Posted by: genevievetaylor | May 4, 2011

Building the Dream Green Team

Next week I will be MCing the Sustainable Enterprise Conference, which is in its 6th year.  It seems appropriate in preparation for this conference to talk about how one applies the “4 Keys to High Performance Teamwork” (my last post) to creating that “dream green team.”

Think of your green team like a plant.

It all starts with the seed.  The “seed” of the green team begins ideally with a vision around sustainability, one that eventually (and ideally) is  shared throughout the organization.  This vision may be about the impact that the company can make for the planet and the community; it may be about the business opportunity available to the organization.  Ideally, it includes both.  This vision should be strategic;  inspiring;  practical and personal.  As my colleague Susan Briski says, if it isn’t integrated into the core business strategy, it won’t really serve the organization; likewise without it being personally inspiring and practical.

However, a green team thrives because of the soil. Green teams thrive when they are in the fertile soil of an organization that 1) has a robust shared vision and set of values, 2) clearly articulated goals, and 3) practices and processes of strong interpersonal and interdepartment communication.  The green team can still do a lot without these; but those fundamentals will are essential to any change effort.

Once the “seed” has poked its head out of the ground, it is time to fertilize and water it with a few excited team members.   Here there is a fundamental question that many change agents ask: who do we ask to be a part of our green team?  How do we be strategic about this process?  There are a few ways to answer those questions.

  1. Form the green team with those who already “get it”.  The pros: you have people who are excited about sustainability, and want to make changes.  The cons: if everyone is from one place in the organization, the effort will likely be limited to that one place as well.
  2. Make the green team cross-representational: The pros: If you focus on finding diverse perspectives moving up and down the hieararchy as well as “across” the functional departments, you could create enormous impact – and a voice – throughout the organization.  This can also be a meaningful way to create new networks and connections throughout your organization.  The cons: You may spend more time creating a shared understanding as people bring a diversity of perspectives, even “language” and sub-cultures together.  It may be awhile before you are “organized” enough to feel like you can put a united front forward.

My recommendation? Do a hybrid.  Start with the people who are interested; then recruit partners and/or new members.  At some point, ask for volunteers.  The system won’t change without all parts of the system present: and, it is also important to “go where the energy is.”  A multi-part strategy is effective here.

These teams also need fundamental structure and support.  Beginning with the “Charge” – or what they have been asked to do by their superiors, green teams are most effective when they have clear expectations around scope, decision-making, report outs, and other results. It might also answer such questions as what is the budget, time, and materials available for the use of this team.   Many teams (and employees!) have found themselves struggling without answering – and perhaps negotiating – those critical factors.

In tandem with clarifying the Charge is creating a Charter.  The Charter includes such agreements as the team mission, vision, goals, guidelines for conduct, and roles and responsibilities of the team.  An excellent resource on creating a “Charge” and a “Charter” is the book Managers as Facilitators, which I reviewed in 2009.

Skills and competencies for the Dream Green Team:

With these critical pieces in place, the change agents on the team will quickly find themselves in need of a variety of leadership skills, including: public speaking, listening,  facilitation, financial analysis, cheerleading, graphics, change management, coaching, and more.  They will have to be very clever about understanding others needs and how to frame sustainability in those terms; about helping people see their progress and impact; about using and understanding change management.  They may have to take risks, advocating and negotiating for these priorities.  They may need to help build business cases, represent data, create “ads” for change.  I have heard stories from green teams about their successes and shortcomings in all of those areas, and their surprise in experiencing the need for these skills.

Ultimately, I believe the Dream Green Team has the greatest impact when they dance the dance of being both a facilitator and leader –  helping the organization understand what sustainability means to them as individuals, as teams, as departments, and as an organization.

By relying on those skills, the Green Team can create a bountiful and diverse harvest throughout the organization.

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