On a recent weekend I had the opportunity to observe a couple of different teams of teenage kids work together to accomplish joint goals. I was struck by the differences in the results and in how those who participated felt about their experience.
One group was a church youth group who were working souvenir stands during a major sporting event to raise money for their mission trip this summer. The other was a group of older scouts that were teaching a merit badge to about 50 scouts from area scout troops.
The youth group team was amazing in their execution and performance. I was stunned at how well they worked together and how they got things done. It was smooth and seamless. All of them knew what to do and if they didn’t know something they asked for help immediately and kept moving. The oldest of the kids had more experience than the others and they turned to him for help and guidance. He stepped up and kept an eye on the overall picture to make sure they had the merchandise available to sell, and helped get what was needed all while selling himself. Customer service was their first priority and they managed to be quick and polite even when there were 50 or more people waiting to be served. Once the booth closed everyone pitched in to get the inventory sorted and counted quickly and efficiently. Each one tackled an area and arranged things for maximum efficiency in counting the goods, without really ever discussing the details. Truly was inspiring to see them work together so well and have fun.
The scout team struggled more to get their task done. The day of the merit badge class they still didn’t have everything organized or people assigned to tasks. As they got started with the class it was clear that while every one of them knew what needed to be done there was no clear plan on how they were going to do it. There was a designated leader who knew all of the requirements and had all the knowledge of what had to be done. Unfortunately he hasn’t fully mastered detailed planning so his team was lost on what to do at times. The class was completed and all the scouts who attended received the training they needed. However some of the team was frustrated with how it went and were concerned that it wasn’t as smooth as it could have been.
As I reflected back on what worked and didn’t work for the two groups I realized that two key items for effective team work were what differentiated these groups: leadership style and organization.
The team leaders had very different styles which impacted the efficiency of the tasks. The scout team leader is an expert in this merit badge and likes to control all of the steps and be in charge of everything. By taking on too much himself he was spread too thin and things got missed because the others assumed he had it handled. His helpers had to wait to be told what to do since they were not sure of the plan. The youth group leader was more interested in enabling the others to do as much as possible. Some things he took on himself partly because he knew speed was critical and he could get it done faster because there wasn’t time to get someone else up to speed. When he had experience people around him he delegated as needed to keep things moving.
In terms of organization, the youth group had everything well organized for the sales and it was clearly set up for efficiency of sales. Before they got started for the day each person knew exactly what their role was, what was required of them and who to ask if they needed help. The scouts knew what to do but they were getting set up and assigning tasks on the fly which lead to more confusion and some skipped steps at first. With a little more prep beforehadn, the activity would have been set up better allowing even more learning opportunities for the participants.
At the end of the day the scouts who helped with the merit badge were glad they got a chance to do it but were kind of frustrated by the things that could have gone better. However they didn’t seem to have much ownership of the event. The youth group all were tired and proud of what they had done. They knew they were part of a successful event.
So what we can learn is that it is critical to plan out what is going to be done, who is going to do what and then allow them to do it. Your team will be more efficient and have more pride of ownership if they get to participate in every stop along the way. Leadership and organization are the backbone of effective teams.