How to Create a Kick Ass Team

“How many of you have been on a team in a state of shared vision?” This is the question Jim McCarthy used to kick off last night’s Agile Boston presentation.

“Now, stay standing if you thought that team was at least 2x as effective as a team without one… 5x more effective… 10x more effective.”  The majority of us stayed standing throughout.

10 TIMES more effective!
That’s like the difference between sheer joy and utter misery, isn’t it?

Yes, that’s just what it is. So how do we create teams with this shared vision – those unstoppable, awe-inspiring teams that are so wonderful to be part of?

Jim and his wife Michelle have spent the last 15 years studying teams in their teamwork laboratory in search of an answer to this question. From this has evolved a set of commitments and protocols they call the Core Protocols.

It starts, as you might expect, on the individual level, with each team member committing to behave according to their 11 core commitments. These include things such as:

  • I commit to engage when present
  • I will seek to perceive more than I seek to be perceived
  • I will speak always and only when I believe it will improve the general results/effort ratio
  • I will seek to move forward toward a particular goal, by biasing my behavior toward action
  • I will disengage from less productive situations

Once we’ve agreed to honor these commitments, there are a set of 11 core protocols the team follows in how they interact with one another. These include things like Checking In to expressly denote our agreement to follow these commitments and, equally important, Checking Out to allow us to stop engaging immediately and without judgment when we feel we can no longer behave according to the commitments or when our time/energy would be best spent elsewhere (I will disengage from less productive situations). This is the start of a very self-aware and respectful team.

Team Unanimity

There are protocols around how to make decisions – wonderfully biased towards action over discussion. If you have an idea that will improve the results:effort ratio, raise it and immediately call a vote. How many times do we endlessly discuss things when we’re all in agreement or when we’re so far apart that we’ll never come together?

“Discussions ought to be illegal.” Jim says, “Let’s not discuss, let’s ACT.” And so, I succinctly raise my idea and immediately call for a vote (“1, 2, 3 – vote”).  Team members respond with their thumps: up, down, or in between. (The in between being what Jim calls “yes, but with a pissy attitude.” I’m not thrilled with it, but I’ll commit to supporting the team on it if everyone else feels it’s the way to go.)

The results of the vote will let us decide what to do next (act if we all agree, ask what it would take to get dissenters in, or drop it and move on).

This enables us to quickly reach a state of unanimity, where the entire team agrees with the action we should take/the vision we should work towards. “And isn’t this the best way for a team to operate,” Jim asks, “in a state of unanimity?”  Instead of canceling each others’ strengths and ideas out, we’re BUILD on one another. It’s like we’re aggregating the entire team’s IQ and vision instead of each of us spending all day thinking about ourselves and trying to nullify everyone else.

Ask for Help

“Asking for help,” says Jim, “is the secret to unlocking the whole universe.”

Vulnerability attracts, strength repels.

When we admit our own vulnerabilities and ask for help, people want to help us, it opens us up to all of the goodness around us. Not so much when we puff out our chests to show how strong we are, when it’s all me, me, me – we do the exact opposite and push others away.

Find out what people REALLY want to Raise the Team to Greatness

This was my absolute favorite thing. There is a protocol around discovering what each person on the team truly wants – not for the team, but for themselves. And what we want is almost always a virtue, something like courage or acceptance. Something that, were we able to achieve it, would not only makes our lives better, it would makes our teammate’s lives better to boot (yes! I would prefer to work with a more courageous version of you).

What’s wonderful is that once I say what I want, once I put it out there for the team, it’s going to start materializing because:

a) I can’t help but takes steps towards achieving it now that I’ve put it out there
b) My whole team is now going to help me achieve it, if by nothing else then holding me accountable for it

And as each one of us achieves our own virtues, it raises the entire team up towards greatness.

World Building

Jim ended the presentation with a note on world building. Each of us, whether we are aware of it or not, are building worlds – through our companies, through our communities, through our very own actions. We can’t help but to build worlds. But if we’re not paying attention to this fact, then the worlds we create will be ugly and dirty.

Look at what Greece created in its prime. Were those 23,000 people in Athens so much better/smarter then we are today? Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe they just lived in a society that expected more.

And so, he left us with this expectation for all of us:

You will build a world radically better than what’s out there now.

What will YOU do to build a better world?

» View the Core Protocols
» Check out Jim & Michelle’s McCarthy Show


5 responses to “How to Create a Kick Ass Team”

  1. Curtis Stuehrenberg Avatar
    Curtis Stuehrenberg

    Its an interesting idea, but I’ve found that consensus building and unanimity only seem to work for people who respond to a nurturing group model. People who respond better to a strict authoritative model tend to simply “go along with the group” but give its determinations little actual credence unless the leader states it shall be so.

    Did Jim address these concerns in the talk?

  2. Abby Fichtner Avatar
    Abby Fichtner

    I’m sure this is going to sound bad but I’m going to say it anyway.

    I don’t think the people who only respond to a strict authoritative model (aka “please tell me what to do because I don’t want to have to figure it out for myself or talk to my teammates to create a greater good”) are the type of people from which kick ass teams are made up.

  3. Harold Shinsato Avatar
    Harold Shinsato

    I didn’t attend the talk – but I’ve seen the core protocols in action. Although I’m sure there must be people who would never want to think for themselves in all situations, I’d be surprised if it’s that common. Mostly I think people withdraw to letting authoritarians make decisions because they despair of hope or fear reprisals.

    Although there’s definitely room for authority in The Core – just because team adopts the Decider Protocol and uses consensus, it doesn’t mean that no decisions can be made without full approval. In fact, at the bootcamps Jim & Michele run, there is quite a bit of “maverick” behavior witnessed and even encouraged. If the team won’t get off it’s butt about something because they want to “discuss”, someone can just go do it. But really – if the team is going to adopt new working agreements – is it really an agreement if everyone doesn’t agree???

    What I see mostly addresses the concern about the minion effect is a slow process of getting the team to a state of Shared Vision by slowly iterating through the Personal Alignment process, and using Ask For Help over and over. It’s really a matter of giving the time to develop trust not with some trust fall exercise – but by letting folks at their own pace explore what they really want and getting support from each other, and making lots of small agreements and keeping them.

  4. Hello I started my own forum and one of my friends suggested I post on different forums. So tell me what you think You need to change everyone in the world to make the best team.

  5. CuriousityForLife Avatar

    I still think discussion is important before actions are done. There are things some new team members are not yet familiar with that they have to learn still. Asking intelligent questions is different from lacking common sense.

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