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The Sweet Spot Between Nice and Fierce: Bold

By: Brian Cole Miller

There are nice teams, but sometimes they can be too nice. There are also fierce teams, but they often can be too fierce. Nice and fierce teams represent two ends of the team continuum; bold is the happy balance between the two.

There are seven truths about a bold team, all of which contribute to its overall success:

1. It enables team members to give each other both positive (reinforcing) and constructive (developmental) feedback, so that it’s truly balanced.
2. It pays attention to how its members work together, as well as to what the group works on together.
3. It prioritizes its workload so that it takes on work responsibly.
4. It makes decisions with respect for the diversity of its collective strengths.
5. It encourages healthy debate before deciding on a course of action.
6. It can balance its focus on results with its ability to adapt.
7. It is efficient in the short as well as in the long term.

Let’s look at these seven truths in greater detail.

Truth 1: Members give each other balanced feedback.
Like fierce teams, bold teams realize that constructive feedback is critical for  improvement. However, like nice teams, bold teams also realize that they don’t have to be harsh to be helpful. Members should be direct, honest and straightforward with each other. Their criticism should come from a place of caring and a sincere desire to help each other. Bold teams should be offering constructive feedback because their intent is to deliver it in a truly helpful way. The team trusts its members will receive the feedback in the spirit in which it is offered. And members actively seek constructive feedback from teammates because they trust they will offer information that will help the project improve.

Truth 2: Members pay attention to the work itself, as well as to how they work.
Bold teams are conscientious about results. The reason they exist as teams is to deliver. They work hard to hit deadlines, conserve precious resources and get the job done well. They prioritize their time and resources to meet the expectations set for them, as well as their own commitments. But time lines and goals don't drive them. They drive themselves—or at least they manage themselves.

Bold teams take the time to challenge assumptions about not only what work should be done, but also how the group should do it. The team wants to consider all viewpoints before firming up its plans and heading into implementation. The group’s goal is to hear from everyone before proceeding, so members actively solicit input from quieter teammates.

We especially welcome the devil's advocate type of discussions. We consider potential problems, not just potential payoffs. This approach helps us build preventive measures into our plans so that we can avoid most problems. It also helps us plan our contingent actions up front so that we are ready if a problem does arise. We are more effective if we're ready for obstacles than when we are caught off guard and shoot from the hip.

Truth 3: Bold teams balance their desire to say "yes" with the reality of resources and competing priorities.
Such teams are not in business to say "no." They want to say "yes" to each request made of them. Although it feels good to do so, they also know the dangers of overextending themselves. And, they recognize that their organization has entrusted them with valuable resources. It's their job, as stewards of time, budget dollars and other resources, to be responsible to the whole organization, not just to themselves or clients or partners who may happen to be their favorites.

Before accepting work, bold teams realistically assess their ability to deliver. They have frank discussions about their current workload, sharing concerns and reservations as well as hopes and desires. The merits of incoming work are weighed against what they are already committed to doing. They avoid putting themselves in the position of overwork or burnout because in the long run that serves no one's needs.

They don't want new priorities to overshadow prior commitments either. So bold teams reprioritize only when it is absolutely necessary. Even then, they check with their  partners before making changes to time lines or resource allocations that may affect them. They use "no" sparingly and only when they have solid, fair and logical evidence for saying it. When they do have to decline work, they offer their partners alternatives to help them still achieve their goals, but perhaps in different ways.

Truth 4: Bold teams respect the diversity of experience and approach on the team.
Decisions are made with everyone's input and participation. By respecting each other's experience and expertise, they avoid dismissing the perspective that others on the team may have. Newcomers and those without direct bearing on a specific issue still have valuable input for us. They can see things that those of us in the thick of it miss. They ask the "stupid" questions that only those not in the know can ask. These are often the most helpful questions to address!

We don't expect any one team member to make a decision for the team on his or her own—not even our leader. Shared accountability leads to the team's success. We know that being part of the decision-making process means that each individual will commit more wholeheartedly to the result than if a decision is given to (or forced upon) them. By deciding together, members are more accountable to each other. Even though one may take the lead on something, the rest are right there in support to ensure the team's success.

There are no winners and losers on issues. Team members all win together or lose together. Because it's all collective, membrs work all the harder to ensure the wins.

Truth 5: Bold teams encourage healthy debate.
Conflicts are addressed as they come up. Bold teams realize that conflict is part of any healthy relationship and that unresolved conflict becomes a cancer in a group. By not shying away from conflict, they make themselves more mutually vulnerable. They share their honest reactions. They express how they think or feel, as well as what they want or need from others. Everyone is encouraged to be transparent and genuine.

However, bold team members don't lash out at each other when they feel hurt or offended. They approach conflict with compassion. They trust each other. Conflict presents an opportunity to resolve issues and actually strengthen working relationships, not a way to get back at someone. As a result, conflict is not unnecessary "drama." Dealing with conflict is just as much a part of real work as meeting deadlines.

Members strive to remove obstacles to working effectively together. By not accepting Band-Aids, they stick with a conflict until they all feel confident that it has been resolved. Understanding that they are dealing with imperfect and unpredictable humanness makes them patient and forgiving as they work toward true and lasting resolution.

Truth 6: Bold teams balance the need to plan with the need to be flexible.
Like fierce teams, they make plans. They scope out projects and make budgets, forecasts, action plans, and work assignments. But they draw on all their collective experience and wisdom to plan ideal courses of action because this is the best way to manage toward better results. They don't rely on just a few to decide for them. They put all their cards on the table. They have open and frank discussions about what is possible, given various other demands and constraints. Then they decide together.

Since everyone is part of creating the plan, each member of the team is involved and understands the ins and outs of the work. This allows members to be flexible when they need to be. They don't get distracted with tangents and nice-to-haves when they know what is truly important and why. While focused on the plan, they can make intelligent, quality choices if it makes sense to deviate from their original position for one reason or another. Plans are treated as just what they are: plans. They are not edicts or commandments. The team addresses unique opportunities or obstacles, as they arise, with appropriate flexibility.

Meetings are no different. They have agendas and, for the most part, stick to them. But they are flexible enough to realize that sometimes they need to veer, perhaps because the agenda was flawed or something unexpected and important came up. Members make sure the change is for good reason, not just a way to avoid something unpleasant or unpopular. And the team-—not an individual-—makes the decision to change course. Adjusting an agenda midway through a meeting doesn't throw the team. They also consider how they will eventually address the rest of the agenda before they go off of it for something else.

Truth 7: The bold team is efficient in both the short and the long term.
Short-term results are important; so members strive for them. The focus is on getting the job done on time and within budget. Members assess success by what they have accomplished lately. But they also won't sacrifice the future for the present. If issues come up now, continually putting them off because they don't have time today doesn't serve them well. Sometimes it makes sense to stop and regroup before moving forward. This gives renewed vigor and a sense of purpose.

If the team finds itself creating workarounds or altering its approach to accommodate internal obstacles, members call this out and deal with it. Although it slows the group  down momentarily, fully addressing—and resolving—team problems now means that members won't have to work around them again. And again. Investing effort now can pay off in a big way later on, so members don't get bent out of shape when people have a fear, a fit or a feeling that they need to share. Rather than labeling them as troublemakers or weak or whiners, they celebrate their braveness and jump in with them to address and resolve the problem at hand.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Nice Teams Finish Last by Brian Cole Miller. Copyright 2010, Brian Cole Miller. Published by amacombooks.org

About the Author(s)

Brian Cole Miller is the principal of Working Solutions, Inc., a management training and consulting firm. He is the author of the bestselling Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers  as well as Keeping Employees Accountable for Results and More Quick Team-building Activities for Busy Managers.