Simply throwing people together and asking them to operate as a team doesn’t guarantee success. There is a difference between a group of people who work together and those who work effectively as a team. A big difference. High-performing teams, though rare, are a tremendous competitive advantage. Developing them is frequently cited as the No. 1 challenge of leaders.
As an organizational consultant, I am often asked to help teams that are “stuck” or not meeting their potential. I identify team challenges and opportunities and help them increase collaboration and performance. While there are many factors that affect team performance, these are some that guide my work with teams:
- Trust. This is critical to all great teams (and organizations). Team synergy, innovation, risk-taking and constructive challenge can’t happen without trust. It allows highly driven individuals to embrace difference and conflict and to challenge the status quo in a positive, powerful way. Without trust, teams get bogged down trying to deal with dysfunctional behaviors, including low team “EQ,” or emotional intelligence, “misrepresentations” and personal egos, insecurities and agendas. People who don’t feel safe will naturally hold back questions, opinions and ideas — any of which could be vital to the team’s success.
- Clarity in purpose, goals/objectives, roles, responsibilities and expectations. Members of high-performing teams are clear about their target — what they are working together to achieve and their individual responsibilities to help the team get there. Without clarity and purpose people are reluctant to genuinely engage, and become complacent. Most professionals are energized by compelling and challenging goals. If your team has no sense of urgency, odds are it isn’t functioning at a high level.
Frustrated teams often include those who “don’t see the point” or can’t agree “who is on first and who is on second,” which often leads to ugly turf wars. This is usually the result of unclear task and role responsibility. Team leaders need to make sure everyone is clear about their responsibility in achieving the goal and why their contribution is important.
- The necessary skills/ resources/protection to meet objectives. Teams that face large skill gaps or resource requirements relative to their objectives are doomed to fail. Wise team leaders selectively fit members into appropriate roles based on the individual’s skills, experience, motivation and talent.
To be successful, most workplace teams require a combination of leadership, technical, interpersonal, problem-solving, decisionmaking and teamwork skills. Team leaders need to support the resource needs of the team, leveraging individual skills and providing the protection needed for team success.
- Healthy conflict. Conflict can result in creativity, learning and better solutions to today’s complex and ever-changing workplace problems. High-performing teams foster an environment that supports open, healthy debate around ideas and different perspectives. In these teams, disagreements are not suppressed, reasons are carefully examined, members feel safe to speak their truth and give each other constructive feedback.
In contrast, dysfunctional teams are hindered by indirect, disguised and guarded discussions. In these teams, conflict is either avoided (usually due to fear of retaliation or hurting others feelings) or dealt with destructively (hostility, passive aggression, finger pointing, shooting the messenger or scapegoating). No one enjoys being a part of this game.
- Clear decision-making. High-performing teams are clear about how and when decisions will be made and who has the authority to make them. In these teams, members believe their opinion is valued — and that it has the potential to affect the decision under consideration. In contrast, members of dysfunctional teams often leave team meetings without anyone considering their ideas or unclear if a decision was made.
- Accountability. In high-performing teams, members hold each other accountable and share the rewards of victory and pain of defeat. Individual expectations and commitments to support team objectives are clear and realistic. These teams focus on and measure performance and establish feedback mechanisms that clearly identify achievements and shortfalls.
In dysfunctional teams, mediocrity or nonperformance is tolerated and ultimately establishes itself as the norm. Different “rules” apply to different members. This lack of accountability frustrates performers and creates a team environment of inequity and disappointment. Sadly, many workplace teams place a value on harmony over truth, accountability and what is best for the business — and expend great effort and resources to avoid difficult challenges.
- Finding ways to work better together. The best teams regularly examine their working process. They evaluate and renegotiate what needs to improve. They “debrief” after projects to identify what went well and what could be improved.
Reward and recognize. Great teams take time to celebrate and share in their achievements and successes. I offer coaching (anywhere in the world) and team facilitation help: firstname.lastname@example.org or 360 682 5807.