How to Build High-Performing, Self-Managed Teams

Mackenzie Fogelson
Nov 1, 2017 · 29 min read
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  1. Go to wonder and curiosity
    The minute you feel like you’re below the line, you can switch from pushing your agenda to wonder and curiosity. Like, “I wonder why all of a sudden my boss said we have to make this change. Maybe something happened that I don’t know about?” OR “I wonder if I can go for a quick walk before that meeting that I’m not looking forward to since I’ll be sitting down a lot today.” Changing to wonder and curiosity shifts from judgement to empathy and puts you in a way better place
  2. Change your posture or breathe
    If you can’t excuse yourself or get out for a walk, move in your seat or ground yourself in the space. Feel your feet touching the floor, your stomach moving in and out as you breathe, your back upright in your chair, or take 10 deep breaths. Reactions can be exacerbated by stories we’re building in our heads that may require an honest 1:1 conversation with someone. But before that, take a breath.
  3. Assume positive intent
    Always assume positive intent and that the other person is doing the best they can with what they have. Try not to build up a story that isn’t true.
  4. Focus on you
    Finally, always focus on what you can control. You can control your attention, your behavior and your choices. It’s less about how can I be right or win an argument and more about what you’d like the outcome to be.
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  1. Where are you going?
    ‘Where are you going’ requires your team to dream a bit. They can imagine it’s 6–12 months from now and they’ve made it up this mountain. They’ve achieved all the things they wanted and now they can see the outcomes. What does this future state look like for them?
  2. How will you get there?
    The final question of the exercise is ‘how will you get there?’ This requires some tactical work, breaking down all the steps necessary to actually reach this vision. They may need the support of their team to figure this out and some of the actions won’t become clear until they start their journey.
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  1. Mission
    Your mission is different than Purpose. Your purpose is the ‘why’, your mission is the ‘how.’ How your team is actually going to achieve that purpose. It’s the shorter-term objectives and the results you want to achieve together.
  2. Values
    In addition to your purpose and mission, your team charter will also hold your values. And, again, like your Purpose, these values will nest up into the overarching values of the company. A great way to set team values is to have your entire team write down their personal values and bring those to a collaboration session. Put them all up on a wall and then the team can filter through those and decide which ones make the most sense or are relevant to the mission and purpose they’re looking to accomplish. Try to narrow it down to no more than 10. And when things get hard, bring your team back to these values, your mission, and your purpose.
  3. Communication & Workspace
    Another part of designing how your team will work together is specifying communication and workspace preferences. This is how your team will share information and communicate. Adaptive, high-performing teams work out in the open so that information is accessible to their teams at all times. So when you’re identifying the communication and workspace pieces of your charter, you will want have the discussion of both behaviors and tools. Your team will want to decide which tools are available to your company so that you can work out in the open — think tools like Google drive/docs, Slack, and Trello. But remember it’s less about which tools you’re going to use and more about how they allow you to accomplish your mission and purpose.
  4. Meeting/Operating Cadence
    With team chartering, you’ll also want to work out your team’s general operating rhythm. How will you organize the work and move it forward? How are you going to meet and for what purpose? Maybe you’ll have a live standup every day to remove roadblocks that are coming up. Maybe you only meet live 2 days and use a Slackbot to run your standups the other days of the week. Maybe you have 60 minute coordination meetings on Mondays to organize and align the work. Maybe you have Retrospective meetings on Fridays. Meetings are a big one because it’s where you can waste most of your life if your meetings are not purposeful. So you want to be thoughtful about the purpose your meetings serve. It may be ideal to take a look at all the meetings you’re having as a team right now and evaluate the purpose of each one. How do they help you accomplish your mission? Or cancel all of your team’s meetings for a whole week and see which ones you miss. There’s a ton of opportunity to increase performance — and morale — simply by being clear about the meetings you need as a team in order to do your work. Use retrospective meetings to continuously work on self-awareness, trust, and vulnerability with each other, discussing what you have learned and what you can do better as individuals and together.
  5. Guardrails and Norms
    The final piece to your team charter is setting guardrails and norms where you’re identifying anything that may getting in the way of accomplishing your mission and purpose. For example, if your team burns out, they can’t do anything, so maybe you have a norm that you keep an eye on each other’s health, or you decide you’ll take mental health days once a month. Guardrails may be things like how much you can spend on travel or what your budget looks like in general. Important things to name and talk about as a team. Guardrails and norms are also some of the most dynamic parts of your team charter. When your team works through conflict, identify whether you need to adjust your guardrails and norms so that the team continue to be as autonomous and harmonious as possible.
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  1. Chartering makes things better
    The purpose of your team charter is to clear the space of all the tiny details and decisions so that you can spend your time doing more complex things like thinking and being creative.
  2. Find a central, adaptive place
    Make sure you’re allowing access to the charter in one central place — work out in the open — and that it’s easy to adapt in a tool like Trello.
  3. Your charter is dynamic
    Once you’ve developed your charter, it won’t change much, but keep in mind that if changes do arise you’ll want to come together and discuss them as a team before you make them.
  4. A charter is just a start
    And finally, just because you have a team charter, doesn’t mean your team is bad ass. It’s the same thing with trust. Just because you talk about it doesn’t mean you have it. You’ve got to live the behaviors you’ve agreed to. When you’re struggling with the behavior of certain team members, or your team is lagging behind, you can visit your charter and get back to being aligned, building the muscles of courage and honesty.
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  1. How can you turn this side conversation into value or change for the team.
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  1. Walk the room
    Once the team has had a chance to identify their superpowers, I hang a description of each of the super powers across the wall all over the room and then I have everyone on the team read them all so that they can have an understanding of all the superpowers or all the things their entire team may possess. They can take a picture of their specific super powers because they’re going to need to refer to that later.
  2. Make a poster
    Then, in an effort to help the group bond and become more familiar with each other’s superpowers, each team member is given the opportunity to create a poster about their top super power
  3. Tell a friend
    Once the posters are ready, the group can present them one by one. If you want to mix this with some empathetic listening, you can also pair the entire group up (pairing people with those they don’t normally work with) and have the pair present each other’s superpowers to the group, rather than presenting their own.
  4. Pay it forward
    The most powerful thing about super powers is paying it forward. You don’t want to spend a bunch of time doing this exercise and then have your team say: “Remember when we did that Super Powers thing, that was cool!” You want to find ways to remind the team to activate those super powers across the team. One idea is to keep these superpower posters visible across your company so that your team starts to assimilate them. If your team is remote, you could create a Trello or Pinterest board, or even a room in Slack that holds the intel. Always be aware of calling attention to super powers when the team is facing conflict or challenge; and encourage them to find the person on the team with the superpower that can support them most.
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  1. Meet quarterly
    Each feedback group of 3 would schedule their meetings over a quarter, so each group had 3 months to give and receive feedback from the 2 others in their group. And, with a team of 12, that meant that not only would team members get feedback nearly every month everyone on the team would also receive feedback from every person on the entire team of 12 approximately twice a year.
  2. Have conversations
    As a team, we decided that peer feedback would be given outside of the office. Each feedback session would be approximately 60 minutes (20 minutes to give feedback, 20 minutes to receive feedback, and 10 minutes each for questions or to get more coffee and a cookie). Each team member would prepare a feedback doc with specific examples prior to the feedback session. Each component of the feedback template connected to something we had been working on as a team. So for example, the feedback would touch on their partner’s personal vision or what specifically they would like to be coached on, something that touches on part of the self-awareness we had been investing in. The feedback would also touch on things they do really well — often connected with super powers. Finally there was a section of the feedback template that gave the person giving feedback an opportunity to be courageous and honest and direct about things that person really needed to work on. We had been laying the groundwork for trust and vulnerability for a while, so the team was ready to run this type of system.
  3. Make the data public
    As a team we decided that all feedback would be transparent to the entire company so we stored it in Google Drive. Once a quarter I would then get together with a more senior member of the team to aggregate trends in the feedback and we’d leverage that in our 1:1s with team members.
  4. Retro the process
    Finally, the peer feedback system team would then meet to discuss what they’ve learned and what needed to be adjusted as the system ran throughout the year. They would survey the team to ask them how the system was working, what they were gaining from it, how we would improve it, and whether they were getting the feedback they needed to grow individually and as a company.
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The Ready

Lessons from our quest to change how the world works.

Mackenzie Fogelson

Written by

Org Designer | Executive Coach | Keynote Speaker | Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator.

The Ready

The Ready

Lessons from our quest to change how the world works. Topics include org design, self-organization, and dynamic teaming.

Mackenzie Fogelson

Written by

Org Designer | Executive Coach | Keynote Speaker | Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator.

The Ready

The Ready

Lessons from our quest to change how the world works. Topics include org design, self-organization, and dynamic teaming.

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