Leadership Principle #5 – Train Your Team (Part 2)

Last week we looked at the foundational role that interdependence plays in building a team.  But interdependence is only the first step in building a team.  Each element of the team needs to understand that it shares responsibility for the success of the other parts of the team.  “If one of us fails, we all fail” needs to be understood, not as an aspirational slogan, but as a sober statement of reality.

I once played a small role in the creation of a new organization.  One part of the organization was a “head office” type of entity, focused on being able to plan and coordinate the activities of complex organizations in remote parts of the world.  The other organization, which I was part of, had the role of providing logistics, communications, IT, transport and protection to the “head office”, anytime, anywhere.  In the course of a meeting a planner from the “head office” laid out the timeline for the work the “head office” had to complete before it would be mission-ready.  I noted that the timeline did not make provision for the work that my organization had to do.  Curious, I raised the issue and was told that, from their perspective, that “just happened” and did not need to be factored into their planning.  (Fortunately, one of my more experienced colleagues jumped in at that point.)

As a leader, one of your key responsibilities is to help to build that deep understanding within your team as to how they can best support each other. These conversations will not be easy, especially if your team is new or has experienced a lot of change.  The initial conversations will likely have an underlying theme of “change is fine as long as I don’t have to do it”.  Moving past that point to a sense of shared responsibility for change is a tough job.  There are many ways of doing this, but perhaps my favourite is the Rock Drill.

A Rock Drill requires nothing but you and your immediate team.  You, as the leader, pose a scenario (a Rock): a typical problem that your team has to solve or a task that you must complete.  The Rock is then passed from one team member to another, in the order that it would typically be done (e.g. Customer Service to Technical Support to Operations to Customer Support).  As each member passes the Rock, they spell out who the Rock is being passed to, what information is being passed with it and what expectations they hold about what the receiver is going to do.  This can be a very enlightening and sometimes amusing exercise.  I recall one instance in which the receiver of the Rock noted that they weren’t getting some information that they needed.  The sender looked blank and said “we don’t include that information because nobody needs it”.  The receiver looked irritated…and then they both laughed heartily.

How do you build that level of understanding within your team?  What has worked well?  What seemed like a good idea at the time?  Let’s talk about it!