A practical exercise to build a collective vision for your team

Building a high performing, cohesive team is one of your most imperative responsibilities as a leader.

Sounds obvious huh? But too often, it’s something we leave to chance, instead of being purposeful and committed to proactively creating one. Building a high performing and cohesive team requires intentional practice – and perhaps more importantly, persistence. A bit like that old advert for Pantene when Rachel Hunter flicks her hair and promises us, “it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen!” building a high performing team takes time. I would also add in this case, “…and only if you’re purposeful and committed to it!”

So what makes a high performing and cohesive team? A successful team maximises the talents of its individual members, but the true power of teamwork comes from the group’s cohesion and combined energies focused on a common goal.

Your first priority is to build trust within your team – and with you.  If you don’t have trust within your team, you’re in for a very bumpy ride.  See here and here for some tips on how to do that. It also means collectively getting clear on what success looks like if you’re a high performing team. ‘True north’, as it were.

But where to start? Below is a simple, practical exercise (which is featured in my blended leadership programme for emerging leaders, The Leader’s Map), which gets you started on that road to creating a high performing team. It helps you and your team collectively build a picture of success. And it helps you answer important questions like:

  • What specifically does it look like if we are a high performing team? (Remember this will be different for different teams).
  • What will we be seeing and feeling if we achieve this picture of success?
  • How will we know we have achieved this picture of success? How will we measure our progress towards this picture? What will our key stakeholders be saying about us?
  • What might be the potential roadblocks facing us as a team when it comes to achieving this picture of success? And what are some ideas for overcoming these roadblocks?
  • What will be the first, actionable steps we’ll take to move towards this picture of success? (Here you might think about things like meetings, operating rhythms, agreed behaviours, decision making approaches etc.)

In my experience of facilitating, a positive byproduct of these sorts of sessions is that they help to build trust. They also help a team to answer the questions, “what is our purpose and why are we even here? What do we want?” Pretty important questions IMHO.

Here’s how to run this session with your team.

  1. Set aside 2 hours with your team. Off-site and private is ideal in terms of location, but an uninterrupted 2 hours, where people have their phones switched off and are fully present is the most important thing. Ensure you have giant flipcharts, coloured markers, post-its and pens at the ready.
  2. Let your team members know in advance the purpose of the session (see above) and what’s in it for them.
  3. Give them some pre-work. Ask them, as part of their pre-work, to think and jot down their answers to the bullet pointed questions above. Let them know that there are no right or wrong answers – any idea is a good idea at this stage. However, do encourage them to be as specific as possible. For example, “we have high trust” is a start but it’s too broad. “We openly share our challenges and ask each other for help when we need it” is a signpost of trust that is more specific. Tell them you will be working with their pre-work ideas in the session. Pre work which focuses them to think about what you’ll cover in the session gives people some hints on what to expect. It’s especially useful for introverts, who like to think about their answers rather than contributing on the fly, and it does well to encourage individual ideas and contribution.
  4. Start your session by reiterating the purpose (as above) and asking what each person wants to get out of the session in a structured round.  Note these down on a flipchart. Then, collectively set up the ground rules for the session.
  5. Next, in small groups (3-4 people each), get each group to discuss, share and write on their respective flip charts the answers to the following questions: (give them approximately 30 minutes to do this)
    • Success looks like….What specifically does it look like if we are a high performing team? What will we be seeing and feeling if we achieve this picture of success? What will our key stakeholders be saying about us?
    • How will we know…? How will we know we have achieved this picture of success? How will we measure our progress towards this picture?
    • Potential roadblocks to success… What might be the potential roadblocks facing us as a team when it comes to achieving this picture of success?
    • How we will achieve this (specific actions): What will be the first, actionable steps we will take to move towards this picture of success? Think meetings, operating rhythms, agreed behaviours, decision making approaches
  6. Next, after 30 minutes of discussion and idea generation, get each group to report their top three ideas from each section back to the full team. Capture these on a separate flip chart. Discuss the common themes and differences among the team.
  7. As a team, decide on the clear answers to each bullet point above. Use voting or discussion to do this.
  8. Agree ‘who is going to do what next?’ as a result of your insights. In other words, relook at the fourth bullet – the next steps and specific actions, and assign responsibilities and timeframes as a result of the session. Assign tasks of recording, follow up and make sure you’re all on the same page about what decisions have been made.
  9. Book another review session for 2 months’ time to assess your progress. Remember, this is just the start!

Important hint for you as leader: Aim to act primarily as facilitator, so go last with your ideas – and don’t dominate the conversation. Ask powerful coaching questions to help people think and draw out their ideas. The purpose of this exercise is to harness the ideas of the team and get them excited and onboard towards the ideal state.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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