Thinking back to the coverage of the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, I remain impressed by the outsized success of the team from Norway. Winning 38 medals as a country of only five million people, they were definitely ‘punching above their weight,’ as my colleague David Williamson likes to say.
I had not, however, connected the team’s success at the Olympics to lessons for those of us in the social sectors until I read an article in The New York Times about the “five time-honored, if unconventional, team dictums” that guide the men’s alpine team in Norway. I read and reread the article, struck by the way that these dictums seemed to apply not only to my own broad experience on work teams, but also to my specific experience helping our clients form successful strategic-planning teams.
- “A prohibition on jerks,” which, as noted in the article, is a variation on what Robert Sutton famously referenced with some stronger language. Not everyone on a strategic-planning team needs to be the picture of positive and polite, but we’ve certainly seen how including someone who is overtly negative or rude, often with the hope of ‘winning them over,’ can backfire and delay if not derail the process.
- “No class structure on the team.” As one of the team’s leaders noted, “There are no rookies and no champions on the team – we’re all equals.” On this point, what stood out is that we’ve certainly seen the benefit of having a mix of staff, from senior executives down to an occasional intern, participate as equals in a planning process. Some of the best ideas come from newer voices.
- “The social fabric of the team is paramount.” My own work experience aligns exactly with what one of their veterans said about his team experience: “There is almost no skill or ability you can have that is so good it allows you to ruin the social qualities of the team.”
- “Talk to each other, not about each other.” Translate this into an organizational planning process and you get two interpretations: talk about the plan or process, not the people; and if you really feel you must make a well-intentioned comment to someone that could be seen as critical, make it directly and quietly to that person.
- “Friday night is taco night.” Tacos or beer or big bowls of pasta – your call. Sharing a meal or a drink at the end of a long planning session is perfect for reinforcing points one through four.
I don’t know if following these rules will lead everyone to the same level of success that Norway had at the Olympics. They certainly are, however, a sound foundation on which to build any team, including a strategic planning team.