Practical Developmental Ideas #1 April 2003

When we think about team working or team building, we usually think about a work group of four to eight people working to a boss. Lots of organisations have invested heavily in improving the way these teams function with good results. However, there are other areas of team working that can also give good returns.

How about improving the way teams of two people work together?

A very great deal of the work of an organisation happens in pairs. You could think about managers and secretaries, salespeople and customers, a researcher and her internal client, an IT professional and a customer manager for example. These relationships are common but I rarely hear of people spending time together to make them mutually rewarding. A few years ago, I sat down with my part-time secretary and invented and tested a very simple tool that works reliably.

Each of us wrote down on one piece of paper a list of “Things I could do to help you” and “Things you could do to help me”. Then we talked to each other about what we had on each other’s lists and decided what we were going to do as a result. It was a very easy, natural and productive conversation. The things I learned look “obvious” in hindsight but were not at all so at the time. I learned that I should let her know where I was going so she could find me easily and that she was keen to do a job I had been avoiding and did not think I could ask her to do. This chat strengthened our working relationship too.

There is more about how to use this on the article Team of Two

I am working with a client using this tool with pairs and small groups to develop co-operation between bosses and secretaries. If you would like information about the way this works, please call or e-mail me.

How about team working along systems?

All organisations have systems for doing routine work. Sometimes they “just happen” apparently. They work because people make them work. You can gain much benefit by stopping from time to time and having people who work in the system describe to each other what they do and help them see how it fits into the whole. The results are often surprising. You may find that you can stop doing some work altogether. I give below an example that shows what is possible and how to proceed.

A company made ethical products from a raw material that was variable and needed rigorous testing before it was used. It worked in a highly regulated environment. The manager of the quality assurance function specified the minimum requirements of the testing and results handling process.

I interviewed the people who did the work to find out what they did and later led a workshop where they talked to each other. You could do this too. They discovered that they there were several redundant steps in their system that they simply did not need to do. They transcribed results from one form to another for different purposes and then had to check these. Each time they transcribed and checked they increased the possibilities of errors and this was boring work too. The people saw this was daft and modified their forms so one form did everything. This saved time, eliminated some work and reduced the number of errors.

There is a bit more about this on Improving Complex Systems. I also have a a detailed write up that I will send you if you ask.

I am working with a client on a broader approach to eliminating unnecessary work called “Work laundry” that improving systems is part of. If you would like more information on this, please call or e-mail me.

Feedback please

So, I hope you have found this information interesting and in a useable form. The subjects I might cover in the next issues are: –

Eliminating unnecessary work

Improving working relationships

Thinking tools and processes

Improving meetings

Developing your people

Are these important to you?

I am sure there are many ways to make this more useful to you. Please let me know what you think of it, if you have time. If you have any particular developmental interests you would like me to cover, please let me know. I will try and respond if I can and if I don’t know anything about the subject, I will tell you.


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I am an effective and imaginative facilitator of change and development. I work with small groups to help people listen to each other and work together better. My other important work is listening to, supporting and challenging senior people who want to change their organisations for the better. Most of the problems that organisations have are caused by people not listening to each other and can be solved by better listening. I can help with this.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick