Creating Team Velocity

The crucial question of the future is

How fast can your team(s) react to changes in the market, implementing/testing new strategies & tactics

Present Challenge:

Most traditional teams have a slow Team Velocity based on traditional paradigms attached to change:

  • Comfort zone = fear of the unknown
  • Risk averse = if it fails my career is on the line
  • Internal politics 1 = who will own the project/glory
  • Internal politics 2 = lack of understanding/flexibility among departments
  • Company Culture = the age old unwritten rules of do's and don'ts within a company

Blasting Through Old Paradigms & Creating Team Velocity
The first step in speeding up your company is crucial.

Disrupt your own Corporate Culture

From Employees to Co-Creators

Every attic needs a good spring cleaning, so does your corporate culture: go back and carefully examine all the unwritten assumptions/rules that dictate your company's current working climate.

Working with a top 5 oil company we were faced with a big cultural challenge that was shattering Team Velocity. The main pillars of this specific Culture seemed laudable indeed at first glance:

  • Mutual respect
  • Mutual agreement
  • Consensus in solution finding
  • No confrontation

Wielded in the correct proportion these core communication elements achieve excellent results. Left to faster and grow without mature/conscious control these agreements can take on truly monstrous proportions and be wielded as weapons to shut down unwelcome news and ideas.

The unchecked use of these agreements allowed them to be abused as a red card, censoring outspoken team members into silence: if you disagreed with something you would hardly be able to speak your truth for fear as being seen as confrontational, aggressive, negative, etc...

The Result -> Lockdown!
The Solution -> From Lockdown to Team Velocity Through Better Vocabulary!

The true measure of openness and Team Velocity in any team can be measured by the vocabulary the team uses when communicating.

Does your team communicate in conditionals/vague terms or in specific/measurable terms?

Low Team Velocity is brought about by the political need to be cautious so as to not upset individuals or break unspoken rules that will bring group censorship with them. If you hear sentences riddled with:

  • Try - In a way I am not sure if I agree
  • We should
  • Basically
  • Maybe

You are listening to the 'safe' language of diplomacy and hedging your position. This is the language that turns clear thoughts and calls to action into gray mush, no clear cut concerted action can emanate. The team will be mired in lack of clarity, lack of ownership and lack of measurable/attributable results.

High Team Velocity starts with the following rules:

  • You have been chosen as part of this team based on your intelligence and ability to solve problems/create disruptive new opportunities
  • We understand the future is unknown to all of us
  • We only have one choice: to ideate the best strategies/actions possible to move into this future
  • Failure is a tangible and real possibility
  • We accept failure as a learning process
  • Being 'risk-averse' by not speaking and contributing is the riskiest position to be in, you WERE CHOSEN to be on this team in order to contribute and co-create new thoughts that we need to field test
  • Hand-in-hand with this reality we now need to speak in measurable/attributable words like
  1. I will
  2. I will not
  3. I can
  4. I cannot
  5. We will test the option by day X
  6. I do not agree with this idea (you don't disagree with a person, you disagree with an idea)
  7. I am still not clear about X
  8. I don't know the answer to this and will come back to you by X

You may notice the large amount of clear �no� and �don�t� statements. Far from being negative these statements create crystal clarity on the areas/topics that are unclear and lead to rapid clarification. Removal of doubt creates clarity and ability to act.

The first act of freedom is the freedom to disagree.

How To Disagree And Create Big Wins For All

The basic assumption in many corporations is that disagreement will lead to fights and disharmony.

The fact is that unthinking/automatic disagreement-avoidance is a one-way ticket to a mediocre result. It is the very essence of a leader to constantly monitor the reality of things and speak present time truth to keep the team on track, and not to pander to short sighted 'political needs'.

The key to disagreeing constructively is:

You disagree with an idea, NOT with an individual

To achieve this the culture of your team must clearly state that:

  • All ideas are welcome
  • We can all make mistakes
  • The very process of creating something new is fraught with the risk of mistakes as we are venturing into the unknown

The language to be used is critical:

Your intention is to direct the focus on analyzing the content of a specific idea/option you don�t support/understand.

Remove all personal references such as

  • I disagree with YOUR idea
  • Let ME tell YOU
  • This does not seem quite workable, am I right?

It is never about YOU or HIM/HER
No one is right or wrong
The TRUTH IS THE TRUTH and no one owns it!

Focus on creating neutral ground that allows all to look at the Objective Truth. This is best done by focusing on the topic itself:

  1. Acknowledge that there is an idea to be worked with (after all: creating this idea has cost another individual time and effort)
  2. Now proceed to disagree in the form of binary questions that allow all listeners to follow your thought process

Case Study:

Brochure by a major Japanese printer manufacturer.

The brochure in this real life case study had been designed by the Asiapac engineering and marketing team to launch a photo printer targeted at the home-user market (core target parents & grandparents to print family pictures)

The brochure's cover showed the printer itself with a half printed photo sticking out.
The headline read: XYZ 500-02 - The Best Solution For Your Printing Needs
The inside of the brochure was a mass of technical data

As a piece of marketing material the brochure was useless.

It was a classical piece of information designed by engineers for engineers who were in love with their engineering ingenuity and had hijacked the young/inexperienced marketing team to create this data laden emotions killer.

The choice of the management was:

  1. Tell the marketing team the glaringly obvious truth straight to their heads
  2. Enroll them to see how far off the mark their brochure was and keeping them emotionally open to truly learn from the experience

We chose path 1. by using a logical questioning path that would allow the marketing team to safely step out of their entrenched paradigm and see the Objective Truth:

Question 1.
Thank you for presenting us this brochure. Allow me to ask you a question: who is this brochure targeted at?

At families, mainly at parents and grandparents

Question 2.
Thank you, now would you say that the majority of these key clients is technically very savvy? Is that true or false?

False, most of our target clients will not be technically very savvy, they want simple solutions

Question 3.
Got it! Why would I want to buy this printer as a parent, grandparent? What will be my most pressing need? What is it that I really want?

You will want to print the pictures of your loved ones�

Question 4.
Why will that be important to me as the client?

So you can preserve your memories

Question 5.
That sounds interesting, now allow me to ask you, what is it that the client is really buying then: a printer or is he buying beautiful memories?

Hmmm, looking at it like that, the client is actually buying beautiful memories.

Question 6.
Yes, this sounds right, now, if I, the client, would be excited to buy a machine that preserves my memories, can you please tell me if this brochure sells me the ability of preserving memories or it sells me a seemingly technically advanced/complex machine that might frighten me as a low-tech person

Following this logical questioning path that kept the integrity of the marketing team intact and invited them to look at their paradigm from the outside we created an open, fast moving conversation/learning opportunity that allowed the marketing to fully embrace the necessary lessons and produce brand new, highly focused materials
that worked.