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Teaching Teams New Tricks

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While watching the U.S. Olympic trials, it struck me how much time and energy each athlete must put into their discipline to reach that level of success necessary to reach the Olympic level of performance. Whether a single sport or a team endeavor, the skills, knowledge, and experience feel daunting.

In a work environment, there may be Olympic size projects that a team must come together to accomplish. Whether they be an established team or newly formed units, these teams must learn not only their roles within the team, but they must also come to understand the desired outcomes. Then, interact successfully with the other members to reach their ‘podium’.

Before you can try to teach a team something new, there are three critical elements in place within each team member.

  • A willingness and openness to learn
  • Basic skills for the execution of the project
  • Basic knowledge of the tasks needed to achieve the goals

In a team setting, not every member will be at the same level of expertise in all three areas. You must manage to move the team forward while helping to fill in the skill or knowledge gaps.

But there is an area that must be inherent in the minds and hearts of all the team members. The willingness and openness to learn. Each team member must demonstrate they are ready to take on a new challenge even in the face of doubt. A willingness to fail and some level of risk taking is going to be necessary if the team is going to succeed. Keep in mind, for the most part, skills can be taught. Knowledge can be shared or learned over time. But having the willingness and openness to receive new information, coaching and formative feedback for improvement lies squarely in the heart of each team member. The individual fire or spark can’t be manufactured.

Once you have a clear picture of where each team member stands with regards to these three critical areas, you can move on to the next step of teaching or coaching the team. To begin imparting knowledge, you must understand the three types of learning styles.

Members of your team may be kinesthetic, auditory, or visual learners. The dominate learning style will shape the way you have to deliver information and impart new skills. Are your team members doers? Do they need to be hands-on to learn? Are your team members auditory, where they must hear information in various form to learn? Or are your team members, visual learners. Do they require visual tools and cues to spark the learning?

The delivery of training, coaching and education needs to be varied and tailored to the individual learning styles as much as possible. Keep in mind, that all team members don’t learn at the same pace and some may need additional support along the way.

Ultimately, team success is going to come from shared goals and timelines. If each team member works with the end in mind, they have a better chance of success. You must let the team set boundaries and consequences for each other and a clear accountability plan must be in place.

Personality styles are also going to be a factor to contend with as you prepare your team for loftier goals. Whether you use Meyers Briggs®, DISC® or other personality tools to help you better understand how to best communicate with each team member, it is vital that they all understand each other’s styles for maximum output.

Further complicating team learning dynamics are external factors and internal politics. If you don’t monitor the outside forces that derail your team wouldn’t be ready to adjust your strategy. Internal politics also work against you as team members vie for promotions, recognition, or attention. Be mindful of the internal forces driving motivation.

Once the team demonstrates mastery or achieves a certain outcome, it is time to reward them. Consider that every member of the team is motivated in different ways. Group rewards rarely fit the bill. Remember always that the team members are individuals. You must consider the implications of group rewards on their entire team.

Clearly, training for a place on the Olympic Team isn’t for everyone and that is why only a small number of athletes make that dream come true. Your teams can achieve greatness, but it is a manager’s role to guide, develop, challenge, and motivate their team to exceed even their own expectations to truly reach for the gold.


Carmen Gigar is the Chief Marketing Officer for ActionCOACH Global.