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Tom Devane is a consultant, author, and co-author of provocative bestselling books on achieving extraordinary results using methods that systematically engage people in organizations and communities.
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    Three tips for starting a team



    Getting off to a good start is critical for teams in today’s environment.  With most organizations pared down to lean, essential staff, it’s important not to waste time, and get the team’s work done as quickly as possible.

    What types of teams will benefit from these tips

    In the work environment teams come in all shapes and sizes.  There are one-time teams that come together to solve a problem.  For example, in a Lean Six Sigma improvement effort a team may come together to figure out why customer satisfaction scores have dropped precipitously over the past three months.  There are special purpose teams that may convene, and then reconvene later with most of the same people, such as a team that develops new products for a hi-tech manufacturer.

    And, in addition to teams that convene and then break up when their work is done, there are “standing teams,” consisting of same people every day, simply because they are organized this way.  A manufacturing team that runs a machine that makes tablets at a pharmaceutical company  is one example of this.  Another is a customer service team a bank that’s comprised of a person who addresses retail banking needs, wealth management, and loans for a particular set of customers.

    One thing these teams all have in common is the need to get off to a good start.  Here are three quick tips for the start-up phase of a new team.

    Three team kick-off tips

    1. Make sure the team has a charter.  This provides them with a specific direction, and also grants them powers on what they can, and cannot do.  The charter should also cover why the team was formed, why it was formed at this particular time, and how the team’s work fits in with the larger strategy of the organization. If such a charter for the team wasn’t produced by upper management, the team that has been convened should ask upper management to develop one.  If upper management says they don’t have time, or for some other reason doesn’t want to, the team should produce a draft charter and present it to management for approval or for modifications.  It’s important to have this document in place to set direction, set the tone, and provide a strategic context within which the team will be working.
    2. In the first meeting have each team member say what they’d like to see accomplished for the team, AND what they would personally like to get out of this team’s existence.  Maybe it’s more knowledge in a particular area that other team members can help with.  Maybe it’s the opportunity to do part of a presentation in front of executives.  Have a conversation about each person’s team and individual goals in an early team meeting.  This helps connect people, and adds a human dimension to each person that will be helpful as the team forms and starts to do great work.  It also helps to get introverts talking in team meetings, because they specifically have something to say (everyone in the team needs to speak).  It’s good to get them used to doing this, since their input as a team member – who possesses their particular expertise and perspective -- will be important later.
    3. Have teams members collectively set goals for the team.  There may be one or two big goals stated in the team’s charter, but it’s important that teams set intermediate goals for the project they’re working on.  This helps them get a better handle on what they’re working on, and gets them used to talking issues through in their team setting.  It also provides them with an immediate important topic that’s not controversial and likely to stir up conflict early on.  Conflict-producing conversations are best delayed, when possible, until the team has had a chance to deliver some intermediate deliverables, and had a chance for team members to bond into a cohesive, product-producing group.

    Taking care of these three items can avoid many problems that team’s encounter in their first few months of existence.


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