SuddenTeams™ Program>
Preparation

Contents


Schedule the Training Sessions

Session Frequency

The SuddenTeams Program was originally designed as the team-development equivalent of an “intensive language” course, the kind where you do nothing but learn Spanish, for example, for two weeks. The idea was to “kick-start” a team toward high performance by quickly laying down the foundation for effective teamwork. The amount of time the training takes varies between teams depending on the people and issues involved. Generally speaking, as you create your schedule, allow a minimum of 30 hours of meeting time.

Most teams will likely prefer to take a retreat or do a few half-day meetings to get through the bulk of the work quickly, then finish up using an hour or two a week in regular meetings. If it takes a permanent team six months, that is fine. The only ideal schedule is the one that gets the work done. You must have the discipline to set time aside for “fire prevention” if you are going to reduce the need for “firefighting” of daily problems. Otherwise the firefighting will take over and you will be right back where you were.

If you wish, you can use the original schedule, which takes up a third of the team’s working hours over three weeks while still getting regular work done:

  • Week One—Three six-hour days of training the team from 8:30-11:30 and 1-4 Tuesday through Thursday. Note that this is equal in hours to a couple of long days on a retreat.
  • Week Two—Two six-hour days of letting the team practice what it has learned by charting its work processes (see “Work Procedures”). This break in the training also allows the team to try out its new rules and team procedures for a week.
  • Week Three—Two more six-hour days for:
    • Completion of any training not finished during Week One,
    • Completion of the work processes, and/or
    • Starting work on the team improvement plan which results from the training.
  • After the Training—If possible, an after-hours social event to help members get to know each other better on a personal basis.

Start Date

If possible, set the training to start when:

  • The team is not facing any major deadlines within a month that would distract too much from the teaming work.
  • Members have few, and preferably no, preplanned absences.
  • The manager, if supporting the program, will have had time to read the “Manager Guide” page.

It would help set the proper tone for the teaming effort if you sent this list to the people involved and asked for their input as to the best date and schedule.

Location

Obviously, you will need a place to do this training, preferably on-site. An off-site room is okay, especially for an initial retreat, but there is value to having the team learn how to focus on teamwork within the daily work environment. The room will need:

  • Comfortable seats and work surfaces for all team members plus the trainer.
  • White boards and/or flip charts—both if possible.
  • To be available for uninterrupted use during the scheduled hours.

Virtual Team Schedule

We think of virtual teams as those with members seated around the globe. However, in defining a team’s “virtuality” researchers emphasize the amount of communication taking place by telephone and computer instead of face to face. Even teams working in the same room may be a little virtual because they share information such as labor hours and schedules through a Web site. Of course, at the other extreme, many teams are completely virtual.

The consensus of virtual-team researchers is that occasional face-to-face meetings, especially when the team or project is getting started, pay for themselves through improved team performance. I strongly recommend you gather any team that will last at least six months physically together to do as much of this program as possible. A three-day event is long enough to do the “Week One” work described above. For functional or long-term project teams, a one-week event would let you do most of the remaining work as well. After that, your team will perform best if it meets physically at least every six months after that.[1]

If you are not allowed to gather the team, use a series of video or Web conferences with cameras to perform the program. Also be sure the team uses state-of-the-art team communication tools for its daily work (see “Select Virtual Tools”).

Request Team Member Agreements

In a team meeting, ask team members to agree that:

  • Meetings are mandatory—In other words, other meetings should be scheduled around the training sessions, including customer meetings.
  • Electronics will be turned off during the meetings, including laptops (except the note taker’s). True teamwork requires the full attention of every member.
  • They will read the “Team Readings” section.

Below is your first action box, as described earlier under “Follow the Boxes.” After an initial read-through of the site, the trainer should complete the steps in this box before going to the next section.

Action

  1. Gather input from the team manager (if involved) and the team members on what schedule they would prefer, and their recommended dates.
  2. If an initial retreat is preferred:
    1. Find out what resources are available (money, space, an external facilitator, etc.).
    2. Request those resources if a retreat is feasible, or inform the team if it is not.
  3. Make the arrangements.
  4. Announce them to the team manager if involved, team, and any affected stakeholders, reminding members about the four agreements above.

Consider a Pre-Test

If you want proof when finished that this training was worthwhile, an easy method is to use the Teamwork Status Questionnaire in the “Forms and Samples” section at the back of the site. This will also help you decide which areas to focus on in the training if time becomes a factor. Thirty days after the training is completed, run the process again and compare the pre- and post-training numbers to gauge progress. Then use the form annually to check how the team is doing and identify potential problems (as discussed on the “Manager Guide” page).

Action (Optional)

  1. Make a copy of the “Teamwork Status Questionnaire” for each team member (not including the Scoring Key and table).
    Note: This is allowed under the copyright notice at the front of the site.
  2. Distribute the copies with a short deadline for returning them, warning the members to read the instructions carefully (the rating scales switch the positive and negative ends on some questions).
  3. Follow up with those who do not make the deadline until all members have returned the form.
  4. Score the forms using the Scoring Key and table.
    Warning: Read the scoring instructions carefully. Per Step 2 above, if you do not “reverse” some scores, your results will be wrong.
  5. Distribute the results to the team, and the manager if he or she is supporting the training.

Gather Information

A primary cause of conflict or indecision within teams is a lack of information. Sometimes members let themselves argue over issues when a little research would turn up answers. Other times members try to make final decisions before critical information exists (instead of simply keeping their options open). Reduce the odds of these problems arising during the training by gathering relevant information before you start.

Action

  • Gather all of the following that is available:
  • Mission, value, and goal statements of your company or organization and the unit(s) of which the team is a part.
  • Employee handbook and/or company policy manual.
  • Process diagrams for the team’s work.
  • Results of any employee and customer satisfaction surveys, as specific to the team as possible.
  • Any objective data about the team’s performance.
    Examples include:

    • Work performance data (see “Example performance standards” under “Make it Measurable“).
    • Past performance against project quality, cost, and schedule plans.
    • Turnover (how often someone leaves the team each year, for any reason).
    • Sick days taken each year.
  • Externally imposed standards, if any, related to the team’s work: ISO 9000, customer quality standards, government and/or contract requirements, etc.
  • The “Administrative Tasks Checklist” completed by the team manager (see “Turn Over Administration”).

Select Virtual Tools

Harvard Business Review[2] has said a good tool for managing virtual team communications will include:

  • Threaded discussions that can be facilitated and summarized.
  • Prominent display and tracking of the team’s mission, goals, and tasks.
  • Team member profiles including not only contact information but pictures, “accomplishments, areas of expertise, and interests.”
  • Information on stakeholders.
  • Meeting agendas, background information, and minutes.

Obviously, team members are more likely to add and find needed information in a system that is easy to use. Also, research into virtual communications shows the importance of “rich” media, meaning those that transmit as many nonverbal cues of someone’s emotions as possible. A voice conversation using computers with Web cams beats a phone call for limiting conflict and ensuring information is transmitted correctly. In turn, a phone call beats e-mail.

The further down the following list your team will go in using electronic communications, the more return on investment you will get by purchasing a good system per the Action Box on the next page:

  • Time entry.
  • Data or document sharing.
  • Individual training.
  • Task or project management.
  • Group training.
  • Group decision-making.

But the best system is worthless if people do not use it. Take steps to ensure everyone is an expert in its use, rather than leaving this to self-training. After that, encourage team members to use the system. For example, if they e-mail you for information available on the system, send instructions for finding it there instead.

Action

  1. With the team’s help if possible, list each team function from the bullet list above that might take place virtually.
  2. If your company does not already have a good tool or combination of tools for those functions:
    1. Find three possible tools or combinations.
    2. Produce a table that ranks each solution by each function, and shows each solution’s overall rank and annual cost.
    3. Decide (again, preferably as a team) which solution to pursue.
  3. If the team or leader does not have the authority to purchase the solution:
    1. Use the data to request funding.
    2. If turned down, set up the best solution you can using existing resources.
  4. If the solution provider does not include affordable training, create an action item for someone to master the tools and train the other team members.

The Why and How of SuddenTeams | Team Readings


[1] Harold Geenan, widely credited for transforming ITT Corporation, gathered his global leadership teams monthly (Geenan 1984).

[2] Majchrzak, et al. 2004.