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Tom Heck and Les McKeown on Building a Better Team

I thought I was good at this

I’d been captain of my soccer team for years, captain of my “house” in my high school, captain of this, captain of that…

Surely I was a brilliant team player?

Hmmm. Maybe not so much. It turns out that these were just leading indicators that I like being a captain. Truly, I’ve still got a lot to learn about how to make a team really work. So I’ve gone back to my interviews with two people I really trust on this topic to remind me of their insights.

Tom Heck is the founder of the International Association of Teamwork Facilitators, a group where there is probably the greatest concentration of teamwork wisdom on the planet. You can listen to our Great Work Interview in full here.

And Les McKeown is author of The Synergist which contains and explains the simple model that’s made the greatest difference to the way we operate as a team at Box of Crayons. Our interview is here.

But let’s get back to the problem at hand…

Does this sound familiar?

“I hire smart people and all I’m asking them to do is get the stuff done.
But they really don’t know how to work as a team.”

Tom lays out one of the big challenges for us. Being a team is more than hanging out with a bunch of other people. Or showing up in a certain way on an org chart. Like most talents, it takes knowledge and practice to behave at a high level:

“We need to start working on who that manager is, their operating system if you will. Many a leader is using an outdated operating system.”

Understand patterns

There are any number of instruments out there to help you understand your role on a team – here’s one – but while I’m always interested to find myself a new label (“Hurrah! I’m a Plant!), I never could do much with it. It didn’t help me change my behaviour in the future, it just helped me justify it in the past.

What I like about Les’s model is it is straight-forward (just three roles, Visionary, Operator and Processor) and that they’re best understood in the way they interact with each other. That gives the model a simplicity that recognizes and works with the complexity of life. I like that. This has proven to be the team operating system that works for us at Box of Crayons.

You might be curious to learn more. You can take a quiz here to find out which style you are. (Me, I’m a Visionary. The VP of Everything Else is an Operator. That turns out to be a classic recipe for success, so long as you can figure out how not to drive each other crazy.) Les has also being running regular (and free) webinars on these three roles, and he’s posted them on his website.

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