Successful Leaders Encourage Teamwork to Be About Winning

The popularity of the saying “win/win” speaks volumes – we all like to win. So let’s define what “winning” means. And then let’s turn that definition into a tool you can deploy as a brief agenda item for each team meeting or retrospective.

You can deploy this tool immediately in your next team meeting. And it can pay huge dividends in terms of team dynamics. Let me explain.

Predicting Excellent Team Dynamics

I recently wrote about powerful benefits of iteration retrospectives in developing excellent team dynamics in The Benefits of Retrospective Meetings at the End of Every Project Iteration. Picking up on that theme, let’s explore one specific way you can use the retrospective — or any regular team meeting — to boost three critical team dynamics:

  • trust,
  • respect for individuals, and
  • goodwill and cooperation.

These three factors — trust, respect for individuals, and goodwill and cooperation — were demonstrated by research to be the greatest discriminators of high- from low-performing teams. That means these three factors generally exist in high performing teams. And it means they generally do not exist in low performing teams.

Here’s the problem: These factors prove difficult to develop or repair by addressing them directly. That’s why improving teamwork and collaboration can prove so challenging.

And here’s an answer: Research also shows that you can indirectly improve trust, respect for individuals, and goodwill and cooperation through five collaborative communication practices:

  • creative dialog,
  • brainstorming,
  • conflict resolution,
  • information sharing, and
  • team learning.

And that’s the job of a collaborative leader whether a manager, scrum master, or a peer team member.

As I wrote last time, the retrospective is designed to enhance team dynamics because it employs the communication practices listed above. Let’s look at this notion of “wins” to see how you can use it to enhance team dynamics in your project.

Define a win as an intention that has been met

Consider this: A “win” is anything you intended to happen that did indeed happen and anything anyone intended to not happen that did not happen. Want a simple test? Think about when you exclaim “Yes!” — or high five, fist pump, or fist bump — when you get the outcome you were going for. That’s celebrating an intention met. That’s what I call a “win.”

Humans are intentional beings — we have desires, goals, and, well, intentions. We really like our intentions to be met, though they aren’t always, but that’s what makes winning so delicious.

Here are some examples of met intentions I’ve recently heard team members claim:

  • We shipped all the planned features
  • I slept at least eight hours every night throughout the iteration
  • We didn’t have any management emergencies
  • I learned how to code faster and better by pairing with Sally

These examples are obviously related to an agile project team and reflect the types of wins people might report if they were in the habit of claiming their wins and sharing them. When humans are winning (i.e., when our intentions are being met), we feel energized, fulfilled, and powerful. And here’s the performance key: when this is happening we feel like stretching and exercising our power of intention for more and larger accomplishments and wins.

Try this: think of a recent win of any size (“I meant to start the day with taking care of paperwork — and I did!”) and acknowledge it to yourself.

Congratulations! Now think of another.

Congratulations! Do you sense a power within you that you might not have noticed or forgotten existed? Does it feel good? Want to exercise it some more?

Reserve two to three minutes at the beginning of team meetings and retrospectives to claim and share wins

Try this at your next meeting.

  1. Define a win as an intention that is met. Then give an example of one of your own wins from the last week or two. Also explain that a win can be large or small — and that every win is defined only by the person experiencing it. A win can also be a shared intention, so some wins might start with “we” as opposed to “I.”
  2. Invite the team to claim wins from the recent iteration. Acknowledge each win. Say something like “congratulations!”
  3. Don’t allow anyone to turn a claimed win into a joke or a discussion, just acknowledge the win and call for more.

When a team reports wins at the beginning of meetings, people start exercising their mental filters for wins. Your team and members will experience winning and will become accustomed to it. They’ll feel like winners and learn that there are lots of ways to win. They look forward to claiming wins.

Most of us in industry are in the terrible habit of deferring wins. And many of us as managers and leaders filter for issues, problems, and “what have you done for me lately?” instead of “how are you — and we — winning?” No wonder so many workplaces are full of unhappy people who feel like they are continually losing so the company can win (i.e., “We’re going to wait until January and celebrate all of the year’s wins then”).

Try it

Claiming wins might feel weird at first and your results might be rough the first couple of times, but stick with it and you’ll see amazing dynamics develop. You’ll also be doing your teammates and projects a big favor since acknowledging wins translates into engaged, motivated workers.

Christopher Avery, PhD, supports enlightened leaders worldwide to master agile and responsible teamwork, leadership, and change. Members of the Leadership Gift Program for Leaders claim wins ever time they meet.

Posted in Agile, Collaboration, Leadership, Teamwork on 11/22/2010 10:27 am
double line