The Formula For Team Success

In my 20+ years in organizational and leadership development, I have found that the challenge of assessing and improving team performance continues to be an issue for a lot of leaders. When it comes to developing capacity for leadership teams, functional teams or project teams, selection and development of team members is focused primarily on having the right blend of knowledge and skill with consideration for personality or cultural “fit”. Annual strategy sessions or team “kick-offs” may include some form of team building exercises or workshops that are designed to improve people’s ability to work together based on personality or behavioural dynamics in the team. While these events may be helpful, the comments I have typically heard from team leaders is that, while fun and somewhat informative, these sessions do not produce lasting tangible change in performance of the team in any measurable way.

Some of the most common team challenges that I have seen include:

• Team members don’t communicate with each other and work in silos;
• Conflict, competition, and politics shut down collaboration;
• The team generates great ideas and enthusiasm for goals but then nothing gains traction, execution falls apart;
• Teams engage in strategy sessions, collectively committing to objectives and ways to work together more collaboratively and effectively, and then go back to the office and it’s business as usual.

Through my coaching and assessment work with leadership teams, I discovered that there is a missing piece of the puzzle that often leads organizations to misdiagnose the issues that are affecting team performance and therefore apply solutions that don’t fit. That missing piece is conation, described as “The mental faculty of purpose, desire, or will to perform an action; volition” (Webster) and has also been described as an individual’s instinctive drive for taking action or getting things done. This missing piece can provide unique and profound insights into team dynamics and team performance.

Different from cognitive abilities (reason, skills, knowledge, and intellect) or affective traits (motivation, personality, values, preferences) conation describes how people naturally direct efforts to get things done, to execute. When applied to team performance, having information about how a team collectively executes on goals, based on their instinctive drive for getting things done can provide some very powerful insights to overcome challenges and ensure the success of the team. The instrument that measures this is called Kolbe and while it is relatively new, the concept of conation has been around since Plato and Aristotle.

If you have ever seen the now famous scene from Apollo 13, where Ed Harris’s character tells his team that “failure is not an option”, you can see instincts in action. If you haven’t seen it, here is a clip:

Having synergistic teams that are highly collaborative, innovative, and get results goes beyond just having the right motivation or skills and knowledge. Extraordinary results come from having the right blend of instincts on the team. When you put it all together – motivation, instincts, and skills, with targeted goals, you have a winning combination and a formula for success!

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