Whether it’s called an ice breaker or a warm-up exercise, we facilitators have a number of them in our bag of tricks to engage – immediately – the audience. One of my favorites is a trifecta; it can be used to demonstrate in real time, structured brainstorming, diversity, and teamwork – and all in a matter of 15 – 20 minutes from start to finish.
For purposes of today’s blog, we’ll focus on teamwork.
Distilling it down to the essentials, teamwork is comprised of five elements:
- The Goal
- Roles and Responsibilities
- Time Frame
- Resources Needed
- Special Groundrules or Requirements
Near the end of the ice breaker when those five elements are displayed, the participants identify what in the exercise met each element: what was the goal, what were the roles and responsibilities, what was the time frame, what were the resources needed and what were the special groundrules or requirements?
At the conclusion of the exercise, and when asked “why do most teams fall apart,” participants typically focus on the first three, with the vast majority going right to the top: The Goal. I submit that they are correct. Too frequently, teams are formed with a vague notion of what is to be accomplished; yet, the teams fall apart because the goal was not specifically defined, communicated, and understood.
Nonetheless, each of the five elements is critical to successful teamwork.
The Goal: Needs to be specific, achievable, communicated and understood by all involved.
Roles and Responsibilities: Once the goal is established, ask what skills, abilities or competencies are needed to achieve the goal. Too frequently, work groups go back to the “usual suspects,” meaning those within the hierarchy who “should” be there, vs. those who have the first-hand ability to get the job done. Either beforehand, or when the team is identified, and all are cleared to dedicate the time and effort to the project, a team leader should be assigned, and a co- or vice-leader should be assigned (life happens, so a Plan B is always needed), then each team member should be assigned to the part of the team’s work for which she or he has the needed expertise.
Time Frame: Once the ultimate, or end time frame is established, the team leader/s in collaboration with the team members need to assign due dates for each component part of the work. Communication between and among the leaders and the members is critical, especially if a due date will be missed, and a Plan B needs to be implemented.
Resources Needed:Resources can range from moneys (e.g., budget allocation or reallocation) to technology (computers and/or computer access), training for the team, to name a few.
Special Groundrules or Requirements: This final element is a bit of a “catch-all,” capturing any and all other matters that need to be included. This could be the format in which the final product is to be delivered, it could identify who the presenter should be (assuming a presentation), etc. (In the ice breaker referred to the special groundrule is “quantity over quality,” by way of example.)
Animal Rights nonprofit CEO Juliana, asked Nathanial and Matthias to co-lead a team to raise $50,000.00, within three months, or 90-days. She casually mentioned that if the team exceed the goal, there would be bonuses. Further, this project would take priority over all day-to-day activities.
Goal: At first blush, the goal is clear, and communicated; however, was it understood? The two asked Juliana specifically what type of fundraiser she expected of the team. Her response: “I put you two in charge because I have faith you will develop an achievable plan within the specified time frame. Come back to me when you have decided what to do for final approval.”
Nathanial and Matthias discussed three options, listing the pros and cons of each, as follows:
- Gala ball honoring a large donor
- Pluses– the largest donor they had in mind had high community visibility and could easily get his friends, or attract other community leaders to raise the moneys needed;
- Minuses– Insufficient time to find a venue, ensure the selected honoree would be interested, could attend and would open up his rolodex; and, the costs associated with the event could consume the moneys raised (venue, meal, formal invitations, etc.) Also, wouldn’t the same individuals be tapped for this event that are also sought after for other fundraisers?
- “A nonevent, event,” with the selected honoree writing a letter seeking donations without having to attend an event.
- Pluses– If the donor were willing, he could sign a letter, highlighting two or three examples of abused animals, and, open up his rolodex. Whether he would be in town/available to meet the deadline would be irrelevant. Minimal outlay by the organization with maximum return possible.
- Minuses– What if the donor very politely declines.
- Letter Appeal: Write a letter for the CEO’s signature highlighting two or three stories of abused, abandoned or neglected animals seeking donations.
- Pluses– no need to rely upon a donor, minimal costs associated with the project, and, other employees could identify the stories for publication.
- Minuses– the CEO would be relying upon the current mailing list, rather than expanding that list that the major donor could bring, if willing. To account for this, the team would go to a mailing house to purchase a list of donors that have either given in the past to other animal rights organizations, or who fit a donor financial profile to be developed.
Nathanial and Matthias determined that the preferred option would be to ask the major donor to sign a letter with examples of abused, abandoned or neglected animals; Plan B, or the fallback would be having the letter signed by the CEO. The target mailing would be 1000 potential donors. CEO Juliana agreed, and asked the co-leaders to: identify who should be on the team; what it would cost; what materials would be needed; and, also indicated that if the team were able to exceed the goal, she would give each member a bonus for every $10,000.00 raised above the $50,000.00.
Roles and Responsibilities: Co-leaders Nathanial and Matthias decided they needed the following skill-sets, and corresponding individuals: 1) the person to ask the donor for his willingness to sign the letter and to open his rolodex, who they decided would be head of fundraising, Kelsey. She would also be asked to assign a team within her department to conduct follow-up calls near the end of the 90-day time frame, and, if needed, to meet with the co-team leaders and a mailing house to obtain a list of possible donors; 2) the person who could develop three compelling case studies to be included in the letter, who they decided would be program director David; 3) the person who could edit the stories, draft the letter, develop a pleasing presentation, and work with the outside printer, who they decided should be communications coordinator Reese;* 4) the person who could develop a budget, who they decided should be financial analyst Remy*; and 5) the individuals who would mail out the letters, who they decided would be the three-person administrative pool. When they heard of the potential bonus, all agreed. The respective supervisors also agreed, granting the team members time away from their day-to-day activities to participate.
*Neither Reese nor Remy is a department head; however, both Nathanial and Matthias were impressed with their capabilities and decided to include them.
Time Frame: Working backwards from the three month/90-day target date, and determining each step that needed to be included, the team decided, as follows:
- Get CEO Juliana’s approval for the recommendation within two days of the start date; if “tweaks” to the proposal need to be made, complete and secure her approval no later than one week;
- Secure the major donor within two weeks;
- If the donor declines, implement plan B, meaning CEO Juliana would sign the letter, while the co-leaders and Kelsey meet with a mailing house to acquire the list. This would be accomplished also within the first two weeks;
- Develop the three case studies simultaneously, or within two weeks;
- Edit the case studies, write the letter, and develop the look and feel of the mailing one week later, or three weeks from start;
- Develop the final budget within the first four weeks (to ensure adequate time to obtain final figures from the mailing house, if needed);
- Send the materials to an outside printer (letter, mailing envelope, return envelope, with donation levels included in the return envelope) – one week later, or five weeks from commencement of the project;
- Receive all materials back from the printer within two weeks (to avoid a special one-week “rush” fee), or 6 weeks from commencement of the project;
- Mail out the request the following week, or 7 weeks from start of project;
- Commence follow-up phone calls two weeks later, or 9 weeks from commencement of the project; and,
- Determine success three weeks later, or the 12thweek from commencement.
Resources Needed: Budget: CEO Juliana agreed with the plan (yes)! The major donor agreed to sign the letter (yes); however, he did not want to open up his rolodex (oops). This meant that the team would need to purchase relevant lists from the mailing house. Given this, Reese developed a budget to include: the mailing house ($5,000.00); the printer fee ($3000.00); and, stamps ($440.00), and a bit more for any unforeseen expenses ($1000.00) for a total budget of $9,440.00. This meant the team needed to raise a minimum of $59,440.00 to meet the net goal of raising $50,000.00, and possibly more if the potential bonuses were to come out of this budget.
Special Groundrules: At the outset, Juliana indicated this project was to take priority over the day-to-day activities of the agency, hence, that was the special ground rule. Further, since all team members were eager to earn the (unspecified) bonus, when they learned at week nine that only $40,000.00 had been raised, and thus, they were about $15,000.00 below the goal, let alone any increments above the goal to earn a bonus, all agreed to make follow-up calls. BINGO– by week 12, the team had raised $80,000.00, or approximately $20,000.00 over goal!
Team work is a needed skill in today’s workforce, and can be distilled to five basic elements:
- Goal– defining it with specificity, making sure it is communicated and understood;
- Roles and Responsibilities– ensuring the right people with the right skill sets are included on the team, and have the time to devote to its success;
- Time Frame – understanding the ultimate date, and then the dates that must be met to achieve the goal;
- Resources Needed– defining what will be needed, be it budget, materials, etc.
- Any Special Groundrules– what, if anything, has not been included in the four preceding keys to success that are relevant and should be communicated and understood.
Have your teams been successful? If not, try these five essential elements and see what magic can happen next time.
Find more essential elements to effective communication and teamwork in my book, Consequential Communication in Turbulent Times: A Practical Guide to Leadership.