3 Key Revelations About Effective Teams

How Collective Feedback Creates Clarity and Innovation

This week my team met for strategic planning. We set aside several days so the leadership team could review our values, goals, and budget. We’re just finishing up today, actually.

But Day 1 was dedicated not just to leaders, but to the full team. Why? I prioritize my team. Customers are important for a business. But without a stable, effective team you can’t serve them well.

We now have more than twenty full-time employees on our team, not to mention several key contractors. Each one brings his or her unique perspective and skills to the business.

My favorite part of our time together was hearing from each person what they thought our greatest priorities, challenges, and new opportunities were as an organization.

Here’s how we did it.

My New Favorite Team Exercise

In advance of the meeting, we asked each team member to come with a written answer to three questions:

  1. What should be our top priority in 2017?
  2. What is the biggest challenge we are facing as a company?
  3. What is one new opportunity or idea you think we should pursue in 2017?

Once we got to the meeting, we had people write their answers on large Post-It notes. Then, one by one, we had each team member stick their note on one of walls where we met, walk to the front of the room, and share their answers with the group.

Each person had two minutes to share his or her observation and answer any clarifying questions others might have.

The key to making this work is that we worked from junior to senior. We didn’t explain the order, we just did it. We didn’t want the more senior members of our team to influence the more junior and skew the results. We wanted unfiltered, unbiased input. (Though, truthfully, I’m not worried too much about that. I have a very outspoken team!)

As all this was happening, my executive assistant was taking notes. We then used this information as the foundation of our strategic planning sessions.

What I loved was the focus it provided to our challenges and the big thinking it lent to our opportunities.

Everyone worked on their answers independently, but there was tremendous overlap in the challenges. That told me the team was really dialed into the problem areas that need our attention.

The exercise brought a few issues into sharp relief. It helped set the agenda for some of our executive planning meetings. And the big thinking about our opportunities informed our priorities for 2017.

3 Beneficial Revelations

I learned a lot of things. One was that we’ve done an amazing job hiring the right people, not that I doubted that before. It also revealed three benefits we experience as a business.

  1. Perspective. Everybody knows something. But nobody—and this is actually good news—possesses the same info and ideas as the next person. Why is that good? It means everyone has a unique perspective. We all bring different lenses to the same work, and an effective team provides access to a range of perspectives leaders don't possess on their own. The Post-It exercise externalized all those perspectives in bright colors.

  2. Innovation. All of this diversity means team members approach problems from different angles with different resources. We get a larger number of creative solutions as a result. What I loved about our team meeting was seeing how individual members brought whole new business opportunities to the group. There are advantages to being a solopreneur—but this isn't one. It's a key reason to begin building your own team if you don't have one.

  3. Early warning. When I first became president of Thomas Nelson, I hosted a monthly event called “Pizza with the Prez.” I invited different teams to lunch—without their supervisor. It was like an early-warning system. It taught me that the people on the ground usually know what's about to swerve off the cliff. The same happened with our meeting this week. There was remarkable alignment on the challenges we need to address in the coming year.

The old line is that many hands make light work. And that’s true. But it's not very applicable to my business. Nor yours, I'm guessing. Most of us aren't building homes or roads or fences. And even those of us who are require both brains and brawn.

If we're going to succeed, it's critical to have not only many hands but also many minds working on a problem. The right minds bring clarity and innovation to challenges that might otherwise paralyze a solopreneur.

If you're a regular here, you might know some of them already, but I'd love to introduce you to the members of my team. I'm proud of them all. And I'm endlessly impressed by what they individually bring to our collective party.

Interested in joining? Check out our careers page and stay abreast of openings.

What unique contributions do your teammates bring to you?

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