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Using the Z-Process to Develop an Effective Team Workflow

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

Team Dimensions Profile, Part 2 of 2

The Z-Process is all about the workflow of a mature team. A mature team involves a balance of the four types of team roles described in part 1: Creators, Advancers, Refiners, and Executors.

The Z-Process represents the ideal workflow

Consider the four major roles arranged around the circle described in part one of this series. The Team Dimensions tool places the first one, the Creator, at the top of the dial. The second role, the Advancer, is placed at the 3 o-clock position of the circle. The Refiner is placed directly across the circle from the Advancer, at 9 o-clock. And the fourth role, the Executor, is placed at the bottom of the dial at 6 o-clock.

If you move from one to the next in the above order, Creator-Advancer-Refiner-Executor, you trace a "Z-pattern". This "Z" represents the ideal workflow, and this can only be achieved in a mature, balanced team. As noted in part 1, a team should be assessed; its weaknesses or lack of depth in certain types of team roles should be noted; and steps should be taken to round out the team or compensate for its weaknesses.

Tracing the "Z-pattern" against team roles

Typically, a Creator comes up with new ideas. The Creator is a visionary or imaginative team member (often the leader, or a leader) who thinks in terms of Possibilities. In order for that new idea to mature and reach fruition, however, it needs to pass through several stages. The ideal path for an idea to follow is the "Z" path described above: Creator, Advancer, Refiner, Executor. Usually, several of the legs of this journey are repeated before the idea reaches fruition. This is called the "Z-Process".

The second point on the path is the domain of the Advancer. A Creator should always give the idea to an Advancer next. Remember that the Advancer thinks in terms of relationships, and the Advancer typically deals with the customer or end user. The Advancer can take a conceptual idea, get some feedback from potential users, and help determine how likely it will be embraced and what might contribute to its success.

The idea may go back and forth between the Creator and Advancer a couple of times; but the next major stage lies with the Refiner. The Refiner applies critical analysis to the idea, researches similar ideas, and discovers its flaws and weaknesses. When Refiners have pulled the idea to shreds and determined there remains something viable and worthwhile, they can return the surviving idea to the Advancers with a pretty good idea of how the final product will look and feel. There is now a prototype of some sort.

A prototype may go back to the Advancer for more detailed feedback or even some limited testing. When everyone is satisfied that the idea is mature, it can be given to team members with Executor roles, to bring it to life. This is the last stage of the Z-Process (though an idea may yet go through the process again, so that bugs can be corrected and improvements can be made in future iterations).

Short-circuiting the Z-Process

Time and again, teams try to fast track the process of bringing an idea or product to maturity and fruition. This can be disastrous -- both in terms of the final product, and in terms of team relations. Fast-tracking certainly doesn't make use of a team's potential in terms of its roles and innate strengths. In fact, fast-tracking contributes to a team's dysfunction and misalignment, not to mention poor productivity and poor products.

An example of circumventing the Z-Process is when a Creator hands off his idea to a Refiner. In this case, the idea or product is developed in something of a vacuum. An Advancer has not had a chance to get some feedback, and the idea is a bit of a shot in the dark. The analysis and refinements applied by the Refiner might be great, but if the Advancer can't find or raise the engagement necessary for the intended end users to adopt or embrace it, then all the efforts may be wasted.

Worse still, is when a Creator hands an idea directly to an Executor, with the assumption that the Executor will be able to apply the necessary analysis and prototype a product. This path leads to extreme frustration. This is a dangerous and wasteful way to handle new ideas, because the Executor (who thinks in terms of realities) is wired to execute mature ideas. When faced with the pressures of refinement, Executors may revert to safe, known quantities; the expectations of the Creator may be dashed; and the idea may never have a chance to prove itself, however good it is.

Do you want to turn your team into a High-Performing Intercultural Team? Start the journey Here.

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