Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is There a Downside to Teaming?

I did a basic team building presentation for a volunteer organization last week and was absolutely shocked by the answers to one of my questions.  Now I will admit, I learn something from every presentation I do and pretty much every person I talk to.  But this incident stood out in my mind and really made me think.

team building, preferences, engagementAs part of the presentation, I have a slide with two columns and twelve rows titled "Which Do You Prefer?".  It is a basic checklist that I recommend using during the start up of a team to find out more about the people with whom you will be working and how their styles may differ from your own.  In addition to asking if you prefer "Agenda" or "No Agenda" I ask "why."  For instance, one person reflected that if the meeting is about something they know well, they do not require an agenda ahead of time.  If it is a new topic they may want the agenda up to a week ahead of time.  There is even a silly question as to whether you prefer coffee or tea.  Obviously, the team will not break down if you don't know your teammates' preferences but the idea is to get people talking and to notice that what one person prefers without thinking another may not even like.

One of the questions is Independent Work vs. Group Assignments.  In a room of 40 people only 2 people preferred Group Assignments.  The group was all women, relatively varied in age but probably more under 40 than not, and came from different areas of the organization (I spoke with almost ever person before the program).  Assuming that one of the reasons people join organizations is to socialize with other people, I will admit, I was expecting a majority to prefer group assignments.  Boy was I wrong.

So what is behind this overwhelming response?  The organization has over 2000 members so this is not the result of one leader's actions like you sometimes see when working with a small in-tact team.  The members were on committees that cover the spectrum from individual responsibility to working with hundreds of volunteers on one activity so it wasn't a self-selection issue.  And I have to admit, the hands went up really quickly on this one so each person was very clear on her own preference.

I don't know the "why" answer, but I do know that from now on this question is on the top of my list when working with volunteers, clients, teammates, or new employees.  This is classic low-hanging fruit.  If a person prefers Independent Work and you consistently give them assignments to work together with three other people to ask another person a question, you are going to lose them.  If a person prefers Group Assignments and you consistently give them assignments to research something on the internet and report findings back at the next meeting, you are going to lose them.  And, as I learned once again, you cannot assume you know what people want (or how a group will respond to that type of a question), you must ask them.

Do you have a preference for Independent Work or Group Assignments?  Does it change based on whether you are at work, at home, or volunteering?  What do you do to cater to the preferences of those you work with?