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How to set up a team for success

So there I was, at the start of the transatlantic rowing race, and my blood is absolutely fizzing because I’m about to row across the ocean with someone who I’ve only just met.

What really concerned me is that I knew about a third of all attempts to row across the ocean fail. It’s not the sharks and the storms – in most cases it’s because of a relationship breakdown in the crew.

Now, you know, how bad it can be when people start to butt heads in your workplace. When that happens at sea, it’s almost always the end of the race. Let me give you just one example. Two guys, great mates, out on the first race, in the middle of the ocean, one of them turned to the other and said this.

Not surprisingly, they didn’t make it to the other side.

So I was very concerned about how we were going to get along, as a new team, given this history of things that had gone wrong.

So in the time we had we did a quick useful exercise where we did two things – we talked about the good and bad teams we had been in and came up with a list of qualities that a great team member should have.

Secondly we tried to anticipate what might go wrong, the situations we might find ourselves under and then discussed what we would do to resolve them. And by doing that we started to come up with a list of really helpful do’s and don’ts.

Then we saw that, you know what, it boiled down to something very simple. We called it ‘The Energy Rule’.

You couldn’t do or say anything that was going to reduce the energy levels of the boat. You couldn’t complain, you couldn’t whine, you couldn’t be sarcastic. The boat was going to be a no-moan zone. So If you had any advice to give the other person, you had to do it in such a way that was respectful and wasn’t going to reduce the energy levels on the boat.

Research shows that the best performing teams (and couples with the longest marriages) have a ratio of positive to negative interactions of about five to one. At least five to one. So what are the ratios like in your teams? If they’re less than that, maybe you should try using the Energy Rule.

And for the most benefit go through the whole process–have the discussion about what good team behaviour looks like. What situations that you might find yourself in, what is going to go wrong and from that, which behaviours are in and which behaviours are out!

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Kevin Biggar

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