What makes the best teams? I get asked this all the time in team workshops. Everyone leans forward hoping for the definitive answer – the silver bullet formula to solve all their team issues. I wish it were that simple!
It’s all very well to want the ‘best’ team, but everyone has their idea of what is ‘best’, so what do you mean? Is it about productivity? Is it about workplace culture? Or in the face of current workplace and societal changes is it about resilience or adaptability? Is it about all of the above and more?
In short; Yes. Across every high functioning, healthy team – there are similar themes, and when I list them, there are no surprises. Yet so few organisations implement the obvious. Why? Because it involves relationships, brave communication and a willingness to shift our thinking.
While agreement is a good thing, the best teams house a diverse range of opinions, ideas and expressions. And therein lies the challenge for all. Unity doesn’t require sameness. It requires that we value each other and recognise the skill sets that each person brings to the table. Everyone is equal, and that requires a commitment to honouring each other and giving room for each one to contribute.
It’s virtually the opposite of how most teams work! In working with organisations across industry, there are a couple of things that stand out as unifying factors. Firstly, it’s a shared vision. Individual members have to understand the overarching vision. Secondly and vitally, it’s clarity of role and purpose for team members because each team member wants to know how their role contributes to the shared vision.
Great leadership is key to having the best teams. Leaders who aren’t threatened by new ideas, but welcome exploration and innovation are the key to creating a culture that draws the best out of their team. It includes being willing to have brave conversations and wrestle with issues in the room to make sure the team stays on the same page. This is remains true for discussions and meetings over video conferencing. Leaders need to create the right environment for team members to challenge and improve ideas.
Dealing openly and consistently with issues inspires confidence in team members. The worst thing that leaders can do at this point is to deal with something in the room (or over video) and then fail to back it up. Our behaviour must be consistent. If we undermine what gets decided together, it means that we never really owned it and our credibility takes a hit.
Trust is another key to creating a healthy team culture. The challenge is that trust takes time to build but is easily lost. It’s a significant reason why making and maintaining the best teams is hard work. It requires everyone to take responsibility for their actions. It means that people must learn to respond rather than react. Covering our ears and yelling louder than anyone else won’t cut it. There’s a degree of maturity demanded that is uncomfortable for everyone.
The best teams are the ones who understand that no one person has all the answers, but that collectively, we wrestle towards understanding and outcomes. Too often teams defer to the expert on any given topic rather than testing the thinking and taking a risk of bringing some of their own experience or insight to the discussion. When team members feel safe and brave enough to do this, ideas are sharpened, improved and owned by the team.
There’s a lot of literature available on what’s wrong with organisational and team culture. Patrick Lencioni, best-selling author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and founder of The Table Group talks extensively about the need for diversity in teams.
“The kind of people that all teams need are people who are humble, hungry, and smart: humble being little ego, focusing more on their teammates than on themselves. Hungry, meaning they have a strong work ethic, are determined to get things done, and contribute any way they can. Smart, meaning not intellectually smart but inner personally smart.”Patrick Lencioni, The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues.
In a nutshell, the best teams come through hard work on the part of everyone involved. And after all this work – what’s the most straightforward external measure of a great team? Productivity. Because ultimately, teams exist to further the vision and mission of the organisation.
As a team, we are collectively responsible for the outcomes, for our client’s experience, and the way we market ourselves. The best thing we can do for ourselves, our clients and our organisations is to invest in making our teams the best teams. I have seen leaders during this time of isolation invest more in understanding and supporting the team members they lead. My hope is that this won’t be lost when we return to our workplaces. Investing in teams, listening to people’s challenges and ideas, seeking to understand rather than assume, will only create long term benefits for organisations and their performance.
“Teamwork is not a virtue. It is a choice—and a strategic one.”Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.
What are your thoughts on what makes the best teams? I’d love to hear about your experiences of creating healthy team cultures, especially in these uncertain times.