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Team Execution – Teamwork Story and 4 Tips

{ 9 comments… add one }
It’s about the execution and teamwork. Great ideas need execution. Great Team and Leadership Story

The ability of a team to execute is based on a number of things. A few of them include team trust, focusing on the right issues and the ability to come up with solutions to problems.

There is an Aesop fable that I have told many times in workshops. I love it. If you are kicking off a project it is a great teamwork story to start with. It demonstrates what can simply go wrong in team execution.

Teamwork Story – Team Execution

Once upon a time, the only thing that stood between complete happiness and a house full of mice was a big and mean old cat.

One night the mice got together and decided to do some brainstorming. They asked “How can we deal with the danger of the cat?” They voted on one brilliant idea that was proposed.

They would hang a bell around the cat’s neck. Wherever the cat would go, the bell would warn them of danger if got too close.

Each of the mice jumped and clapped in approval at the brilliant idea. That was until one mouse asked, “Now who is going to hang the bell around the cats neck?” There was complete silence.

This teamwork story illustrates that it can be easy to come up with brilliant ideas. However, it isn’t always so easy to execute them.

The following four tips and suggestions are simple. However, my experience as a consultant for a number of years tells me that they aren’t used very often by leaders. Hence the reason for poor team execution.

1. Assign an owner to the task(s). Someone has to take ownership for hanging the bell. If there is no owner, the bell won’t get hung. This was the case in the fable.

2. Assign due dates to each task. Without a due date the task won’t be a priority. And by the time you get to completing the task, the cat might have had her fair share of mice by then.

3. Be clear. It is important to ensure that everyone is clear on the task. Check for clarity once the task has been assigned. Lack of clarity can result in putting both the team and the individual responsible for the task in more danger; such as putting the bell around the cat’s foot instead of her neck.

4. Follow up. How will you know if the bell has been hung? Require that the one assigned to the task returns and reports on his assignment. To not do so can again put the individual and team in danger.

What additional tips do you have for ensuring the bell gets hung? What barriers have you seen in team execution? We love comments. Please comment below. Thanks!

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Leave a Comment

  • Pratibha Sangwan July 3, 2012, 9:08 am

    Fable!! Ah!! I love this idea of explaining concepts through fables. One of the most interesting read I must admit was John Kotter’s ‘Our iceberg is melting’ for change management, which otherwise is definitely not such an interesting read and I am sure many would agree with me.
    And I like your impeccable style of telling stories and then give the lesson.
    Yet another fantastic piece!
    When talking about team work we can not get away without Patrick Lencioni’s ‘The five dysfunctions of a team’. Another intriguing fable which tells why most of the teams fail, so he describes them as 5 dysfunctions- Absence of TRUST, Fear of CONFLICT, Lack of COMMITMENT, Avoidance of ACCOUNTABILITY, Inattention to RESULTS. And they are not mutually exclusive but interdependent and complementary. As Patrick rightly says “If You could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction , you could dominate your industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time” . Its the only ultimate competitive advantage because it’s so powerful and so rare!!..
    Pratibha Sangwan..

  • Mike Rogers July 3, 2012, 2:35 pm

    Thanks for your comments Pratibha. I love Lencioini’s book and have used it in about a dozen team development workshops. And I love how it reads as a story.

  • Mike Rogers July 3, 2012, 4:03 pm

    I am glad you liked it Yvette!

  • Yvette Ingraham July 3, 2012, 4:02 pm

    Mike, I checked out your website. I enjoyed the fable about team execution. It is so true. Also, the four tips were a great reminder of good information that we all have but don’t often use

  • John R. Turner July 4, 2012, 6:25 am

    Thanks for sharing the fable and your introduction / ice-breaker to training. Your team execution tips are great and I have the following comments as an attempt to improve upon them.
    1) Assign owner to the task.
    This works fine if there is good cohesion in the team and they are willing to take various leadership and follower positions. For newer teams it may be more important for a leader to be appointed whereas more developed teams may be able to be self-lead. For multi-task assignments not only does the overall supervision of the task need to be assigned, but other responsible team members may need to be identified to be in charge of overseeing sub-tasks.
    2) Assign due dates to each task.
    Tracking due dates is critical in tracking task accomplishment. In addition to tracking the due date for the overall task it is also recommended to identify milestones along the way. Also, any required materials, expertise, and technology required to complete the task needs to be identified (not having the proper tools or support from management has been shown to result in team failure).
    3) Be Clear.
    Directions and correct problem identification is critical to achieving an assigned task. However, for teams designed for the purpose of innovating new products and creative problem solving, vague instructions help foster team members to use new and creative methods to achieving the overall goal.
    4) Follow Up
    Follow up on task achievement is important, but follow up on sub-tasks (as identified in item 1) is equally important. Also, identification of how to determine if task achievement has been obtain is important, how do you measure that the task has been done, how do you measure if the task has been completed correctly? etc… Correct identification of the problem and identifying what is needed to complete the task (as assigned in item 2) will help identify and measure task accomplishment.
    5) I would definitely add a fifth item, Feedback. Feedback is required to identify what was done correctly, what was done incorrectly, what problems were encountered and how they were resolved. Reflecting on this information is critical in determining how would team members address the same problem the next time. This is part of the team learning experience which helps make teams more effective in future task accomplishment efforts. This feedback also incorporates the team activities as a continuous improvement cycle.

  • Mike Rogers July 8, 2012, 9:11 am

    Thanks John. Excellent additions and thought. I really do appreciate you taking the time to post.
    I like your fifth point as well. I like the idea of doing a debrief after each project as well where what went well and what didn’t go so well are discussed. Feedback is critical for success. We learn by what we do well and what we don’t do so well.
    Thanks again.

  • Francis Kioko March 13, 2013, 12:36 am

    These are great ideas and a nice story that we all can easily remember and try to assimilate to help others grow and also to boost team work.putting them into practise, one by one would really make the difference.

    • Michael Rogers March 13, 2013, 9:07 pm

      I am glad you liked them Francis and can use them!



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