Not Even Wrong – Team Point of Departure


Notice how the registration sort of spells out KAOS?

August 2015
The Leela Palace, Bangalore, India

The journey is the reward
– Daoist proverb

Important looking European business men are scattered around the bar. Their pale faces are lit up from their laptops, making them look like evil alien masterminds contemplating the destruction of earth. A troubadour with a lavish taste for reverb and cowboy boots is performing a beautiful rendition of “Always on my mind”. I find myself to be the only one making the effort of giving a clap, a realisation that just makes me clap even more. I even throw in an elegant “whoop” for good measure. You see, when caught doing something perceivably weird, your best strategy is to crank up the volume. Invite your surroundings to recalibrate “normal”. If nothing else, appreciating the efforts – big and small – of our fellow humans is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a great way to make new friends.

In his break the troubadour stops by, thanking me for clapping, and we chat for a while. He says that Lady Gaga is destroying music, and he informs me that the greatest now living country/folk star is Bobby Cash, “the Indian cowboy”. He also grants me the favour of a request, and soon the ambiance is perfected by the sound of a heartfelt version of Folsom Prison Blues.

I’ve travelled to Bangalore to assist in the creation of a new team, helping an organisation that is growing at tremendous speed. Naturally, this rapid growth poses a challenge, but these are happy problems to have. So, my contribution here, was a guided tour through a Team Point of Departure process, or POD.

Now, a POD is a workshop where we strive towards a shared understanding regarding team fundamentals. We discuss such things as group purpose and goals, and how the group will meet, plan, execute, communicate and relate to each other and the surrounding organisation. Expressed academically, the intent is to launch a “self-sustaining process that can proceed without external input”.

Some refer to this as “bootstrapping a team”, but I prefer the term Point of Departure, as this implies that the team is about to embark on a journey, where the destination is enhanced group effectiveness. I believe I picked up the term from the Kaospilots, a few years back.

Now, a POD couples well with Wheelan’s Integrated Model of Group Development, in the sense that a successful Point of Departure speeds up the transition to higher levels by clarifying the basics of team work early in the life of the team. And when conflicts appear – as they inevitably will in some shape or form – the very fact that the Team has arrived at their work agreements together sets a standard for how the group will react when difficult conversations must be had.

I chose to go with a very straight forward “1-2-4-All” workshop design, and I base the content on Roger Schwarz’ Group Effectiveness Model – with a few minor variations. I’ve broken down Schwarz’ model to a list that covers most of the things that teams need to come to agreement about, and I’ve reframed the list items into open ended questions. The team reflects on these questions first alone, then again two-and-two, four-and-four and finally as a team. Hence the name of the format “1-2-4-All”. This allows the conversations to go increasingly deeper, and the team members can build on each other’s input. This facilitates high quality interactions and it’s also beneficial for team members who might not be comfortable expressing themselves in large groups without the time to think things through a bit.

Normally, I would also include an element where team members are invited to share some more personal information about themselves, but as the team members know each other from previous workplaces, I chose to skip this step in this particular instance.

The real value in these exercises is – as always – the quality conversations we’re having and the shared understanding that emerges as everyone have the opportunity to give voice to their thoughts and feelings. The secondary value is a high level condensed version of the conversations, called a Team Charter. The charter can be useful for the team in future retrospectives, facilitate the onboarding of new team members, and help make the team more visible to the rest of the organisation.

What usually happens, and it certainly happened in Bangalore, is that a few sticky phrases that sort of captures the essence of the team tend to emerge. These phrases can be deeply meaningful to the team, but meaningless for anyone outside the team boundary. These phrases tend to reflect important core values or “truths” that the team shares and lives by.

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