Team Role Theory: Synchronisation

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Old wild-west films sometimes provide an image of good teamwork in the way that cowboys can work together.  When they want to separate a steer from the herd, they lasso from different directions and the combination of ropes stops the animal from being able to move.  One rope, or even two, would not be sufficient to keep the animal still: at least three are needed, pulling in different directions.

In a similar way, it is often the case that if team members can combine their efforts then they can achieve things that they could not accomplish alone.  They have to synchronise their efforts, making sure that their efforts are complementary to other team members.

One method of synchronisation is to use the MTR-i team roles as the basis for an agenda.  This is similar to the concept of De Bono’s hats: everyone moves into the same mode of thinking and behaviour at the same time.  In doing so, they combine their efforts so that they build on each other’s contribution.

For example, if the team had a problem to solve, they could start out by using the Curator role.  This would involve the team in gathering information and clarifying the problem.  Having a detailed knowledge of the problem is likely to help them produce a better quality solution.

But imagine if, at the outset, a team member moved stratight to the Innovator stage: suggesting radical ideas and solutions whilst the rest of the team were discussing the goal.  This would be disruptive.  It would mean that the team weren’t following a common agenda, but there are now two different agendas competing for the team’s attention. 

This technique of synchronisation – making sure everyone is using the same behavioural style at the same time - is a key strategy to achieve synergy in a team.  Because the team are cooperating, they are able to make much more rapid progress than if they were competing. We have seen many teams who have failed to move forward, even though they have been together for many years, because they spend all their time pulling in different directions. In fact, they inadvertently act like the cowboys in the films – if the steer represents the topic of discussion, by trying to pull it in different directions they managed to bring it to a complete stop.  Some people even stop going to team meetings because they feel that it is a couple of hours spent going round in circles, and nothing is achieved.

If the principle of synchronisation is adhered to by a team, i.e.: they undertake the same team role at the same time and don’t skip stages in the process, then it enables the team to make rapid progress in their discussions.

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