The Element: Chapter 6


The Element: A series of articles to explore and improve the methods used for meetings between small teams striving to perform at an expert level.

The 5-Man Team from the Culture Spy Syndicate (CSS) found themselves walking Biddle Avenue in downtown Wyandotte, Michigan. T moved to the Team Leader position, and opened the meeting by wrapping up their previous topic. “Great job on the Listening intelligence research. We found a very good resource in one of Coach’s intelligence dossiers that defines Level 2 Listening. We also followed up on how often clarity can be an issue when it comes to listening. Variables including trust, the setting or environment, mental or physical stress consuming the mind, all affecting the ability to participate at an acceptable level. Everyone has off days and that challenges the ability to communicate clearly. The team will know about the fog surrounding a teammates actions, either talking or listening, and being honest about it maintains team trust. Listening to what we hear from our teammates is powerful, but it seems that the keys to understanding are found by having a deep understanding of the speaker and being able to hear what is not being said.”

RP McMurphysFreelance was fulfilling his Point-Man role, leading them closer to his hand-picked meeting location. He pulled open a heavy wooden front door that led them off the street, and pushed open the saloon style swinging doors of R.P. McMurphy’s, revealing a warm atmosphere reminiscent of a 1920’s style German tavern. The mosaic tile floor led past the chocolate stained bar. Rusty was very familiar with the view from the vantage point provided by the tall chairs that lined the perimeter. The 5-Man Team stepped into the rear dining room where a man seated at the rearmost table was gesturing to take a seat at his table.

It was the Cobbler, codename Talent Scout, that greeted them. “How is The Element mission coming my friends?” He always referred to people as his friends, and whether is was true or not, it had the desired affect of starting the encounter with a warm feeling.

“This can’t be a coincidence?” Asked T.

“Freelance said he wanted to buy me a drink. It looks like I am also going to be used as a knowledge resource. Very well, but my cooperation would be dramatically improved with a Blanton’s bourbon in my hand.”

“Already have that detail worked out with the staff. I am capable of planning a few things,” said Freelance.

“I assumed there was a reason for your codename, Freelance?” Said Coach. “I heard you might like to charge into situations before, let’s say, being prepared?”

Freelance lashed back with, “maturity and experience are two very good teachers!” With perfect timing, a round of bourbon was placed on the table.

“OK,” said Talent Scout, “let’s get down to the business at hand. What topic are we going to explore today that requires my specific set of skills?”

“We have researched team roles, locus of control, and listening. All support better team performance, but I want to approach a more primal topic. How does a team connect in ways that improve compatibility?”

“Oh my dear boy, compatibility is not a learned method that makes your teammates tolerable. Your intrigue might be better if it was based in how a team works together with their available resources. Figure out what gets the team’s motor running, and allow that passion to spill over into their roles.”

Freelance was not satisfied, so he dug a bit deeper with his line of questioning. “What about individual traits?”

“I can tell you about anyone at this table. I have deciphered and analyzed all of your past missions. I know your fears, passions, strengths and weaknesses. The lot of you have a few things in common.  You all make some very bad choices from time to time. You take unnecessary risks in hopes of achieving better mission outcomes. You all have a nurturing quality, to grow others around you.  Rusty, not you so much. You have a tendency to challenge people, and set them up with experiences that most learn from. Kind of a hard knocks approach to teaching, and I often wonder if you enjoy the torturous journey or the breakthrough ah-ha moments more?”

“In my defense, I do care about the agent’s physical safety,” said Rusty.

“Yes, I know. A few close calls in there. I still think your codename should have been Hard-Ass Instead of Rusty.” Both Talent Scout and Rusty took a long pull from their glass of bourbon. “And, you all know how to abuse your livers. I am afraid that this behavior is rubbing off on me.”

“In my recollection, I think the influence might be in the opposite direction,” said Freelance.

“I’ll drink to that,” said Talent Scout.

Test Drive, working from the Defense-Man #1 position, took his turn. “So, similarity and diversity co-exist in the team. How do we use both to our advantage?”

“A wise man once told me that planning is as important as doing the work itself. That man is sitting in front of me,” as Talent Scout pointed in Test Drive’s direction. “So your question might change to, how might we plan to use both our similarities and differences to our advantage?”

“I see an obvious starting point. We need to take an inventory of personal traits before we can figure out where and when to apply them.” Said Test Drive.

“OK Hard-Ass, I mean Rusty, you are in the Defense-Man #2 position. Why don’t you follow that trail of breadcrumbs into your belief about getting into a person’s head.” Said Talent Scout.

“That is Freelance’s invention, but I would be happy to follow that thought. By the way, the bourbon always makes your banter more interesting. It goes something like this. I have experiences. I can’t give this knowledge to the team without taking them there, in my head, the way it felt to me when it happened. We are an Element when we become close enough to purely understand an experience being relayed to us. What makes each of us tick is just as important to understanding the story as the story itself. I know you have some more depth to add Talent Scout.”

“Yes, often people say the listener needs to put themselves into the storyteller’s shoes. That means you need to put on a different persona. Don’t try to fit the experience into an actor played by yourself, but rather become the speaker. This experience is not a neatly wrapped present that reveals itself simply by pulling the bow. It takes a special set of skills that will elude many until they understand who they are speaking with. Have you ever met someone that just clicks, and it feels like you have known them your whole life? This rare occurrence happens, and most languish for years to gain a fraction of this connection. So where does that lead us?”

Coach, in the Rear Security position, spoke up and said, “roles take over for lack of team knowledge. We enter a team meeting with hope and expectations that challenging problems will resolve themselves. Then reality sets in, we are only human. How can a team perform at an elite level, better than those that have come before us. Most of our problems are not unique. Others have wrestled with them before. What is the difference? A new set of unique team players. What will bend the performance continuum toward a positive result? The strength of group dynamics, developed through practice.”

“What type of practice?” Asked Talent Scout.

“The role substitutes for the knowledge of your teammates until the knowledge of your teammates becomes the role. Practice the role while practicing the understanding of your team. An Element develops an intuitive sense that guides them forward, an innate sense of being that takes over when the path of learned experiences ends. In the early team stages, the roles replace the time it takes to gain the knowledge of teammates, where if followed, the team performs better than without the roles. With enough time and insight, the roles evolve and are replaced by action that is second nature.”

“Meeting time is up,” said T. “We are off clock, but for those of you that are fascinated with this topic, I am sure that the bourbon will keep flowing.”

Design Thinking [Empathize] Chapter 7 is up in our next issue.  You are on the team, so please comment on this issue to add additional experiences that can be drawn from to create a solid project definition.


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