Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 5, Lesson 3
Analyzing Your Team’s Process
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
An essential skill in leading teams is the skill of analyzing the team’s process. To be an effective and helpful team leader, it is necessary to analyze whether or not the team is headed in the direction of the team purpose and working on those tasks that will lead to accomplishment of that purpose. What is the team doing? Where is it headed? What should the team be doing? How can the team leader help the team understand both the positive and negative aspects of its process?
The successful team leader will watch carefully what the team is doing rather than only what is being said. This is called the team’s "process" and is the bigger picture. Much less attention is given to the words said or tasks done, what is called the team’s "content". This is a bit of an oversimplification, since process includes content, but content does not include process.
Talk and tasks seem to get the attention of most team leaders. But, smiles, glances, fairness, inclusion, rapport, and a host of other things are also significant parts of a team’s experience. What counts is how all of them together make up the team’s process – what is really happening – the team’s overall functioning.
Let’s apply this to the pastoral staff of a church led by the senior pastor. The agenda items of the meeting would be the "content" of that meeting. How this leadership team went about its discussions and decision-making would be the "process". The senior pastor, our team leader in this situation, would do best to be thinking about how this team of pastors is working together. He should trust that the content can be dealt with by the team, but only if the process is effective.
Let's say that the pastors are dealing with what to do with whether or not the church can afford to bring on another pastor. There is disagreement, as some of the pastors want that money to do to a program they would like to see implemented. The senior pastor will hear all of the comments (content), but he should be more concerned with how the team of pastors is dealing with the issue. Is the team allowing individual pastors to be concerned about their own part of the church without equal concern for the responsibilities of the other pastors? Is the discussion an opportunity for growth in Christian grace? Does the pastoral team have a way to break the deadlock?
You can see that if the senior pastor wants to build his leadership team, he must put his energy into building it - not doing its work. If he gets involved with the content, he will cut off the development of the other pastors learning how to work together as a team, doing things in the Lord's way. But, if he concentrates on helping the pastoral team have a successful and obedient process, the team will become strong and get much more done in the weeks to come.
Thus, content is an important ingredient in a team’s process. Content is what people say and must be analyzed as to whether or not it helps the team toward its purpose. What people say may be smart, funny, wise, or naive, and either hinder or help the team’s process to accomplish the team purpose. For example, joking might be helpful in building a sense of friendship. But, instead, that joking might be angry ridicule or avoidance of dealing with something. It could be robbing the team of valuable time needed to work on its purpose. If that joking ever became offensive, then it might actually become lethal to the purpose of the team.
Another key ingredient of a team’s process is the interaction between members. Is there synergy? Is more happening than merely the sum of the behavior of the individual team members? Are verbalizations and actions interactive and interdependent or merely independent and autonomous? Almost all teams will start with independent and autonomous communication. Only with the team leader’s help will a team develop interdependent and interconnected behavior. An example of autonomous and independent behavior would be a team member saying, “I think the only smart way to handle this situation is such-and-such.” Interdependent and connected behavior would be that same individual stating, “I think we should handle this situation this way. What do the others of you think? Am I right? Am I wrong? Is there something I’m missing?”
The team leader asks himself or herself, “What is happening in the team?” He or she is thinking about what has been said interactively or independently and what each person has done or not done. Even sitting and saying nothing or “just doing the job” (without much interaction with others), what we often call inaction, is analyzed. Then, the team leader asks himself or herself, “What is really going on here?” In this way the team leader is asking about process. Is there a more effective process that will eventually lead to attainment of the team purpose?
To illustrate, let’s envision a certain section of a team meeting where three people are destructively arguing about a work task procedure. The team leader is watching all eight people, not just the three arguing. One person is fidgeting, indicating anxiety about the conflict, and four people are sitting passively, two of them not even looking at those who are speaking, indicating that they would rather not deal with what is going on, either because it is intimidating or disgusting to them.
The correct analysis will be that the team is not working as a team, and that everyone has shifted into individual, autonomous behavior, either for self-protection or for victory in the argument. In other words, the team process is avoidance of its responsibility to bring the argument into line with the team purpose. The team is avoiding dealing with what is going on. In this case all of the individual members are also avoiding dealing with what is going on, which is that the team purpose is being ignored and the team’s cohesion is being threatened.
But, one of the team members might comment, “We cannot let this argument lead to hard feelings.” If the team does not take up this clarion call and do something, then the team is definitely working at avoiding what must be done. Those arguing are avoiding the fact that they are part of a team with other members who can shed light on their argument. And the silent ones have forgotten that they are critical members of a team that has to work for unity in order to avoid problems, especially team dissolution and lowered morale.
After analysis that the team’s process is not working, the appropriate team leader behavior is to give work to the team, to warn the team of the possible consequences of its avoidance.
Let’s take this example in the opposite direction. Suppose that there are no passive people and that the other five people are active in helping those arguing to see one another’s points of view, to develop tolerance for different viewpoints and positions, and to keep comments cooperative in nature. Now, the team leader would see a positive team process. The team would be working hard to keep the discussion constructive.
The team leader must constantly be analyzing the team’s process. This is a very active task. When one person is talking, everyone must be observed. There is a lot to consider, not just the mere words that are being said. What do the words really mean? Do people mean what they are saying? What does their body language say? What is the whole team working on? Is everyone listening? Is everyone thinking? Is the team in control of its own process? Is it getting the job done? Is there resistance to the team’s advice by the two or three who are arguing? Are they saying the same thing over and over again? Does the team need to change its approach? Will the team eventually come to understand that it needs to change its approach? Or does the team leader need to ask the team if it thinks it is getting someplace or needs to do something different because the team is stuck? Will they understand then that they need to change their approach or, will the team leader have to just come out and state that the approach needs to be changed? Add to these a host of other such questions.
As you can see, usually much observation is required before verbal contributions are made by the team leader.
Analyzing the Team’s Attention to its Own Tasks and Responsibilities
The successful team leader will need to be very familiar with the tasks a successful team must do. (These were covered in Course 2.) Knowing the critical tasks successful teams do will save a lot of time and trouble for the team. From time to time the team leader will see that to continue on toward its purpose and goals, the team should focus on a particular critical task.
Themes of “Work”
While analyzing what it is that the team is working on, the discerning team leader will identify work themes – those recurring issues that come up over and over again. A team, for example, over the course of a year might occasionally work on such themes as becoming less influenced by the team leader, becoming more creative in solving group problems, creating a safe environment in the team with less member distrust, learning how to confront constructively, biblical agreement on church policies, ending meetings on time, confusion about this or that, etc.
The team leader can devote a page in his or her notebook for each of these issues, keeping dated entries describing the team’s content and process.
I remember a therapy group of disturbed sixth graders I worked with many years ago. No one’s attention span was longer than twenty seconds. Unless someone else came in within twenty seconds with a new thought connected to what they were presently concerned about, the work theme changed. With the focus of what they were talking about constantly changing, I had to wait until the group would return back to a theme before I could help them with that issue again.
Adults, on the other hand, don’t return to a discarded or avoided theme so quickly. It might be weeks before it comes up again. And the team might avoid the issue indefinitely. Once in a while, this is disastrous to the team. Then the leader should point out that the team once worked on such-and-such an issue and hasn’t ever returned to finish its work.
Next, we will look at helping the team establish a significant purpose.
Copyright 2012 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA