Bringing the Outside In: Teams and External Awareness

When we talk about teamwork, we often focus on internal dynamics: goal setting, communication, leadership and process. It is equally important, however, to build team skills in political savvy and external awareness. These skills help the team scan their environment for new information, and prepare key stakeholders for future steps associated with the team’s work.

Here are practical ways to encourage external awareness on a team.

Identify or assign a team “scout.”  Externally aware teams generally have at least one member who enjoys “getting the scoop.” The best team scouts listen to what is happening in the organization, the industry or the marketplace, and then apply what they hear to the team’s mission. If there is a connection, the scout brings back the information to the team, and the team actively discusses whether it needs to make any course corrections in activities or communications in response.

Build in time to talk about the external environment. Schedule time on a meeting agenda to talk about the potential impact of the team’s work on its stakeholders, or external events or activities that relate to the team’s work. Ask regularly, “How could these events impact what we are doing? Who else should know about what we are working on?” Stakeholder management and building coalitions are important skills that flow from external awareness; talking about stakeholders is a first important step.

Invite in external stakeholders. Organize a brown bag meeting with another team doing similar or complementary work. Coordinate with your chain of command to invite in a senior leader that can provide added perspective to the team’s activities. Take time after these external visitors come to process the information and develop action plans.

Build your elevator speech. A great activity to develop political savvy involves asking team members, “if you were in an elevator for a 10-floor ride with the head of your organization, what would you say about your team?” Too often, teams focus on explaining their technical activities, without explaining the overall goal and reason for engaging in those activities. Comparing responses across the team helps calibrate team member’s understanding of the team mission and its importance to the broader organization.

Create a briefing or executive summary about your team.  Once you have an elevator speech, expand it into a briefing or executive summary. Once it exists, you may be surprised how often your organization uses and shares it. Think about others inside and outside your organization – who might have interest in what you are doing and how you are doing it? Work through your chain of command to explore the possibility of holding a briefing or webinar to share your work, or, converting your executive summary into a blog post or newsletter article for your organization.

These are practical activities to build both individual and team skills. They also result in tangible outcomes that can benefit the team and organization. The best development activities are those that also generate practical benefits and outcomes. Build the political savvy of your team, one activity at a time!

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  • elise says:

    Love the executive summary idea. Very frequently team members actually lose sight of the fact that a department is a team. In my world, it can be the front office against the back office and it isn’t friendly competition, it can be all out war. Will put this to use.

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