Building Effective Teams

“I don’t believe in team motivation. I believe in getting a team prepared so it knows it will have the necessary confidence when it steps on a field and be prepared to play a good game.”

~Tom Landry (American player & coach, ranked as one of the greatest, most innovative coaches in National Football League)

How many of you have held your breath as you saw a trapeze artist let go and fly through the air only to be caught deftly by their partner? That split second when you thought they might miss… only to be followed by a sigh of relief as their brilliant teamwork shines through.  Have you had those moments in your work team too?  Those times when everything seemed to come together in a beautiful symphony to help deliver outstanding outcomes and you wished you could capture that synergy and make it work everytime. Teams don’t really happen naturally and you can’t force teamwork.

A team, according to me, is best defined as the coming together of a group of people with complementary skills to collaborate for achieving a common purpose.  It is the complementary skills, collaboration and common purpose that sets apart a “team” from other form of groups.  All teams typically go through Tuckman’s stages of group development – first they ‘form’, then ‘storm’, then ‘norm’ and finally begin to ‘perform’.  Attempts to make teams more effective have to focus on identifying the right people to ‘form’ the team, taking care of aspects that will hold the team together when they ‘storm’ and of course ensure the most effective ‘norms’ are put in place to allow them to start performing sooner and become more effective. Let us look at the factors that really differentiate high performing teams.

  • Complementary Skills – Teams need to be built with specific objectives in mind by identifying individuals with a diverse set of skills and abilities; as well as the aptitude to capitalize on these complementary strengths to achieve synergies while maintaining a healthy respect for different approaches and values. The right team mix is an important outcome of the ‘forming’ stage.
  • Collaboration– The level of collaboration has been identified by research as one of the key differentiators of high-performing teams. A number of factors need to be planned to foster collaboration
    • Strike the right balance between collaboration, interdependency and autonomy. Norms need to be set clearly defining the levels of interdependency and autonomy which will ensure that various parts of the symphony come together cooperatively to deliver the final results.
    •  Solid relationships should exist amidst the diversity. Actively create an environment based on mutual trust and respect since no team can perform in an atmosphere of animosity.
    • Involve everybody and encourage all to contribute. Respect for differences and the opportunity to disagree or be different without being punished is an essential part of encouraging people to participate
    • Create an effective conflict management process where differences are discussed openly and resolved.
  • Common Purpose – A team’s success is essentially dependent on a clear, relevant, inspiring, achievable common goal. The power of a team emerges from the members’ commitment and alignment to the goal. Not only does a clear goal focus energies, it also holds the team together during the ‘storming’ phase. Create a compelling vision of the future to provide a deeper sense of purpose to the team and always remember that high performing teams work with more ambitious goals than average teams.
  • Effective Processes and Planning – A successful business team always starts by outlining the necessary processes. The expression ‘complete work approaches’ takes on extra significance for high performing teams since defining the necessary processes, procedures and methods is important to their success. Have you ever heard of a good surgical team or an orchestra or even a sports team begin their attempt without identifying their approach, plan and processes?
  • Open and Continuous Communication – This factor can be ‘make or break’ for any team. The speed and quality of results delivered by the team are directly proportional to how fast; accurate, specific, timely and open communication is within the team. Communication also has a direct impact on the other factors mentioned above. Encourage team members to make time to share, discuss, express their opinions openly and grow together. High performing teams have little time to waste on confusion and misunderstanding and intentional efforts at straight talk should be encouraged.
  • Empowerment – Creating a team and not empowering them to make decisions is akin to putting a cake pan without batter in the oven and expecting a cake when the timer goes off.  The most talented individuals cannot produce results if they aren’t empowered to seek the ingredients, create the right mix and influence the results.  Set protocols, encourage independent thinking and create an environment that demands and appreciates informed decisiveness.
  • Defined Roles – While high performing teams typically need flexible role structures and multi-tasking, it is important for team members to understand their own as well as others roles in relation to the goal. Role clarity is essential to build synergies and understand interdependencies and is a natural extension of defining work approach and putting effective processes in place.
  • Infrastructure & Training – Most often overlooked aspects, both the right infrastructure and timely training are really hygiene factors. Ensuring the team has the infrastructure and resources required to complete their tasks and ensuring they get the correct information, knowledge and trainings required to excel their goals is essential for any leader who wants to create a truly cutting-edge team.

All of these will come together to create the right result-oriented high performance culture.  As a leader it is your responsibility to lay the right foundation by ensuring all of the above as well as to build trust, endorse inclusiveness, encourage initiative taking and create energy within the team.  Effective teams have a higher sense of ownership and it is important to develop individual leadership qualities and promote a shared leadership culture, a very delicate task.  Don’t forget ongoing evaluation and monitoring of progress and performance. Planned development will keep improving the team performance.

“I’ve always found that the speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”               ~Lee Iacocca

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011-12 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

Building Effective Teams

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