A Common Sense (Part 3: Creating a Team About a Team)

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In this series of guest posts, team performance expert Joe Slatter of Better Practice discusses the value and challenges of establishing “a common sense” within teams. The third in a three-part series, this post draws lessons from the gaming community that can be applied to teams in the business world. Be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series!

In Part 2, we:

  1. exposed the myth that there is anyone out there just like us,
  2. illustrated how we often have more misunderstandings with those who we presume to be most like us, and
  3. presented the clear advantages that diversity provides a team when that diversity is focused with a shared sense of what matters.

So what's the solution?
Creating a Team About a TeamWhat teams need is a way to identify and objectify what matters, together, in a manageable way. The key words here are “manageable” and “together.” They need a shared and understood basis to start working together.

The method must be simple enough to focus the team on what matters, at a level of abstraction that allows for general agreement on the big picture. With that agreement in place, progressive elaboration can proceed in a graceful and meaningful way. If the method chosen is too complex or elaborate, the team is likely to get lost in the details and frustrated by dissent and confusion.

The method should provide an open architecture of sorts, which allows various perspectives to be shared, compared, contrasted, and reconciled in a non-threatening, even playful way. If the method chosen is too prescriptive and inflexible, members of the team may reject it before even giving it a chance to work.

Lessons from the Gaming Community

“A game is an abstraction layer that lets you quantify, discuss and work with things in a manageable way.”

~Steve Slatter, Better Practice Chief Tinkernaut

The first modern role playing games were paper based. While offering unlimited creativity and variability, Dungeons & Dragons provided an abstraction layer simple enough for pre-teens to grasp and use -- so easily, in fact, that they saw it as just having fun.

Lessons from the Gaming CommunityMy son tells me that the Dota2 online gaming community lobbied the game maker to require new players to successfully complete a tutorial version of the game before they can join real players in a real game. They wanted new players to understand the different roles on a team and the accountabilities associated with each role. They wanted new players to understand the language used during matches before being placed in win-lose situations. They demanded a certain level of competence even from the newest of players. They asked for what they wanted, and they got it.

In both games, players form teams quickly and take performance seriously while having fun at the same time. You get to work within a well-understood set of norms that allows you to leverage every team member, adapt quickly to surprises, and enjoy the game with minimal discord. In the case of Dota2, this happens in less than 60 minutes in an environment where diversity in time zones, cultures and languages is the norm, not the exception.  It works!

We can learn from these kids and the games they play.

Form a Meta Team

By adopting and adapting concepts from role-playing games, together with a knowledge of how teams work in real life, we can create an abstraction layer simple and meaningful enough that just discussing it with the team will make things better.

That abstraction layer makes it easier for them to discuss and consider aspects of their own performance more objectively. This, in turn, reduces the time and effort needed to establish a performing team. When team members look at the team itself as a system they enter meta team mode. They become "a team about a team." These meta teams tend to be very focused and utilitarian.

Meta teams work together to build and constantly refine a common sense about themselves, their purpose, and what matters to them both as individuals and as a team. They create a common sense that is strong, flexible, resilient and playful enough to get past "the way things are" and accelerate towards "the way we want them to be."

Teams adopting this as normal practice are able to improve how they improve. This results in happier, better performing teams and a higher return on investments in people, process, and technology.

About the Author

Joe SlatterJoe Slatter is the Founder and Principal of Better Practice™, a management consulting and team performance firm based in Denver, Colorado specializing in remote and distributed team environments. Joe believes that all teams can improve their performance by establishing a common sense and listening to each other. A musician at heart, his upbringing and work over the past twenty-five years across countries, languages, cultures and industries instilled a deep appreciation for the power of perspective and teamwork. Joe created Better Practice to help others quickly learn, apply and benefit from the lessons he has learned over time.

About Better Practice

Better PracticeBetter Practice offers a management and team performance model and services that help teams improve the way they improve. This results in a higher return on investments in people, process and technology that compounds over time.

Better Practice serves clients around the world. For more information visit www.betterpractice.com.

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Bolton Remote helps businesses grow with dedicated remote teams. To find out more about remote staffing, visit BoltonRemote.com.