Jan 14

A Vision of What Makes Workplaces and Teams in Them Work

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This article was written by Roger Beaudry on October 8th 2009.

Building effective workplaces, and the teams in them, requires a vision of what an effective workplace and team looks like. Before discussing more advanced thoughts and views on how to restore sick workplaces and build teams, I would like to set out a vision of what makes workplaces and teams effective. This will hopefully make future posts on workplace restoration and team building easier for readers to understand.

What follows is based largely on the fine work of Team Coaching International, and their Team Diagnostic Assessment, which I see as an excellent measurement of whether teams, and for that matter workplaces, are functioning as they should.

MANAGING BOTH THE BUSINESS AND THE PEOPLE SIDE OF PRODUCTIVITY

Workplaces, and the teams in them, exist to produce results. Whatever produces results in a sustainable way is good. Whatever harms sustainable production is bad.

To maximize productivity in a sustainable way, workers (I include managers in the term “workers”) in modern workplaces need to have the means to produce, and they need to have relationships among them that allow them to work together effectively. Consider a team tasked with producing a new software solution. Without proper business resources like computers, a place to work, expertise, leadership etc…, those involved will not have the means to produce. But having the means to produce does not guaranty productivity. If those involved in developing the software have terrible relationships such that they spend more time mired in conflict than they do collaborating and sharing ideas, their effectiveness at producing results will be compromised.

There are two sides to sustaining workplace productivity in a modern economy:

  • Managing the hard cold BUSINESS SIDE of making workplaces productive so that workers have the MEANS to produce; and,
  • Managing the HUMAN OR PEOPLE SIDE of making workplaces productive so that workers jell together in WORKING RELATIONSHIPS that make them more effective as a team.

Over time, a failure to attend to either side of making workplaces work compromises productivity.

 

PRODUCTIVITY STRENGTHS: MANAGING THE BUSINESS SIDE OF MAKING WORKPLACES MORE PRODUCTIVE

The folks at Team Coaching International have come up with great criteria for measuring how well teams have managed the business side of making themselves more productive. In their view, an ideal team that has taken care of maximizing the business side of production has learned to capitalise on the following seven “Productivity Strengths”:

  1. RESOURCES: Those in the workplace request, obtain and manage sufficient resources, expertise and training to achieve their objectives.
  2. ALIGNMENT: Resources have been appropriately marshalled so as to maximize returns. People are assigned roles that capitalise on their strengths. Nobody’s strengths are being squandered and nobody is in a role that does not reflect their abilities. Roles, including leadership roles are properly defined, exercised, assigned and respected.
  3. GOALS AND STRATEGIES: There are clear and challenging objectives and priorities, as well as good strategies for achieving them. There is no ambiguity about where to aim efforts either individually or collectively.
  4. LEADERSHIP: Leaders exercise constructive, appropriate and effective leadership approaches and styles, and address systemic and non-systemic issues that impact productivity and the achievement of goals. By their behaviour and style, the leaders generate respect and buy-in to their actions and decisions, and the goals that have been set. Leaders focus on both the business and the people side of making the workplace productive.
  5. ACCOUNTABILITY: All, including the leaders, are actively held accountable for their actions and results. Nobody is getting a free ride. All believe in holding everybody accountable, are active in supporting accountability, and understand the importance of it. Everybody knows that when accountability suffers, the workplace suffers.
  6. PROACTIVITY: Nobody waits until problems or issues arise before dealing with them. Challenges are anticipated and dealt with as early as possible. All are effective and flexible at addressing and embracing opportunities for positive change, and the advancement of assigned goals.
  7. DECISION MAKING: The workplace enjoys clear, nimble, decisive and effective decision making. Decisions are made in a constructive and respectful way. Leaders base their decisions on objective criteria applied to relevant information. The leaders do not shrink from the responsibility of making decisions. The manner in which decisions are made leads to durable and respected results.

 

POSITIVITY STRENGTHS: MANAGING THE PEOPLE SIDE OF MAKING WORKPLACES MORE PRODUCTIVE

It is dangerous to speak of workplaces or teams running like well oiled machines. Machines are made up of inorganic parts that have no rights and no free will, that behave in easily predictable ways, and that are relatively easily replaced and fixed. Workplaces, and the teams in them, are made up of infinitely more complex, independent, free thinking, and difficult to predict and control human beings which have rights and which usually cannot easily be changed. Trying to manage a workplace, and the teams in them, the way one would manage a machine and its parts is doomed to failure. Maximising productivity in a modern workplace requires an approach that deals with the “people side” of making workplaces more productive.

To work more effectively together, people must be motivated and have good working relationships. From the time we banded together to hunt mastodons, to our efforts at putting together an orbiting space station, we humans have achieved greater and better results, when those engaged in the pursuit were motivated, trusted each other, communicated effectively, and otherwise had well functioning working relationships. This “people side” of making workplaces and the teams in them produce is vital to sustainable efficiency and productivity in a modern economy.

I will have much to say about the “people side” of making workplaces more productive in future posts. For now, I limit myself to talking about what a well functioning workplace looks like so that readers have a clear vision of what workplaces and teams in them should strive to achieve.

Again, I am indebted to the folks at Team Coaching International. In their Team Diagnostic Assessment, they use the following seven “Positivity Strengths” to measure how effective teams are at managing the people side of productivity:

  1. TRUST: Those in the workplace believe that they are and will be treated fairly. They feel they can count on and rely on others in the workplace, including their leaders.
  2. CONSTRUCTIVE INTERACTION: People do not avoid conflict. There is a culture of dealing with conflict rather than forcing it under the table. People embrace and seek out the healthy expression of different views and perspectives in ways that are constructive. Feedback is given in a constructive way. Disputes are resolved quickly, effectively and with durable outcomes.
  3. OPTIMISM: All are forward thinking and enthusiastic about achieving their goals. They are confident in their ability to achieve goals. Cynicism, pessimism, helplessness and dwelling in the past are minimized.
  4. RESPECT: There is genuine regard for all, their points of view and their roles, including leadership roles. All feel their contribution is valued. Nobody feels abused, exploited, manipulated or treated unfairly.
  5. EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: Clear, productive and constructive communications are favoured and practiced over less effective, destructive or wasteful approaches. People listen to each other and they send clear, concise and constructive messages in ways that are able to be heard by their intended recipients. Communications take into consideration the “human element” of dealing with others.
  6. CAMARADERIE: People enjoy being in the workplace and working with their colleagues. Nobody feels intimidated or taken for granted. There is healthy empathy, playfulness and humour within the workplace.
  7. VALUES DIVERSITY: The workplace seeks out, values and capitalizes on all available helpful ideas, perspectives, personalities, approaches and strengths. All, including leaders, are curious, open-minded and truly open to persuasion rather than simply pretending to listen. They collect ideas from those that can contribute and value those ideas. People get to be heard when they should be heard and better trust decisions because legitimate input is valued and taken into consideration.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE OF BUILDING PRODUCTIVITY AND POSITIVITY STRENGTHS IN WORKPLACES AND ON TEAMS

Building something that is successful usually starts with a vision of what one intends to build and how one measures success.

The seven Productivity Strengths and the seven Positivity Strengths provide a good picture of what an ideal workplace and team looks like, and are a good benchmark of what workplaces, and the teams in them, should strive to achieve to be as productive as they can be.

Armed with this vision, I will in future posts explain approaches and techniques for building Productivity and Positivity Strengths in workplaces and on teams.

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