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Get Set To Reset

Leaders are constantly encouraged to do all the sexy stuff like execute under pressure, swivel on a sixpence and innovate, but the bedrock of each of these are the more mundane qualities of reliability, organisation and discipline. Singers with a beautiful voice will only get their gigs if they can be trusted to turn up on time.  Talented baseball or cricket fielders, with electrically fast and accurate throws, are only going to make the 1st team if they are able to first collect the ball without fumbling it. No matter how talented we are, doing the basics comes first. A talented team is no different. It has to be well-organised, well-disciplined and well-prepared to perform. I call this ‘Getting the team Set’.

Knowing the team is ‘Set’ gives the team important certainty in a world that is full of uncertainty. In the virtual team, being clear and certain is even more valuable(1). And this importance only grows when we throw into the mix the trauma and stress of a pandemic like COVID-19.  In extreme times, our virtual teams need certainty, clarity and direction like never before.

Shared Mental Models

But certainty of what when so much is changing?  Science tells us that several ‘shared mental models’ across a team are highly predictive of its performance(i.e. 2-6). Getting the team ‘Set’ essentially requires the team to invest the necessary time to create, with certainty, these shared mental models(7).  This certainty includes: ensuring the team has clarity of purpose(8-12); agrees on its goals(13,14), especially those it shares(15-17); and has a shared understanding of the roles and responsibilities required to deliver these goals(18-22). They all sound basic. They are not. The vast majority of teams I’ve worked with over the years, regardless of where they are in their life cycle, fall short in establishing these agreements. Consistently I have found insufficient confidence and certainty that team members share the same picture for the majority of these. The pattern is often the same. The teams with the most issues, in terms of trust, or conflict or unrest, almost always have different not shared mental models of team: purpose, goals, plans or roles.

The Danger

There is a hidden danger though of getting the team Set. Many of the shared mental models we seek are inherently unstable due to changing circumstances. When our context changes, then our mental models often have to follow suit – especially for our roles and for our plans. However, the very real danger is we don’t reset. Resetting is essential as so often even when we think we have clarity and shared understandings, something outside of our control will come from left field and inconveniently muddy our waters. We find our longer term goals can quickly change due to external events outside of our control. COVID-19 has changed many a team goal in 2020. The sudden availability of a new market opportunity or unexpected profit pressures can cause us to set new or additional goals. And with new goals come new plans and with new plans come new priorities and with new priorities come new or different types of meetings we have to attend to make sure the changes we are making are sensible or are paying off. Unless we share the same understanding of all this ‘newness’ – chaos can ensue. This is often when I turn up. To help sort out the chaos.   So does this constant muddying of the waters give the give team and its leader a ‘get out of jail card’ that excuses any lack of clarity and shared mental models in the Get Set phase?

Not at all. Consider getting the team ‘Set’ in the same way you’d want to keep your bedroom tidy. You will spend a fair bit of upfront time initially setting it up with the right furniture and storage space to enable it be kept tidy. Then you will spend a little more time continuously ensuring it is kept looking good. Building the highly effective team – virtual or non -virtual is a process that never ends.


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  3. Johnsen, B.H., Westli, H.K., Espevik, R., et al.(2017). High-performing trauma teams: frequency of behavioral markers of a shared mental model displayed by team leaders and quality of medical performance. Scandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine, 25, Article Number 109.
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