In the SEAL Teams, whenever we were patrolling to a target, each operator in the patrol would ask himself three questions. These three questions helped us ascertain our relevance as individuals which, in turn, determined our relevance as a team. Those three questions were:
Is my gun up (ready)?
Where would I go if we were contacted (by the enemy)?
How can I support my buddy?
No matter how long the patrol was, every operator asked himself these questions over and over again because they allowed us to stay relevant (i.e. alive) and avoid obsolescence. In other words, asking questions continually fostered growth because they kept us searching; they helped us avoid complacency.
I’m a big fan of leading with curiosity and letting curiosity drive results. After all, the human brain will find an answer to any question posed to it, so the quality of questions determines the quality of responses.When it comes to a team, one of the questions you want to ask yourself is, “Do we have the right people?” It’s very difficult to operate at a high level if you’re surrounded by low performers, so getting the talent equation right is crucial. At the same time, not having all “A” players isn’t an excuse for mediocrity either. You can use questions to identify the type of talent your team needs to sustain high performance by asking a few simple questions. Here are three:
1. What skills or experience would make this team even better?
There are a number of things to screen for when it comes to new talent, but the most important element that cannot be taught or learned is fit.Team fit is everything. Competency can be taught but character and individual will cannot. In screening new team members, strengths are an obvious area to assess but just as important are how they learn, how they deal with uncertainty and how they integrate themselves into unfamiliar social situations. It’s easy to enter a situation and say, “I don’t know anybody, I’m outta here.” It’s something else to say, “I don’t know anybody yet. Where’s the best place to start?” You want problem solvers, not problem seekers.
2. What actions, when applied daily, will keep us high performing?
High performing is a status, not a type of team. I don’t recall any hiring manager asking somebody if they wanted to sign up for the high performing team. Instead, teams become high performing because of their actions; because of the behaviors that, when applied consistently, guide them along a path of high performance.
What this looks like in a corporate or business environment is action-learning — real-time course corrections that accelerate results. “Action learning,” according to the Action Learning Institute, “is a process that involves a small group working on real problems, taking action, and learning as individuals, as a team, and as an organization.” When I coach teams, for example, one of the most powerful rules we create (known as a team norm) is this: members can only speak up when answering a question. They can’t make statements out of the blue or just for the sake of it, they can only respond to a question or pose a question. What this does is force people to not only think before they speak (which is actually amazing in itself) but also consider the overall impact of the question they’re about to ask. If somebody speaks out of turn or decides they just “have” to speak up, we put “me marks” on a whiteboard next to their name so it’s clear who can’t get out of their own way. It’s a very powerful norm and an action that completely transforms team communication.
The secret to building any team is consistency. Forget about those annual team building offsites that don’t do anything. When you apply real-time action-learning consistently you see consistent, real-time results.
3. What do we want our team to sustain?
Every team (and every company, for that matter) has unspoken rules that determine how they meet, communicate and make decisions. Sometimes these rules are formal and sometimes they’re informal. Either way, they serve as guardrails that help or hinder psychological safety. Take an inventory of what works and what doesn’t, and ask yourself and the team what should be done to enable the former and remove the latter.
The questions you pose shape the results you see. Ask yourself and your team the right questions and you’ll undoubtedly see better results.
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