The Fp Teams Model

Guides Viewpoints

The Fp Teams Model – Overview

At Fp we’ve been developing our thinking around what makes a great team. We’ve resisted adopting the common ‘five-point plan to being a great team’ as we don’t believe it’s that simple. In our work with teams across different organisations, we’ve been playing with integrating leading thinking from Gervase Busche in the organisation development space with insights from the teams we work with. What is emerging is a picture of capacities (or qualities) that are vital for team performance – Discover, Distil, Do.

What’s interesting for me is that in most of my career, both myself and the organisations I have worked for have attempted to build the capability of leaders and teams by focusing very much on the individual. This approach has some success, but it also overlooks the collective perspective – it’s a focus on parts rather than the interconnectivity of those parts or the whole. We believe the collective or team perspective is becoming increasingly important, not only because it encompasses more of the whole, but because of the increasing need to lead through complexity. If teams hold diverse perspectives and capabilities, and are unified by a common goal, what emerges can be greater than the sum of its parts. This diversity and shared direction can enable a team to navigate the complexity and uncertainty that is too great for individual, heroic leaders.

In 2021 we saw growing interest in working with in-tact teams, even when they didn’t see themselves as a team. The senior leadership team is a great example, as it often sees itself as an accident of the organisational chart, representatives of departments rather than a true team, and as a result the individuals in these teams often have very little contact with each other. They might have a drum beat of sharing information which they then ‘cascade’ to their own teams, but often they barely know, let alone trust each other – at times they are even in competition with one another for successes or leadership favour. Their focus tends to be on their own functional expertise, and can easily overlook the common ground that unifies them. In these teams the opportunity and the possibility of working together and sharing their capabilities can easily be overlooked.

We are developing the idea of a ‘Team Fly-wheel’ to illustrate the energy and capacities of team performance. As a Fly-wheel takes energy and time to build momentum and start spinning, a team needs focused attention, nurturing and time before it performs to its potential.

We see three capacities that drive and then sustain the wheel’s momentum: shared mindsets, beliefs and behaviours – these also take time, energy and focus to develop in a team.

At first, progress can be slow, but once momentum builds you start to see the benefits. It requires a belief that your effort will pay off, a willingness to pause from being too busy to invest time in the team and how you are together, trusting that it will enhance your performance.

We use Sir Clive Woodward’s 3D Thinking – Discover, Distil, Do, integrated with organisation and psychological research to summarise the three core capacities of great teams;

The 3D Thinking Discover: A team needs a level of self-awareness, an accurate sense of how it is with itself before it can make choices about how it needs to change or develop or grow. Given this is a collective, shared awareness, the team needs to be able to talk to itself about itself. It sounds simple, but takes real courage and requires psychological safety and trust. Discover is also about seeking diverse perspectives and data from outside the team, to build awareness of itself and its context.

Distil: In essence this is about making rational decisions, whilst conscious of our biases, and informed by, but not overwhelmed by, emotion. This is particularly important with all the disruption that teams are facing – it’s really easy to make decisions quickly from an emotional place based on the habits that we’ve developed in the past and our intuitive thinking, “well this worked in the past, so it will probably work again.” However in a complex environment, that logic doesn’t follow.

Do: The team deliberately develop and learn through action and experimentation. The trap here is that we tend to think that growth happens naturally and automatically. Whereas the reality is as adults, our development can stall and we can stay the same, repeating the same habits for most or all of our careers. This is about learning through doing, so that as a team we continuously evolve as we carry out our work.

So if these three ‘D’s give the wheel its momentum, there are 3 qualities that create the conditions for the Fly-wheel to spin; purpose, trust and dialogue. We see a shared direction or team purpose as a key that unlocks the latent energy within a team and drives the team’s performance in a direction, helping them to come together in service of something bigger than themselves.

The wheel rotates around an axel, known as quality dialogue within the team, such as a balance between advocacy and inquiry. This dialogue keeps the wheel steady should it wobble or bump.

The final quality is trust, think of it as a lubricant to our wheel however in this instance we are talking about the lack of trust or the breakdown of trust – the break on our wheel. If there’s a lack of trust, then it stops the wheel turning because without it nobody’s going to embrace the vulnerability of truly open conversations, or ask the really difficult questions. A lack of trust will be accompanied by emotional responses that inhibit rational decision making. The team won’t feel safe enough to take the risks needed to develop or step out of their comfort zone.

The teams we work with have fun playing with this Fly-wheel idea. What happens if someone new joins the team and the wheel doesn’t slow down, do they fly off?! What unbalances the wheel? This simple idea helps them to voice what they notice about working in teams, to talk to themselves about themselves and to explore how they are as a collective rather than solely as individual parts. Purposeful team performance emerges from the complex interdependencies of many different factors. It’s impossible to define the territory of teams, but a model like this can give us a useful map and we’re interested to see how it continues to develop as we continue to learn alongside our clients.