Responsibility Answers: How do I get my remote team to take Responsibility?

“Here’s the truth: if you don’t believe that you can build any team any time, then you never will. In order to work in that belief, you might have to generate some knowledge and awareness about what really makes teams come together and what gets in the way.”

Christopher Avery


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Responsibility Answers

How do I get my Remote Team to take Responsibility?

The first step in collaboration: get in communication. Get the tools that you need for video communication among all team members, and a way to access shared documents or shared tools. 

The most effective collaborative teams use the simplest tools. Simple tools like Google Docs, Skype, or Zoom. Basic tools are the best option for collaboration among remote teams because they are simple for all team members to set up and access.

Less time fussing with tools means more time collaborating effectively.

Figure out how to get in communication. As soon as you’re in communication there’s no difference between what you do to build a team in person, and what you do to build a remote team.

So, how do I get a team to take Responsibility?

I’m going to give you six steps. Three of them are pre-steps, then three of them are steps you’ll do in collaboration with your team.

The first step is to take 100% responsibility for the quality and productivity of your team.

If you don’t, then you’re going to get random results.

There’s a few great teams, a few horrible ones, and a whole bunch of really middling ones, and the middling ones are not very satisfying. They don’t produce very good results.

I encourage you to demand to be on a great team. Demand to be on a great team every time for the rest of your career.

Make a decision that you are the kind of a person, contributor, collaborator, that deserves to be on a great team.

Do you carry yourself in such a way?

Do you communicate in such a way?

Do you share responsibility in such a way?

Do you keep your agreements in such a way? Do you make and keep commitments in such a way? Do you clean up messes in such a way?

Second pre-step is to believe that you can build any team any time.

Here’s the truth: if you don’t believe that you can build any team any time, then you never will. In order to work in that belief, you might have to generate some knowledge and awareness about what really makes teams come together and what gets in the way.

As I’ve interviewed and gained friends around the world who are great team-building consultants, I noticed is that they all had this belief.

They all absolutely knew that if they could get a group of people together in the same space and time, and keep them fighting fair through disagreements – then that team had a great chance of coming together as a high performance team.

Number three, awareness. Educate yourself about the things that bring teams together and the things that break teams apart.

Work on creating those patterns that bring teams together, and staying away from those patterns that pull teams apart. I wrote a little book about this a number of years ago called Teamwork Is An Individual Skill Of Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility. It’s all about the awarenesses of shared responsibility and shared leadership in teams.

Okay. You do the pre work on yourself.

After doing the pre work on yourself, then convene your team and start having a series of conversations in dialogue. This is called The Team Orientation Process.

The first conversation to have is a conversation about what the team was formed to do.

Many of us go to individual assignments and roles way too quickly.

We have this conversation to make sure that the team has shared understanding about the team’s task as team level tasks, not individual level tasks.

Cohesion will never exist until everyone on the team is in the same boat. Meaning, if you’re doing your job rowing on that side of the boat, and I’m doing my job on this side of the boat that’s not enough.

We’re in the boat together.

Team cohesion is when we’re communicating so we can steer effectively. It’s when we both know where we’re going, we’re rowing together, and we’re both watching for holes in the boat.

The way to cohesion is to ask a secret question.

The secret question is, what must we do together that’s bigger than any of us, requires all of us, and none of us can claim individual victory until we get it done?

I’ve found that question to be a magical question for a team. For decades, I’ve heard project leaders say, “Well, I wrote up the project charter and I sent it out to everybody. They should have read it.”

So I go and interview those people, ask them “What’s our team task?” What I find out is that there’s no shared clarity about what the team task is.

The way to achieve shared team clarity is to convene a dialogue and hold people there, asking what the team mission, the team project, the team task is?

What’s the boat that we’re in together? Host that conversation until people are in alignment.

When we finally arrive there, there’s an internal shift in us as human beings. We move from either competition or independence, into positive interdependence.

Second step, surface member motivation.

When we’re assigned to a team everyone worries about whether or not others will be as motivated, or as commited as they are. This is a huge concern.

I’ve also heard so many project leaders say, “I can’t motivate my people, because I don’t have any carrots and sticks. I’m not their boss. They don’t report to me.”

That’s a good thing.

Carrot and stick motivation i.e extrinsic or external motivators, they produce kind of average motivation and performance.

If you want high performance, then you want people doing things voluntarily.

The basic way to get there is to ask “What’s in it for you? What’s in it for you to work on this project with me?”

Then probe a little bit down because the first couple of answers are surface-level answers that are socially desirable and approved of by the company.

If we dig down a little bit deeper, we start to discover that what really makes someone show up for work. For Joe, it’s the satisfaction of the job well done, for Mary it’s being part of a really cool thing that’s coming together.

When you do this exercise you & your team will find that everyone’s intrinsic motivations can be met.

I can show you the longer interview sequence that always works to elicit high levels of intrinsic motivation. Amazing results follow when people realize that their intrinsic motivation can be met on a team.

The third step in the team orientation process is to make and keep agreements.

A lot of people focus on trust. Trust is a byproduct. I can extend trust, but naturally built trust, is a byproduct. It’s a byproduct of promises kept.

I focus on making and keeping agreements, starting with operating agreements.  Agreements about how we’re going to work together in terms of our communication, timeliness, confidentiality, et cetera.

This has to be done in dialogue. You design your own work norms.

Norms are agreements, implicit or explicit, that become routine.

There’s two ways that norms happen in teams. Norms happen either by default – by whatever gets allowed, or put up. Norms also happen by design, by explicitly making operating agreements and then keeping them.

When one of those agreements gets violated, even in a fairly small way, somebody on that team, you, if you demand to be on a great team, steps up and calls it.

Call it at a force equal to or less than the level of the violation, we don’t want to escalate.

Most agreements are broken out of neglect rather than intention. Having a conversation about it usually shores things up.

Here’s what you can do today.

Ask yourself if you demand to be on a great team, and if you deserve to be on a great team, and if you’re willing to take responsibility for the quality and productivity of that team.

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