017 – Chris Burton – Team Development

Asia Pacific Learning & Development at TMS

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Leading and developing their team is the core responsibility of anyone in a leadership position.

In this episode of the Team Guru Podcast I speak with Chris Burton. Chris has been working with teams and training team facilitators for nearly 20 years.

Chris oozes passion and knowledge about team development.

He has a deep theoretical understanding of the psychology of developing, leading and participating in a team environment – and you’ll take away some great insight into this fascinating realm of organisational life.

But just as importantly, Chris has a clear understanding, that although it is lovely, rewarding, and it feels good to be part of a happy and healthy team – the only reason leaders and organisations spend time and money developing team culture is to improve the bottom line.

Healthy teams produce higher quality work. They are more efficient, collaborative and creative.

Everything Chris talks about is linked back to the work that a team does – the value they add to the organisation

Whether you’re in a formal leadership position or not – if you’re interested in understand a little more about the way teams work and how they can improve their performance, this is the episode for you.


Lessons Learned

Here’s what I took from the episode:

What is a team?

A team is a small group of people, working together with a common purpose.

The common purpose is what differentiates a ‘team’ from a ‘workgroup’. A team is truly interdependent.

True interdependence is the hallmark of healthy teams – but it’s difficult to quantify. Interdependence is felt within the dynamic of a group – it is beyond results and performance. It is energy, engagement, trust, collaboration and shared responsibility.


Common team problems

Problems within a team often begin with individuals differences – personality conflicts, clashes of values. Clashes between people.

Clashes between people often begin with misunderstandings, rather than any true insurmountable issues.

Team problems may also exist within the way a team goes about their work. Work process are often easier to address than individuals differences.


Individual differences

Being aware of, addressing and working with individual differences between members of a team is one of the most valuable steps towards developing a healthy culture.

Chris, in his work with TMS, concentrates on:

  • Work preferences – how do we like to work, what’s our auto-pilot look like?
  • Risk – variations in risk orientation. Glass half full v half empty – and what is the gap in understanding that exists between individuals with different risk profiles
  • Values – the way our internal compass drives our behaviour and how those standards and expectations gel with other members of the team
  • Outcomes – our performance. The quality of the work we deliver compared to team expectations


Team Development

The process of developing a team is comprised of two main categories – work processes and individual differences. Chris estimates that his efforts as a facilitator are equally divided between the two. Discussions around the work processes happen at the beginning and the end of team development programs. Work on individual differences takes place in the middle.

Organisations invest in team development to improve productivity – not so that we get on better as a team (or only as that outcome pertains to improved productivity). Therefore improving the way a team delivers work – the results they produce – is the goal.


Appreciating individual difference

It’s important to remember that the individual differences that exist within a team are its greatest asset. Those differences allow us to extend the scope of our thinking and our work. If we were all the same, ideas and ways of working would be limited.

But, of course, those same individual differences can be the source of much tension within a team – our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness.

The difference between utilising differences and allowing them to fester at the team culture is understanding, maturity, imagination and respect – and the ability to link that understanding back to the work we do.


Understanding individual differences

It’s important to have a shared language that helps us understand, explore and describe the individual differences that exists within the team.

A model like MBTI provides such a language – it’s useful in helping us understand our own personal traits a little better. We can then in turn make more sense of the behaviours of others – and ultimately use that knowledge to refine the way we interact as members of an interdependent team.

But MBTI is by no means the only model to use. There are lots of smart, helpful theories and models that can provide the type of language that helps individuals within a team develop a richer understanding of themselves and their colleagues.

One of the keys to accepting individual differences is understanding and accepting the strengths that different people bring to the team.


Steps to developing your team

If you want to invest time purposefully developing your team, here’s 5 important pieces of advice from Chris Burton:

  1. Understand and accept that team and leadership development is a long journey that requires dedication
  2. Generate the support of the people around you – an understanding that there will be a benefit to the effectiveness of the team and the careers of your individuals within it
  3. Understand the drivers of the individuals within your team – what do they value, what motivates them?
  4. Arm yourself with tools – develop an awareness for effective team models and tools that can be used to examine your team and process to support development conversations
  5. Recruit the support of a mentor – someone who has developed teams in the past, have had success and are willing to support you through your journey


How do you engage an individual who seems to disregard the value of being part of an interdependent team?

  • Examine the values of individuals
  • Some are motivated by ‘collectivist’ values – they are likely to be good team players
  • For others, their values are based more on the individual. And we can’t discount that – for some people individualism is an important value
  • So it’s a case of embracing those different values. Don’t ask someone to change their values, but instead focus on the job at hand – establish acceptable behaviours that means those values can be expressed but in a way that is aligned with the work the team performs


Not everyone makes it

It’s important to acknowledge that through the process of developing a team, not all members will make it. That’s ok.

But it is vitally important that an individual or the team leader makes the decision to part ways from an informed position – after the values of the team have been established, individual differences have been explored and work processes have been clarified.


Recruiting into a Healthy Team

  • Consider the function of the team – if there’s a gap in what the team can deliver, the type of work that needs to be done, obviously a smart move is to recruit someone who can fill that capability gap
  • It’s also worth thinking about someone who thinks and acts differently – to avoid creating a team of mini-me’s
  • The on-boarding process into a developing and healthy team is also very important – to ensure the differences they bring are understood and respected – and that we have an ability within the team process to utilise those differences


Using tools and models

  • Learning about a range of useful tools is an essential step for a leader who is developing their team
  • Models, language and frames help us to structure our thoughts and communication – to create a shared understanding
  • The problem with models comes when we put too much faith in them, think that one size fits all, or that there is ‘A’ model
  • A sophisticated leader will have a range of tools available to them and an ability to judge which is useful in a specific context


Your technical area is leadership

Often you are promoted because you were skilled within a technical area – perhaps you were a great engineer and have now become a leader. The critical jump in understanding is that ‘leadership’ is now your technical area and it is your responsibility to invest in your understanding of leadership concepts and your own development.


If Chris peaked your interest in the work of Team Management Systems (TMS) check out their ideas here



Sustaining the change

After you have spent time working on your team – perhaps in a workshop environment – how can you ensure the changes are maintained and improved upon once you get back to your day job?


  • Begin with your mindset – the understanding that team development is over the long term. It’s like going to the gym – you can’t go there for one of two days and expect to be fit forever. You need to keep working on it.
  • Understand what’s driving your team – achieving clarity around this fundamental questions is important because you will need to continually revisit it through the process
  • Build it into your process – effective team practices need to be embedded into the work process of everything you do. After all, there’s no point in working on your team if it does not improve the work you do
  • Clarify accountabilities – be clear about who does what. What are the expectations and what will happen next.
  • Review – spend time reviewing the way we felt about our last project, about the values we are demonstrating through our behaviours, how we are each contributing to the team culture


The greatest challenge for a team, once they leave the team development workshop and go back to their busy jobs, is to place the level of priority that working on themselves as a team deserves. Effective team performance is essential to the bottom line, but its link is almost intangible and easy for busy people to ignore.
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