highly trainable skills which empower the dynamic, human interactions and cooperation upon which great teams are built.
The knowledge and information needed to build effective, powerful teams is out there. It is grounded in decades of experience and scientific research in a multitude of fields across a diverse array of work domains spanning every industry. The teams which employ those skills work in the most demanding environments on (or off) our planet, solve the toughest problems, innovate, collaborate, and perform at incomprehensible levels.
To build great teams you need more than pictures and descriptions. You need a plan to train your teams and based on knowledge, research, and experience. That plan starts with the skills which fuel every kind of team, everywhere. Skills which are transcendent and universal because they leverage one powerful fact:
we are all human.
Chris Alexander is a former F-14 Tomcat RIO & instructor, co-founder of AGLX Consulting, High-Performance Teaming™ coach, Agile coach, Scrum Master, and is passionate about high-performing teams, teamwork, and enabling people to achieve great things.
This post originally published on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/build-great-teams-you-need-plan-picture-chris-alexander