2536 Columbine Circle
Lafayette, CO 80026
Robin N. Amadei, Director
phone: 303-604-1960
fax: 303-604-6278
Email: ramadei@aol.com
Common Ground Mediation and Coaching, LLC
Helping People Reach Common Ground




     The XYZ Corporation is a large organization with its work force configured in teams.  While some teams are well on their way towards becoming true self-directed work teams, other teams are still at the 'forming' stage.  The XYZ Company hired us to assist a new team within the organization to begin the team development cycle.  There was a one-month period of time to:

     1.  Assess the team;
     2.  Help the team define its mission, vision, values and roles;
     3.  Provide training on communication and conflict management;
     4.  Perform intervention on a ripe conflict within the team; and
     5.  Provide Myers-Briggs training. 

     We began our work with the team by interviewing the management-designated team leader, Terry.  Terry gave us some background about the team and its formation.  This team was organized along functional lines.  Members of the team had worked together informally for a relatively short amount of time (2 years or less).  Terry was overwhelmed with the team's work load, the relative inexperience of the other members of the team, intense personal conflict  within the team, a perceived lack of support from upper management, and the strong pressure to have the work group "act like a team."  After this interview, we were invited to the team's first official team meeting to provide facilitation and guidance for the team's formation. 

     The meeting started with an icebreaker, a discussion of logistics and the setting of ground rules.  Then, the team established its major goal for the meeting, which was to define critical areas needing work so that the team could develop into a self-directed work team.  The Blake-Mouton meeting facilitation model was used to enhance creative thought[i].  This model asks participants to:  1) look at the ideal situation; 2) discuss how the situation is now; and 3) discuss ways to bring the now closer to the ideal.  Using this model, the team brainstormed a list of attributes of the Ideal Team which we recorded on flip charts.  We asked the team prompting questions to trigger their thoughts, such as:

     1.  How would the ideal team allocate duties?
     2.  How would the ideal team provide back-up for each other?
     3.  What is optimum communication within the team?
     4.  How can each team member grow and develop to his/her potential?
     5.  How would decisions be made on the ideal team?
     6.  How would conflicts be handled on the ideal team?

     The team had a wonderful time creating a list containing dozens of attributes of an Ideal Team and lumping these attributes into categories.   Not surprisingly, the optimum characteristics identified by the team follow those set out by theorists, i.e.: effective communication, clearly defined roles, an efficient decision-making model,[ii] enticing responsibilities, talented members and constructive interpersonal relations.[iii] 

     The team then discussed the situation now, comparing the ideal list to the present situation.  The team members felt that they cooperated fairly well to get the work done, that the work was interesting and enjoyable and that team loyalty was high.  On the other hand, other categories of team characteristics discussed below were far from ideal. 

     The third step in the Blake-Mouton model was for the team to discuss areas which needed work to bring the now closer to the ideal.  Areas included:

     1.  Clearly define tasks and roles of the team itself and team members;
     2.  Determine work allocation and prioritization based on deadlines;
     3.  Develop communication procedures so that relevant and timely information is given; and
     4.  Develop more effective interpersonal communication and conflict management skills.

     After the above analysis was concluded, the team felt that their meeting time was well spent.  They had a lot to think about for Meeting #2, which was scheduled for the following week.


     After a short icebreaker, a review of the ground rules and logistical arrangements, the team reviewed the progress that was made in the prior meeting.  The team used the Nominal Group Technique[iv] to organize the items on the above list in order of importance.  The members individually listed their priorities, which were shared and tallied.  The clear consensus was that role identification, communication systems and communication effectiveness were the highest priority issues.

     The group determined that the first substantive issue to be discussed should be one that would be easily resolvable, though clearly challenging.  Therefore, they began problem-solving on the team's Communication Systems.    Through a facilitated discussion, the team members were able to list all the junctures where information exchange is important.  Then the team developed consensus on how the communication needs were to be met. 

     Recognizing that one of our tasks as consultants was to gradually guide the team members into facilitating their own meetings[v], the group shifted gears toward the end of the second meeting.  We pointed out to the group how a facilitated discussion enabled the team to develop consensus on the first issue.  Fortuitously, the team members had just received a two-day facilitation training prior to this team meeting.  Therefore, it was the perfect time to invite a member of the team to co-facilitate the next meeting with one of the consultants.  Sam, who had natural bridge-building and facilitation skills stepped up to the plate.  For Sam's benefit and the rest of the group, the next team meeting was planned as a group.  This served the dual purpose of training the group on how to prepare for an effective meeting and, obviously, preparing for the meeting itself. 

     Examples of questions discussed to prepare for meeting #3 were:
     1.  What items should be on the agenda and how should they be framed?
     2.  How should the items be ordered?
     3.  What time frames should be allocated to the items?
     4.  When and how should comments be summarized and reflected?
     5.  What types of interventions may be required?
     6.  What would be each of the co-facilitator's roles?


     This meeting was devoted to defining the roles of the team members.  Through listing tasks, reflecting points of view and looking at members' skills, the team was able to define individual and team roles more clearly. 

     The team member/facilitator plunged into his new role by acting as a recorder.  As the meeting progressed, Sam became more comfortable in asking clarifying questions and reframing certain responses.  He recorded the entire meeting himself and developed an agenda for the next meeting with the team.  Sam took the flip charts with him, which he used to write up the report for the meeting.  Clearly, Sam's confidence was greatly enhanced by having the opportunity to co-facilitate.  Since that meeting he has eagerly volunteered to facilitate other team meetings[vi].


     Throughout the earlier team meetings, we had been observing team process dynamics such as: who spoke to whom and how; how conflicts surfaced; how members interrupted each other; etc., so that we could help the team develop improved communication techniques.  According to Edgar Schein, the key to helping a team to develop is to listen for process[vii], that is, to attend to how things are said instead of focussing on the content of what is said.  Based upon our observations and the teams desires, Meeting #4 was devoted to developing the communication skills of active listening, reframing and effective speaking.

     Two of the team members, Jan and Sue, were engaged in a substantial conflict based upon two years of compounded misunderstanding.  Both parties avoided direct confrontation, but freely discussed their conflict with others.  This triangulation dampened team communication and productivity and created an atmosphere of mutual distrust.  This meeting, given its focus on Effective Communication, gave Jan and Sue the opportunity that they both needed to risk addressing each other with their issues[viii].  We viewed this as a great opportunity to use the technique of 'meta-mediation,' where the individuals in conflict could work on substantive issues while learning the process skills of effective communication.

      As the various issues began to surface in a heated manner, we immediately 'stopped the action' and asked the parties to reframe.  For example, when Jan said:  "You never meet our deadlines,"  we stopped her in her tracks and said: "Reframe, using an 'I' statement!"  Jan would then restate her thought as: "When you do not get the reports in on time, I am concerned about meeting our deadlines."   Then, Jan and Sue reflected back what each of them heard from the other person before stating her own point of view. 

     Through this technique, skills that the team needed to learn were demonstrated in a practical way based on the team's own reality.  Jan and Sue experienced a real breakthrough in their working relationship by successfully talking out their issues with each other.  Also, other team members learned by their example.


     The last opportunity to work with the team under our contract was in the context of a one-day Myers-Briggs Teambuilding Training.  The purpose of this training was to help team members understand their own and other team members' individual personalities as well as their team personality.  A personalized report was developed for the team to provide guidance for years to come.  The information presented in the report came alive through the use of interactive discussions and exercises.  Especially dynamic was the afternoon session, where the team focussed on team strengths and weaknesses and engaged in team-building projects.          Specific discussions and exercises included work on:

     1.  Similarity/dissimilarity of personality types on the team.
     2.  Strengths and weaknesses of the team and of each member.
     3.  Problem-solving styles of the team and of each member.
     4.  How each team member and the team as a whole prefer to use time.
     5.  How the team deals with conflict.
     6.  Specific action items that can be taken by individual team members or the team as a whole to improve team functioning[ix]

     Interestingly, the personalized team report, which was prepared by an outside source, identified many of the areas on which we had been working for the past month.  This was outside validation that the needs and objectives that the team had developed for itself were exactly on target.  The report ended with an action plan, which clearly laid out the next steps for this team.  The team then prioritized these steps in the context of what they had already identified as critical in prior team meetings.

     The Myers-Briggs teambuilding training is also a good fundamental tool and could be the first step in working with a team, depending on the individual attributes of the team.  If the Myers-Briggs training is done first, an action plan is developed in the context of personality types.  This information could be used as a start-up point for a team to enhance its effectiveness.  Given the needs and expressed desires of this particular team, however, we conducted the Myers-Briggs training at the end of our month with them.  Because conflicts had been resolved and trust had been established during the one-month consulting period, the team members were ready to be more open and honest about their personal styles in the Myers-Briggs training.


     Clearly this team had come a long way during the month that we were privileged to work with its members.  Through this process work, the team developed a sense of its mission, values and roles; worked on critical items such as communication systems and work responsibilities; resolved some underlying conflicts; began rebuilding trust; and developed an understanding about themselves and others' personalities in the workplace.  If the team keeps the momentum that was established during this short period of time, we are certain that they will become a 'performing' team in the not-too-distant future[x].


[i].Blake, Robert R. and Mouton, Jane S. Solving Costly Organizational Conflicts. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc. 1984:56-77.

[ii].Schwartz, Roger M. The Skilled Facilitator.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc. 1994. 169-170.

[iii].Hucszczo, Gregory E. (1990) Training for Team Building. Alexandria, VA.: American Society for Training and Development.

[iv]. Levasseur, Robert E. Breakthrough Business Meetings. Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams, Inc, 1994. 38-39.

[v].Schwartz, pp. 259.

[vi].Schwartz, pp. 222.

[vii].Schein, Edgar H., Process Consultation, Vol II. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1987. 169-170.

[viii]. Schwartz, pp. 195.

[ix].Hammer, Allen L. Development and Use of the MBTI Team Report. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologist Press, Inc., 1994. 2.

[x].Zoglio, Suzanne. Teams at Work; 7 Keys to Success. Doylestown, PA: Tower Hill Press, 1993.

Robin Amadei,  303-604-1960 and Lyn Wade, 303-442-4542, 1995.  All rights reserved.

Helping People Reach Common Ground