The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Context, tasks, and style

When organizing their work, teams find themselves in a situation in which they have to define the task they will work on as well as how they will do the work.

Both, task and how will regularly be subject to negotiations in the team.

The task because it unites the team, the how because it separates the team in different individuals.

Both lead to misunderstandings.

The task because it rarely is possible to plan all the details of the team’s tasks. Many details will only appear while doing the work and being confronted with details no one could foresee. Take for example a team of trainers who are supporting participants during training. As well prepared as they can be, there will always be participants seeing something the trainer hadn’t thought of before.

How people do their work, is deeply connected with who the people are, their competence, their history, the way they see the world and the way they want to be seen by others.

What sometimes leads to confusion, is the distinction between how as in competence and how as in style.

When it comes to the individual’s competence, team members can help one another to learn new ways to do the work.

The style someone uses is different, it often is how people want to be seen, and part of their identity. Asking someone to change his or her style can lead to pushing back as the individual’s ego is affected. That makes everyone’s style individual and very much different from the style others have. It’s learning to distinguish between the individual’s style and their competence that team members learn to adapt to one another. Once they start to adapt they started to accept the individual as he or she is.

If you look at a team of trainers, you’ll notice that they will often share the tasks according to their competences, supporting one another in learning a new competence. It’s work that brings the team together as they share their competences with others and see them being taken up. The way they will encourage one another, on the other hand, might be very different. One trainer might see it as important to support long term progress. Another trainer might prefer a route of many short term successes. The difference between both can be that one accepts the risk of conflict whereas the other might be trying to avoid it.

The leader’s task in a team is to create a context that helps the team members see the existing guardrails describing their task as well as what it means to be a professional in the team. The reason these guardrails help is that they allow seeing what is inside the task and role and what is outside of it. Many such guardrails will also be part of the organization’s culture and implicit rules.

It’s an important part of the preparation to set up a team. It allows team members to get a sense of being part of the team and to feel enabled to do the work.

Once the team shifted into executing they will see that any work being done brings new information. That’s where the leader’s task becomes to help the team see how the existing guardrails apply in the given situation. He might do so when the situation appears or in a proactive manner when it becomes clear that upcoming events will disturb the teams routine.



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