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What The H— Went Wrong?

The Four Fundamental Questions

The High-Performance Team Model


Driving home, Peter kept on asking himself this question: What the h— went wrong?

What a disaster! This was an important day. He had put together a cross-functional team of experts—supposedly some of the most competent people in the company. He had taken great pain—and expense—in organizing the best possible location offsite. There, he had given them a clear brief, explaining exactly what needed to be done and what he expected from them. The deadline was 4:00 P.M.—tight but doable.

The result?

—was a monumental f— up, to put it mildly.

What was wrong with these people?

There was nothing wrong with these people. What was wrong was that Peter was not managing their states in a skillful way. He might have ignored or was unaware of the basic mechanics of human interaction.

The Four Fundamental Questions

Once you understand that this instability of organic systems is what's going on, you need a basic tool to understand and master the basic process that is needed in order for groups of human beings to collaborate effectively with each other. Behavioral psychology states that whenever humans are put in a new situation, project, work group, or even just a new workday, they ask themselves four fundamental questions:

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. Who am I going to do it with?
  3. What are we going to do?
  4. How are we going to do it?

They ask the questions in exactly that sequence because they need the answers in that sequence. The questions can help you make meaning of what you are doing. If it's not meaningful to you, you don’t get much done. It's as simple as that.

The first question is quite subconscious—sensing. The second question is more of a feeling one while the last two questions are more thinking questions. But it is hard for you to move meaningfully forward to the next question if the previous question has not been answered clearly.

Based on the process theory, you know that processes follow an oscillating pattern. They move in regular waves from one extreme point to its opposite, then back again. Human group processes the two extremes, which are often (1) insecurity or uncertainty and (2) security and certainty.

The High-Performance Team Model

When you combine these two extremes, you get the Drexler/Sibbet High-Performance Model, which looks like this:

Why are we doing this?

The first step is all about orientation. Establish a clear purpose and meaning with whatever it is you are about to do.

Who is on this team? Do they know each other or not?

If not, you need to find a way to break the ice and let people get to know each other. People are wired in the brains to be slightly distrustful of people they do not know. It's a basic survival precaution that dates back to ancient times. If you and your team members are going to collaborate on a job or project, you all need a minimum of trust. You then start to build trust as you get to know each other. It's that simple.

If you know each other on the team, you also need to do check-ins, even if just for quick rounds. How are you feeling in general? What are your expectations for a particular job, venture or day? This is all about what Ken Blanchard—of the situational leadership theory—would call your psychological readiness level.

What are the goals and roles?

Then, you need to agree on the goals and roles. What are you trying to achieve? What roles do each team leader and member have that will contribute to achieving your goals?

How are we going to approach this?

Finally, you need to have a discussion and establish an agreement. How are you going to approach this?

Once you have been through these first four fundamental steps, you arrive at the bottom of the V-model—a point where your team has clarity and certainty about what you are about to embark on.

As the team leader, you have now done 90% of your work. You have set direction, alignment, and commitment. Lean back and let your team members decide the details, such as the tasks and time frames, among others. Allow them freedom on how they are going to do it. That will be quite easy if you have done the groundwork well.

Observe and offer guidance only if needed as they execute tasks. Only when they are done should you step back in and facilitate a reflection with these questions:

How did it go?  What did you learn?  What should be done differently next time?

That is how the team grows and progresses.


Further Reading: Leadership: What, Why and How

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Mike Hohnen, MBA is a coach, trainer, author and public speaker who supports leaders, managers and their teams in implementing the principles of the Service Profit Chain.

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