Successful Teams - Part II

by Derek Winter


This is the second post in a series inspired and based on the books “Predictable Success” and “The Synergist” by Les McKeown. The first post summarised the 3 natural styles that describe the way people behave in groups or teams - The Visionary, The Operator and The Processor.

Les goes on to detail how the interactions between these three types play out in groups or teams and if thought of in terms of a new formed team, put together to deliver some outcome, the phases that they will progress through if some intervention is not considered.  In essence these phases identify the results of formal meetings held between these 3 types and the results of informal communications.

The sequence a team goes through in attempting to find a functional way of operating are Formal Meetings, Informal Meetings, a return to Formal Meetings (but with tighter controls) and then some form of End-game.

Formal Meetings

Because their motivations, goals and perspective or ‘lens’ is different, each ‘styles’ way of “showing up” at a meeting is different. The result of this is that jointly they can’t consistently make good decisions.

A Visionary is likely to be unreliable and might not turn up at all. If they do, expect them to undermine the purpose of the by introducing new unconnected topics to the discussion. These topics will be based on what they are passionate about and what is front of mind for them at that point in time. Their engagement in the meeting will wane as the discussion moves away from their personal input or personal agenda.

Operators try hard not to go to meetings at all (as they have things to do, meetings interrupt their ability to get things done). When they do turn up they’ll treat the meeting like every other task that needs completion and see it through. They’ll engage more in the parts of the meetings that are about practical matters, and less around esoteric or theoretical matters. It’s also likely that they will multi-task when not directly contributing. They will certainly only contribute to matters they’ve direct experience with and will be action focussed.

The Processor is the most reliable, with a commitment to order and process. Processors will get agitated if time and agenda are not adhered to. They are likely to be infrequent contributors and tend to only speak if asked directly. When they do get involved they will structure their contributions logically and lay out all the related data.

The reasons meetings between visionaries, operators and processors often fail are that each is likely to operate as individuals in a group setting as opposed to a collaborative team. They are unlikely to be “in the zone” at the same time because of their different motivations, goals and perspective. Lastly, trust is undermined between them because no one likes to have their time wasted and each will feel like the other is wasting their time!

Informal Communications

Les’s observation is that having tried formal meetings but found them un-productive and frustrating, the team will choose to drop the formal settings and each try to operate through informal conversations. This too is destine to failure!

For the visionary this their most comfortable space. Spontaneous discussions, dropping in on people without organising it, having an intent to inspire and motivate, off the cuff meetings. These interactions are likely to have little in the way of goals, decisions, actions and it’s rarely a genuine two way dialogue.

The operator gratefully goes back to focussing on getting things done. They won’t look for an alternative to formal meetings and will prefer email or phone communications. To a degree that dis-engage from the team to the frustration of the other players.

Processors will trades data via email, analysis and reports. With a propensity to distribution of information they will prefer to put things in writing. Rarely expressing opinions, it will also be a one-way style of communication, Structured and scheduled. Naturally, this is unlikely to get responses from the visionary and the operator who will be frustrated with having to sift through the information and make their own conclusions.

The reasons for this phase or approach to interaction failing are not surprising. Because each person responds in their ‘natural’ way, which is not natural for the others, it is likely to produce hostility and cause withdrawal.    The will be a sense of irritation or frustration which transfers to a personal, one-on-one context and over time can create a feeling of infringement on personal space. Lastly, each others intent is misinterpreted. The visionary is seen as interrupting, the processor is seen as self-serving and creating unnecessary volume of data, the operator is seen as dis-engaged.

This continued stale-mate and lack of a functional team dynamic see’s what Les called a “Meetings redux”

A return to face to face meetings, but importantly, shorter, more focussed meetings designed to be for making decisions. This occurs for urgency reasons - fewer decisions were being made informally – and as a reaction – informal communications were uncomfortable so containing them in short meetings is appealing.

Regardless of the good intent, the natural dynamics return and the meetings are still ineffective which leads us to the endgame which will be one of 5 possibilities:

  1. Continue in gridlock
  2. Disband
  3. Implied compromise, individual decision making (ie. find a dysfunctional way to operate as individuals loosely described as a team)
  4. Seek outside help
  5. Develop the Synergist style

It’s the concept of the Synergist that I want to focus on and this will be the topic for the next blogpost in the series.