Go fast or go far?

Recently, I was leading a workshop and divided the group into two teams for an interactive problem solving activity. Though just a fun exercise with no real impact on the business, it's amazing to see how quickly cohesive teammates turn into fierce opponents when placed into friendly competition. If I'm honest, I'm as guilty as they come.

Each team had a short period of time to master a task, which they would need to complete blindfolded in a final time trial. Team 1 worked efficiently and let out a loud cheer after clocking a final time of 43 seconds. It was impressive...until Team 2 clocked a record one second final time trial soon thereafter. No cheering needed (picture silent mic drop with a subtle nod toward the scoreboard).

Two capable teams faced the exact same challenge with equal constraints - so why such different results?

Both teams did several things well: they confirmed understanding of the guidelines, spent time brainstorming and tested multiple approaches. But in the end, one small factor significantly influenced the final outcome. Team 1 had a vocal individual who naturally became the leader and, like many strong leaders, responsibly kept the team moving forward to ensure the task was completed on schedule. Unfortunately, this focus on efficiency caused a few ideas to be dismissed, which resulted in a couple team members growing quiet. Team 2 was a bit more relaxed about the time. They physically attempted every idea that was suggested, even if it seemed a bit crazy. One of those crazy ideas didn't work, but it provided a helpful visual which led to another idea that eventually sealed their victory.  

In my last blog post, I discussed the impact employee engagement has on business performance. According to Gallup's extensive research, one of the key drivers of engagement is an employee's belief that his/her opinions count. We bring our best selves to work and drive innovation when we feel valued and heard. So simple, yet so hard to do in the face of deadlines and business pressures. 

In that workshop, Team 1's leader asked for opinions from all, but his rushed responses reduced engagement and resulted in a performance deficit of 42 seconds, when compared with Team 2.

What are the norms on your team? Are thoughtful questions asked? Is adequate space provided for honest responses? Are those responses valued? Do your team members believe their opinions matter? 

If you want to improve in this area and model Team 2's approach, consider the following:

  • Ask more questions and focus on truly listening, rather than on preparing your response.
  • Practice replying with the classic improv technique "yes, and..." to validate and build on others' ideas, rather than "yes, but...".
  • If you fail - admit it, even if it's days later. I've had to do this many times. Thankfully, this humble, intentional step immediately re-establishes that individual's sense of value and desire to share their ideas.
  • Consider holding a team development workshop where the group can step away from office norms and engage in activities that lead to thoughtful, honest reflection. The insight gained and candid conversations held in a workshop can dramatically transform team dynamics. Click here for workshop ideas - we'd love to help.
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Driving quick results may get you to the finish line, but if you want devoted team members who develop innovative solutions that produce ongoing success, it's critical to create a pace and space that will engage each individual along the way.


Abbey uses over a decade of talent management experience to help organizations drive business results through enhanced employee engagement. She is passionate about empowering individuals and teams to be their best. She's also a mom to two sweet girls, a wife to one good man, and a fan of running and hosting dinner parties.     


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