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Team Building – X-Teams and Searching for Gold

I produce and sell team building games for leadership development. Since this is my first attempt at a blog, let me start with a simple article I produced about using our flagship game for the purpose of producing high performance teams and organization-wide impact:

I produce and sell team building games for leadership development. Since this is my first attempt at a blog, let me start with a simple article I produced about using our flagship game for the purpose of producing high performance teams and organization-wide impact:

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The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine team building game is all about people working together on common goals to maximize overall results. The choices they make in the exercise align well with the choices they make in the context of their business, a concept demonstrated across cultures and companies.

Ancona and Bresman’s x-teams book (2007) offers some excellent insights into why some teams perform at very high levels and why others fail. Essentially, the authors believe that teams that focus more externally get better information and operate more effectively than teams internally focused, a belief that is at odds with how most teams are trained and supported. The book offers many examples of this dichotomy, which is common to the play of Dutchman and our experience with communications, organizational improvement and leadership development.

The “X” in X-team concept means being externally oriented, with people working both inside and outside the boundaries. “While managing internally is necessary, it is managing externally that enables teams to lead, innovate, and succeed in a rapidly changing environment.” This is the differentiating driving force for maximum success.

An X-team finds it necessary to go outside the team to create effective goals, plans, and designs and that they must have high levels of such external activity. A lot of that can focus on the customer and the expectations and these will often change continuously. X-teams combine the productive external activity with extreme execution within the team, developing processes that enable a high degree of coordination and effective execution. The examples used were meetings and presentations to and discussions with senior managers of their organization, combined with feedback to all members of the team about reactions and necessary changes. Change was a primary success factor; situations would change and the team would need to change with it. X-teams are also flexible in their approach, engaging in exploration, exploitation of talents and information, and exportation where they transferred their learning and experiences to other teams. (Yeah, they did get crazy with their x’s!).

Together, these three elements of external focus and activity, extreme execution and flexibility form the principles by which such teams are guide themselves – and they do take a significant amount of autonomy in how they approach and attain their desired outcomes.

Of course, three “X-factors” provide the structure and support they need to operate. These include extensive ties to useful outsiders, expandable resources of people and information, involved as needed by the core team, and exchangeable membership, the ability to add new people who come into and who leave the team as warranted by the situation. The authors liken the effective teams to externally focused operational groups, who work together cross boundaries and get access to the people and resources they need to be successful.

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In The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, the Expedition Leader charters each team with the goal of managing resources and time to “Mine as much Gold as we can.” They are given a clear goal with a measurable outcome and a deadline for getting this project accomplished. Teams can access additional information but this requires them to not take immediate action but to first plan the journey – we find that the impetus to get started generally overweighs the (charter) of gathering information external to the team. Teams can talk to other teams that have additional information, but the reality is that teams with this information may choose not to share it freely, keeping it for their own competitive advantage.

Leadership in the exercise should be viewed as supportive, since all the communications are aligned with that. But there is that tendency for the teams not to include “outsiders” like leadership, even though these people can provide additional perspective as well as other resources of information and value. Teams appear to want to avoid any semblance of “Command and Control from the outside, and thus put the Expedition Leadership people at arms length rather than include them in the team activity. This distributed leadership requires some additional dialog and possible realignment caused by new information and thus might appear to be in conflict with what the team already knows and wants to do, thus causing that outsider to be rejected, even when they can add great value to the task.

Good teams can fail when they are not aware of all the information available and when they reject the support offered by or available from outsiders to their team. “My Team, My Team, My Team” is a powerful motivator of teamwork, good performance and member camaraderie, but it is not the strategy that high-performing teams need to survive and prosper in today’s rapidly changing performance-based landscape.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a great tool to generate discussion of these issues and the possibilities for improvement.

For the FUN of It!