Thursday, June 02, 2011

Celebrating Team Differences

Today, I was reminded of the work that I did in the late 1990's with Lotus Developments. It was called 'Celebrating Team Differences'

When we work in teams, we naturally find differences. Some differences are appreciated, but on many occassions, people can initially tend towards conflict as a result of the differences.

As many of us have to also work in virtual teams, that can be rapidly thrown together overnight, without any opportunity to get to know one another, and even ever meet one another physically, the problem of team differences and team conflict can become magnified.

Yet, if properly understood, team differences can be a great asset and, properly developed, can even cause us to celebrate these differences, and greatly increase our team performance and productivity.

One of the key contributors to difference, and I mean just one, is that we all use our brains differently. Some people are naturally more logical in their approach to work and life, and some people are naturally more creative in their approach to work and life. We tend to label them 'left brainers' and 'right brainers'.It is not that we have different brain hemispheres, as all healthy people have both left and right hemispheres, but it means that we all tend to predominantly use either the left or the right hemisphere more, to different degrees.

Some say this is as a result of:

Our genetics, and since birth,our religious upbringing,our culture and values,our national society,our schooling,our life and work opportunities, the culture of organizations we work for, and so the list goes on.

So we tend to end up in situations and job occupations that are, say, predominantely logical, like for example, accounting, legal profession, or predominantely creative, like for example, designers and creative advertising, musicians, acting and film.

So this means that some people in a new project team may resonate more towards a more logical and planned approach to work, systems and tools, and some people in a team may resonate more towards a more intuitive and spontaneous approach to work, systems and tools.

Left brainers, generally speaking, are far more time conscious and more punctual to attend meetings, say, than right brainers. I over simplify to make a point.

Within this same spectrum, we have people who, as extreme left brainers are excellent as 'finishers' in a team project (dotting the i's and crossing the t's) and extreme right brainers as excellent creators of new radical ideas and innovators in the team. Some of us are naturally more extrovert and enjoy communicating with many others, and some of us are naturally more introvert and enjoy more our own company. And we all fit in somewhere along this spectrum.

So when we form a work team, and when we do not understand these differences, we can easily lead to conflict.

Let me give some examples of team conflict, in ways that we work together:

Some prefer/demand explicit logical and structured ways to work and others hate this and prefer unstructured spontaneous working
Some get upset because others are consistently late or do not keep to their alloted times
Some visit the collaborative team work spaces every hour and get frustrated because others visit once a week.

And so on.

The answer is to start a project team with a mindset that recognises and celebrates these common and natural differences. To then discuss with the team, physically if possible, otherwise virtually, an informal 'team contract' that all the team will buy-in to, that agrees the degree of structured and unstructured approach to the project, and then the best team working tools to support this,

Furthermore, at least, the team contract also includes the agreed minimum time that all members must visit the collaborative team space (say once an hour, day, week, month etc) depending on the nature of the project.

Furthermore, team members are encouraged to create on their profiles, their strengths and weaknesses, and any strong likes and dislikes, concerning their preferred approach to work.

The result, over time, is that team members will not enter into a stage of conflict of differences, but enjoy a celebration of differences.

In team development, we have learned well the four stages of effective team development as'forming, storming, norming and performing'.

Celebrating our differences is just one important way to reduce the 'storming' stage. I suggest that this does not happen enough naturally, so the project team leader needs to facilitate this process at the project start.

More on virtual team effectiveness to follow shortly.

More on effective knowledge working at

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