If Your Team is Garbage (or Heading That Way)


If your team isn’t garbage right now, without any effort or intention, it will head that way. Luckily, you can train in a way that avoids creating garbage teams regardless of your role on the team.


The solution and prevention of garbage teams has two parts: train hard and train together. The application of training hard and training together looks very different across teams, organizations and industries but the fundamental pieces are the same.


Training hard means facing novel challenges that require people to do something beyond what is typical or every day. An actual novel challenge may not be achievable, and that’s ok -it's training. This type of challenge requires creativity or new thought patterns or new processes. In sports, this is often done in drills where one sub-team goes against another that has an advantage. For example, a basketball drill where you play five people (a standard team) against six people (a super challenging situation that does not happen in a game). In some industries there are sprint challenges where a presented problem needs to be solved in a short timeframe - the timeframe is the novel constraint to create the challenge.


It’s important to mention that this is intentional training and not the daily challenges (which may be novel and have new constraints) that are a part of what is typical for the team. If the vibe at your team is “we don’t have time to train because we see challenges non-stop and our hair is already on fire” you are setting your team up to be garbage - or at best mediocre. If “training is for new people during their onboarding/probationary period” then you’re missing the value that can be added by having a high performing team (or likely a team at all). Prioritizing training hard means your team is ready for challenges that will happen down the road - you’re ready to compete/produce/execute beyond what you’re doing now. Training hard is one part and the other is training together.


Training together is an added nuance to training hard. Creating a high-performing team requires both training hard and training together. Training together without training hard is a way for people to get to know each other and build connections and is foundational to creating a team but it can also come off as purposeless if done to excess or without focused intention. (I wrote an article on the difference between team building and team development that clarifies this more - find it at worksportlife.com/articles.) Training hard without training together builds silos and can lead to wasting energy on in-fighting.


Training together means the challenges require that people need to go beyond the individuals they usually work with - beyond their go-to friend/partner/co-worker/sub-teammate. Training together challenges require stretching to connect people who might not normally connect on the team or require people to connect in new ways. I’ve seen this in organizations where training challenges are addressed by small groups of individuals from different silos or in athletics when people operate in a different position than usual. (Side note - if you have silos that primarily directly compete with each other you’re on the road to a very garbage team.) Training together builds connection but more importantly, it increases communication capacity. Added communication capacity means that future challenges are dealt with more efficiently and, fundamentally, more effectively.


If you’re not in a position to design or lead training at your organization you can still combat the entropy toward garbage teams by finding ways to work hard and work together on a personal level. This could mean identifying challenges that are novel and experiment with treating them in novel ways or by engaging people in atypical ways to build connection and communication capacity. You may have to build your own training plan (which can be rewarding in the short term by increasing motivation and in the long term by driving happiness).


If you are a team leader you are in the best position to design and drive training that is hard and requires togetherness. You’re also in the best position to create time and space for training - don’t shirk the opportunity! Training hard and training together means escaping garbage team status and training like champions.


To sum up: training hard means you can deal with bigger challenges in the future and training together means you can face those challenges more efficiently. You can train hard and train together as an individual or you can create these conditions as a leader. At the end of the day training hard and training together will make your team more awesome.


PS - If you really want to get into the nuts and bolts of making training hard and training together happen with your team, consider joining a mastermind.


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