action gap

Teams need to bridge the action gap

One of the things we have learned from decades of working on team development, is that the key thing that distinguishes a high performing team is their ability to take effective action.

This might seem obvious. But it isn’t, at least in our experience. The fact is, whilst striving to take action and make a difference, many teams get bogged down in a whole host of things that are at best tangential and at worst irrelevant.

We have seen super-busy teams, exhausted, stretched and overwhelmed who, despite herculean efforts, continue to underperform against expectation.

We often see teams of incredibly skilled individuals fail to bring their gifts into an effective team so that the sum does not equal the parts.

We have also seen teams who, when pushed, eventually admit that their role is unclear and that their objectives are constantly in contention.

Of course we have also seen teams whose list of achievements, outcomes and impact is impressive and they come to us hungry to learn and further improve. Their commitment to learning from their experience and adapting their approach on the basis of that learning is the key to why they are outstanding performers. They are focused on action, on making a difference and they strive to continue to improve.

Wouldn’t it be great if every team in every organisation was like that?

It is the gap between what a team is tasked to do and what it actually does that we describe as the “action gap”. The barriers to taking effective action can be many and varied, and we have learned a lot on how to help identify and overcome them.

Our team development programmes combine three powerful approaches that we individually customise to a particular team’s needs:

The power of the environment

The environment drives behaviour. Travel across the world and you will observe more similar cultures driven by their local environment than sovereignty. Mountain people the world-over tend to behave like other mountain people, in the same way that desert people behave like other desert people. The environment is a key to change. I have seen amazing transformations as a result of taking people out of their usual environment and placing them in another. This change has a neat domino effect on people. Different environment leads to different behaviour, leads to exploration of different capabilities, that in turn can unlock new beliefs and mindsets. This results in much learning, and the realisation that there are choices. Apply those choices back in your old environment and it can build bridges across the action gap.

The power of discomfort

We all get cosy and complacent, some more than others. This isn’t conducive to learning - it's like a lifetime duvet day! We have to shake things up. As Michael Crichton once wrote “We need to leave our cupboards and refrigerators behind and have some adventures”. When people step out of comfort into the stretch zone, there is learning. We learn about all aspects of how we cope with a new scenario. How our mind, body and spirit combine to see us through, drive us on or hold us back. We learn about ourselves and we learn about each other. Adventure with a purpose can help reframe what it means to take action, to open up new windows on the capacity to act, to step up, to lead and to make a difference.

The power of wellbeing

We often challenge ourselves to pursue a healthier lifestyle - to eat better, to take more exercise, to start a more deliberate mindfulness, to spend time with people we love. We instinctively know as individuals whether we are looking after ourselves well or not. This is also true of our teams. We see a lot of teams approaching burnout, lots of unsustainable practices and little care for the wider wellbeing of the team that is so vital in harnessing and maintaining team energy in taking effective action.

In Impact we spend time combining these three powers both for ourselves and for our clients. For all of us - staff and clients - these three powers provide a triple whammy that works at a speed and pace that traditional workplace-based team development just can’t achieve.

Ultimately, effective teams take effective leadership action. So many of our conversations with very senior leaders speak of the action gap, the need for teams to step up and lead. As ever there is no magic formulae but in this season of team development programmes we are busy building bridges.