Fast Team Formation: 5 Steps, 10 Minutes

Teams have their own version of “the liability of newness.”  New teams—groups that have come together in a particular configuration for the first time—have substantially greater challenges coordinating themselves, are more likely to make mistakes, and are less likely to catch and correct those mistakes in time.  Studies show, for example, that about 80% of aviation accidents occur in the first leg of the first time a team flies together.  Error rates in emergency rooms and surgical suites, including operating on the wrong body part, are much higher when team members have never worked together before.

Looking at new teams through the lens of the 6 Conditions, we can see why.  Almost none of the 6 Conditions that drive team effectiveness are in good shape when a team first convenes: A Real Team?  Not yet, because the team boundaries are new, the membership has only just been stabilized.  A Compelling Purpose?  In the first few moments in the life of a team, members can have very different understandings and expectations of what the team has to do, what the main priorities are. The Right People?  Maybe, but in a new team, members may have no sense of what others bring to the table or who to look to for key knowledge and experience, beyond the most obvious surface expectations of people’s professional roles.  Sound Structure?  New teams are even more likely than long standing teams to inappropriately disaggregate team tasks into individual ones, because they don’t yet know how to work together or to count on each other; moreover, if they have shared norms at all—questionable in a brand new team—those norms are imported from other contexts and experiences, and may be wholly unsuited to the immediate demands the team faces.  Supportive Context?  Team members may not yet know what resources or information they need or how to access it.

Team Coaching?  In settings where teams continually reconfigure, almost never do they have expert support in becoming great teams.

Let’s change that.

Across the country and around the world, frontline healthcare workers are scrambling in high-stress, unpredictable conditions, working closely together with colleagues from distant places, serving us under the most stressful possible conditions, including terrible risks to their own health and that of their loved ones.  We can help them be reliably excellent teams.

About 7 years ago, Richard Hackman and I embarked on a project aimed at devising a Fast Team Formation that could take a shaky, newly configured team through a series of intentional steps that could get them on a strong positive trajectory, and help them solve the liability of newness.  We tested it with teams of emergency pediatric surgery teams in simulation training, comparing the error rates and surgical outcomes of teams who did a Fast Team Formation with those who followed typical procedures involving no attention to team formation.  What we saw was that teams who spent 10 minutes in an intentional pre-surgical team formation process made radically fewer mistakes, were better able to catch and correct the ones they made, and were far better able to surface all the needed voices in the room who could contribute to understanding what was going wrong and what needed to be done. We’ve shared some general observations from that work, but never published the protocol.  I’m sure it’s not perfect (for example, our protocol involved having masks off during the briefing, something that has to be modified for the current circumstances)…but I believe it could be of great service now to teams on the frontline, to help them make maximal use of their collective abilities and motivation in these extremely challenging times.

Here are the basic elements:

Principles

  1. Privacy: Hold the briefing in a place where others cannot overhear it.
  2. Presence: Begin only when all participants are present.
  3. Faces: Members are identifiable to each other, and making eye contact
  4. Fast: Each step (below) takes two minutes.
  5. Facilitator: One person is responsible for facilitation and time-keeping.

Minute 1-2: Primary Purpose

What is our primary objective for this procedure?

Does anyone have questions or elaborations?        

Minute 3-4: People and Resources

Each person gives his or her name (no need for pedigrees), and briefly describes any

special training or experience that could help the team achieve its purposes.

Minute 5-6: Team Roles and Norms

What is each person’s role on the team?        

What must we be sure to always do as we work together today?

What should we be careful never to do?

Minute 7-8: Special Circumstances

Are there any special complexities or constraints we need to attend to?

How will we deal with them?

Minute 9-10: Uncertainties and Concerns

What remaining questions or concerns should we address before we begin?

Important: Each team member is asked in turn for any questions/concerns.

Our 6TC faculty are offering to teach the Fast Team Formation to any team leader or member, pro bono, who is working on the front lines in this crisis and to help them raise their ability to get every newly configured team off to the best possible start.

Go to 6teamconditions.com/covid-19-support/ to learn more.

Feel free to download the Fast Team Formation protocol here:  Fast Team Formation Infographics