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Five Must-Have Conversations When Launching A Team

Leaders create teams with the highest of hopes, but often fail to set them up for success.  This leads to unnecessary frustration, wasted time and increased cynicism.  I think of the famous “Rental Car Reservation” scene from Seinfeld … “Anyone can create a team.  It’s getting the team to produce results … that’s actually the most important part.”  Picking a team is simple – but launching it well requires creating space for these five must-have conversations: 

  1. Team Identity – who is on this team?
  2. Team Cohesion – how will we behave? 
  3. Team Results – what must we deliver?
  4. Team Roles – who must do what?
  5. Meeting Cadence – what meeting rhythm feels right given our scope and urgency? 

(1) Who is on this team?  (Team Identity) Give the team a name and roster.  No ambiguity.  This creates a sense of identity and shared responsibility and is an important symbolism declaring, “this work matters”.  Don’t include any “I’m just here to observe” participants – being on the team comes with the expectation to engage in decisions and accept work.  Assign a point-person capable of tie breaking when the team must confirm a decision or switch gears.  Look for Ideal Team Players – those who bring natural humility, hunger and people-smarts to the table.  Learn more by taking Ideal Team Player Self-Assessment

(2) How will we behave? (Team Cohesion) Building trust and setting team norms is likely the most overlooked step when launching new teams.  Build vulnerability-based trust to make it safe to be genuine and unguarded, ask for help and admit mistakes.  Talk about how you will debate, decide and hold each other accountable in positive and protective ways.  Start with 30-mins to share personal histories and important context about the function you represent or potentially competing priorities and demands.  Commit to avoiding the Five Dysfunctions of a Teams by embracing their opposite:

  • Trust – making it psychologically safe by being vulnerable; the leader goes first
  • Conflict – having passionate, ideological debate about the best way forward
  • Commit – bringing decisions to closure with clarity; ability to disagree and commit; one voice
  • Accountability – peer-to-peer; positive and protective; for behaviors and results
  • Results – focus on the shared results; interdependency and coordination required for success

(3) What must we deliver?  (Team Results) To have impact, the team needs focus – a single top priority within a given period of time that is shared by all.  Leave no ambiguity about the work itself and agree on what the deliverables will look like.  Identify unresolved topics that will frame up your work.  Answer the question “What’s most important right now?”  Create a rally cry that is focused and unites the team.  Define the specific, tangible components of work which define how the team will achieve the rally cry.

(4) Who must do what?  (Team Roles) Leave no ambiguity about who must do what to achieve the Thematic Goal.  This includes project task roles and informal team roles, a facilitator or a devil’s advocate.  Name how each will balance this work with other responsibilities they carry.  Keep it simple – capture 2-3 bullet points on each point to make it clear what each is expected to do.

(5) When will we meet?  (Meeting Cadence) Given the scope, how important is it to be aware of, coordinated and/or truly collaborating?  Separate the high-stakes “30,000 foot” brainstorming and solution-creating meetings from the “landing the plane” troubleshooting and administrative meetings. Make your meetings decision-making vs. reporting out status, which can largely be done electronically.   Most teams find some version of The Four Meetings from the book Death By Meeting to be helpful. 

In NASCAR, there is a principle of going slow to go fast – setting aside time and space for these five critical moments to build trust and create clarity will ensure greater initial traction and lasting momentum.  Most importantly, it will create the kind of shared experience and connection between members that will create joy that will be contagious.

Dig Deeper: Simple ways to deepen trust:

  1. Personal Histories:  Where did you grow up?  How many siblings?  What was a unique or interesting challenge from your childhood? 
  • Shortcut to Trust:  Share insights from your personality preferences – like strengths you contribute; ways you may irritate others; how others may irritate you; and what you’re working on behaviorally to maximize your effectiveness.
  • Not-so-hidden agendas:  Go around the table and identify the “agenda” or “expectations” you’re carrying by nature of your function or role; be open about these things to avoid coming off as political.
  • Value Added Escalation:  When even sincere efforts to decide fail, due to competing functional priorities, don’t stall out or compromise — instead, use this as a trigger to escalate with options and commitments.  It should sound like this: “We had a great debate, but didn’t agree… and that’s ok.  We identified three options with pros/cons for each.  Help us break the tie, and know that we’re committed to what you decide is the best option.”


Interested in learning more? Schedule a meeting with Keith.

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