I completed a physically demanding challenge recently, with fifteen unfamiliar people living for 10 days in each-other’s pockets, working together towards a shared goal. The challenge involved 8-10 hours of physical exertion every day, with each of us burning up to 6,000 kcals above normal daily requirements. Rest periods were short and overnight accommodation was shared – perfect pressure cooker conditions for ‘team development’.
The first few days passed in a blur and it wasn’t until around day 6 that I felt comfortable with the physical elements and degree of fatigue. I’ve reflected since, playing back individual contributions and considering how we learned to work together as time on task progressed.
I’ve studied the development of teams, but one of the problems with abstract theories is that they don’t always help when you’re ‘in the moment’. A thought I find helpful is to consider team members like Gremlins!
Remember how a tiny, adorable Mogwai comes with just a simple set of instructions? Remember how quickly things go downhill once the instructions aren’t followed? Well, team members often start projects behaving like ‘Gizmo’ the Mogwai; they’re helpful, interested and motivated – eager to move a project forward and generally fun to be around. Those self-same, friendly, placid Mogwais don’t always get the information they need however; and more specifically, individual roles within the team aren’t always clear.
People will say that roles are obvious – that individuals are appointed with defined tasks and specific responsibilities? Well, that might be how things are supposed to work, but teams don’t develop like that; there’s jostling to be done and ‘hidden’ or implied functions which people only assume once projects have started. Highly motivated team members with uncertain roles are like Mogwai left untended. As a leader, if you’re not mindful of specific roles (and how they’re establishing in your team), it won’t be long before Gremlins are running amok.
Appearances are deceptive and being a Gremlin isn’t a great place to be. Sensitive support, guidance and direction – quality leadership in fact – will bring friendly Mogwais back where they’d prefer to be.