We’ve all been part of great teams and not-so-great teams. But have you ever stopped to think at what makes a team great or not? Here’s my take on it.
- Successful teams share a purpose
This may sound obvious but many teams that I work with lack a clear purpose. They think they have one, but when I ask them to articulate it, they are incapable of doing so. These teams are often just senior groups that come together to make decisions about the business, but they are not united behind a clear and strong purpose.
The question a team needs to answer is: What is our unique contribution beyond the roles that we all have individually? In the answer to this question lies the purpose of the team beyond its formal role (for example leading the organisation).
Teams who lack a purpose are not driven, they waste time and get bored. Teams who have a clear purpose are effective, united and impactful.
Once the purpose is clear and everyone is aligned and fully committed, the team can move onto the second element that needs to be clarified.
- Successful teams are clear on their roles and responsibilities
Teams who are unclear on their respective roles and responsibilities waste time and energy and do not produce healthy business results. What I see most often is overlapping responsibilities. This slows down decision making and creates confusion. It also leads to duplication of work.
The team should first clarify individual responsibilities. This means that not only the individual, but every other member of the team, should be able to clearly state every team member’s responsibilities.
In a second step, the team should sit down and identify shared responsibilities. This is what the team is accountable for. The implication of shared responsibilities is that these are the items that should be tabled in team meetings first. Decisions about shared responsibilities must be made by the team as a whole, because the team itself is accountable for the results. As a consequence, team members must hold each other to account.
- Successful teams are clear on their processes
Lack of clarity in team processes once again leads to duplication of work and waste of time. But it can also lead to misunderstandings and frustrations.
The essential processes and ways of working that the team needs to agree on include:
- Face to face or virtual? Frequency, content, size, how to respond…
- Decision making. Consensus or not? Real-time or delayed? Face to face or virtual? What happens when a team member is not present?
- Conflict management and problem solving. Should the team come together or simply communicate? Which elements require the whole team and which ones do not?
- I left this one for last, but it is the most important element. What gets covered (or not!) in meetings sends a strong message about what is valued. Meetings are a powerful symbol and an important ritual. Particular attention must therefore be paid to defining meeting protocols. Examples of questions to be answered include: How do we behave when non-team members are present? How do they get welcomed? How are topics for discussion chosen, when and by whom? What does the agenda look like? Do we include “white space” and time for a check-in? How long and how often do we meet? What happens when a team member is absent?
- Successful teams trust each another
Trust is the basis for healthy, positive relationships. Without trust, the robust discussions that need to take place do not happen. Team members are not open about how they feel and what they believe in. Decisions made are reviewed behind people’s backs. The team is fragmented and ineffective. They do not speak with one voice. Meetings are dreaded. When things go wrong, support is missing and the team implodes.
Building trust allows people to give each other feedback. They will be able to face the most difficult situation and come through intact.
To develop trust within the team, it is essential to spend time together, not just in a work environment. Team members should be open about their personal values and how these impact their behaviours and their view of the world. They should know about each other’s lives. Trust revolves around reliability (I do what I say), openness (I share how I feel), congruence (I say what I mean) and acceptance (I am okay with the way you are). Teams will need to work on developing all four.
A team that spends time going through the four characteristics of the most successful teams will become stronger and more effective. As a bonus, they will probably have fun too.
I’d love to hear about your latest team experience.