The 90% Preparation Principle

Forgive me for I have fibbed. At the end of the last post when I said I didn’t know how to build team chemistry. The post was plenty long and I needed to pull the plug.

One of the secrets to building team chemistry is the 90% prep principle. Any residential painter worth her weight will tell you painting is 90% prep. Come on, there’s some female house painters out there aren’t there? The 90% prep principle is why, when our crib needs painting, I write a check. Inadequate patience. But I digress.

The best elementary teachers apply the 90% prep principle at start of the school year. They figure, “Even if it takes around 10 days to build a sense of community and teach the rules and procedures, we’ll accomplish far more than we otherwise would over the remaining 170 days.” Visit a local elementary school at the beginning of the year and you’ll likely see some expert teachers calmly saying to their students, “Nope. Try again.” And then watch the students return to their seats and line up table-by-table for recess or lunch a second, third, and maybe fourth time. Equal parts firmness and kindness.

In the same spirit, the best leaders take time when their teams are first formed to build community and establish decision-making norms. Community building, of course, can take many forms, but the common thread is team members getting to know one another better. Horizontals embrace community building activities more than Verts. Very early on, agreed upon expectations and decision making processes are made explicit.

Savvy leaders know that maintaining team chemistry requires ongoing community building activities, whether shared meals, celebrations, or retreats. They also know decision-making norms need to be revisited on occasion. They know their team’s success depends upon members genuinely respecting one another.

Families, athletic teams, theater troupes, church councils, school faculty, government agencies, and multinational corporations that consciously build community and spell out decision-making norms enjoy greater espirit de corps, and experience far less in-fighting, complaining, and malaise. Consequently, they’re more productive.

There’s an alternative that lots of teams revert to, ignore community building and decision making norms and hope and pray the common work is engrossing enough that people get along just well enough, just long enough to finish the work. Like running on a balance beam on fire. Run fast enough and you might just get to the end without getting burned or falling off.

And now my friends I bring teamwork week to an end with some self-disclosure. I’m most often a Horizontal; however, not when travel planning with the GalPal. How can I put this so that she keeps taking trips with me? Her travel decision making process is a tad bit drawn out for even me. When having to decide on destinations, dates, modes of transpo, departure-arrival-return times, etc., I transform into a Vertical. When it comes to group decision-making, we’re all probably switch hitters of sorts.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

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