April 7, 2022

Leveraging the “Z-Process” in Teams


The four stages of teamwork and the right people for each stage.
Have you ever been on a team where either you have a whole bunch of creative, out-of-the-box thinkers who thrive on the ‘what if’? They come up with the most amazing ideas; but when they come out of a meeting and you ask them about deliverables, action items, and who will do what, they say: “Well, we never actually got to that point.”
Or, you get a bunch of people in the room that are really good at analysis who get so deep into the details that eventually the meeting stalls.
The “Z-Process” is a way to navigate through these issues and put the right person on the project at the right time. This is especially helpful on an intercultural team because it gives vocabulary to clarify roles and expectations.
The “Z-Process”: Create, Advance, Refine, Execute
When you look at universal aspects of teamwork, there are four key stages that a team must go through in order for that team to continue to deliver: Creating, Advancing, Refining, and Executing.
What many managers don’t realize is that there are people who are naturals at each stage: Creators, Advancers, Refiners, and Executors. When you identify those people, you are able to assign them to meetings at the right point in your project. These are the four stages, and the four kinds of people that are crucial for each stage:
  • Creation Stage: This is where out of-the-box thinkers shine. You have to allow about 20 minutes for people to go wild. Don’t shoot anything down, don’t criticize, don’t say, “That won’t work.” Once the creators are done coming up with the wildest ideas, we move to the next stage. Typically, we think Creators and out-of-the-box thinkers need to be together in one room to do ideation. But it doesn’t always need to look like that. In some cultures, it is helpful to also have anonymous elements built into idea sharing so that every voice can feel heard. It helps to gather the collective thinking in the group in a culturally appropriate way. That can be done through one-on-ones especially if people find it hard to ideate on the spot in a large group. Being culturally minded in the creation stage truly helps you get as many excellent ideas on the table as possible.
  • Advancer Stage: Advancers are good at talking about the idea, getting people excited about it, and listening people to figure out if they really like it. Only after the “Advancer Stage” should a project does it go on to refinement. Being culturally agile as an Advancer helps you package the idea in a culturally appropriate manner and communicate it in a way that creates a healthy dialogue around the idea. So, when a culturally agile advancer gathers feedback, people feel free to contribute their authentic feelings about it. In this way, you will get feedback from all the cultural groups rather than just those that align with a particular feedback method.
  • Refiner Stage: You can spend lots of time in refining an idea, but if you don’t know if people outside are actually interested in the idea, there is no point in wasting time trying to refine it. This is where you criticize, ask difficult questions, and bring in constructive criticism. You also start to do your research analysis and start to build a plan around it. This stage can be difficult, especially for the creators and advancers. They may get personal, discouraged, and say “Don’t ask all these questions: let’s just. . . get on with it!” But only when the refining process is done properly, and the plan has been created, can that plan go to the fourth station, Execution. Refiners tend to have a ‘cave mentality’. They get into a cave and take the idea and the feedback on it and sit in a cave until they bring the product to the execution stage. The prototyping happens predominantly between the refiner and advancer. There needs to be a healthy process where the refiner iterates and pushes it back to the advancer, who gets more feedback and then iterates some more. In this way, the advancer is not seen as a threat but an asset to improve the product. It is a prototyping ping-pong between the two. No fear from the refiner and good feedback from the advancer. In today’s world, most users of products will be intercultural. So, the more intercultural voices you have in that ‘advancer refiner ping-pong’, the more likely the product you create will resonate with your intercultural end users.
  • Execution Stage. Implementers, or ‘Executors’, are people who love taking an idea, running with it, and making it work. Executors don’t like to build things. They want to get the plan, work the plan, and make the whole thing happen. However, it is not just the ‘what’ that is handed over to the execution team, but also the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ that needs to be passed on. It is up to the refiner to create the story for the executor to deliver so that they can develop an execution strategy for the product. This requires some really important thinking from both the refiner and the advancer that will allow the end-user to embrace the new product or method. The execution team then starts hearing stories from the end-users, and those need to flow back to the refiner, and it is always helpful to get advancers involved in gathering the feedback from the end-user. When the client finds a bug or suggests a package that wasn’t thought of, that feedback must go back to the refiner and
In addition to people who are naturally most comfortable working in just one stage, you also have ‘flexors’. ‘Flexors’ are valuable people that are not limited to a single stage. They usually gravitate quite naturally to three of the stages.
Flexors are very important in that they can step in and out of jobs, and get involved in different projects for a limited amount of time. They can fill gaps in a pinch.
To be mindful of the “Z-Process”: Hire the right people at the right time on each project.
One of the ways to do that is to use a tool like the ‘Team Dimensions’, where you can figure out what roles people naturally love to play in a team. When you have an intercultural team, you need to recognize that cultural differences often come up as ideas and projects move from one stage to another. Turn your team into a High-Performing Intercultural Team to build a healthy team culture and improve your team’s ability to use the Z-Process.
If you structure the process of hiring the right people at the right stage in the “Z” process, you can save a lot of money, and a lot of stress as your team matures.
Turn your team into a High-Performing Intercultural Team. Start the journey Here.
KnowledgeWorkx uses the “Z-Process” in engagements around the world.
Contact us if you want to know more about how to use the “Z-Process” to craft effective teams.

Check out more articles on our KnowledgeWorkx Resource  page.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.