Teams are everywhere. Almost everything we do is done in teams; Marriages. Athletics. Innovation. Bands. Governing. Partying. Exploring and producing great results. All high performing teams have some common things they have to do well. Teams that struggle trip on some common errors that produce less than ideal results.
Doing the 6 Things Well
- Team Purposing. Well-functioning teams have goals, monitoring systems and outcome measurements. The goals have to be closely aligned with the organization or enterprise it operates. A top management team has to be aligned to the market and to the selected vision, mission and strategy.
- Team Operations. There are well known and agreed upon best practices for team operations. That is, the team knows how they are going to get things done and reach goals. Teams create efficient structures and implement processes that use resources effectively.
- Team Staffing. Once the goals are known and the operational skeleton is created, then roles have to be played and tasks completed. Although it’s not often approached in this manner, zero-based staffing would point to creating the team with the best available talent for each cycle/year. Teams would be re-created annually. They might stay the same or might not. Although teams having trouble are usually understaffed, they might simply lack the talent they need. It’s also possible to be over-stocked with talent, which usually results in people leaving.
- Talent Deployment. There is a lot of magic to “who does what”. In a Gifts Differing Mindset team, people are assigned to team tasks they are best at doing and to some extent enjoy, or to tasks that need to be done. The latter team role could be developmental. Developing team talent for now and for the future is an activity that creates the necessary perpetual motion for being good year after year.
- Team Engagement 1. There has to be a reward at the end of the work. It helps if team members are having fun. It helps if team members get along. It helps if the team evaluates and learns from their stumbles and also celebrates successes. Everyone wants to be on a winning team.
- Team Engagement 2. Teams need to be collaborative with everyone, every resource and every expertise needed to get great things done on time and within budget. They need to work the networks up, down, sideways, inside and outside the team and organization, to include all key stakeholders, customers, shareholders, regulators and top management.
The prime directive is to plan the work, work the plan and staff appropriately. This is an all-hands mountain to climb–team leaders and members and stakeholders working together in the best practice ways to get good things done consistently and repeatably.
It doesn’t always work, at least not well. The first set of struggles derives from not executing well the six requirements above.
- Team Purposing: the work the team is doing is not tightly aligned, is off track, is doing its own thing, or isn’t able to figure out how to align.
- Team Operations: the team is not using best practices. They don’t know these or do not want to follow them.
- Team Staffing: too little talent, not the right talent, or too much talent.
- Team Deployment: the wrong team members are playing the roles and doing the tasks, and/or are not up to expectations.
- Team Engagement 1: the team doesn’t work well together, they don’t help each other, they compete for tasks and attention, and they reject other or new team members.
- Team Engagement 2: the team doesn’t network effectively and therefore misses out on potential resources. They don’t influence the right people.
Aside from failing to effectively use the six things good teams need to do, there is an additional special list of 4 common teaming errors.
4 Common Teaming Errors
- Wrong team leader. The team leader does not match well with the purpose of the team, the talent and the processes. Simply, this leader doesn’t add value to the efforts and success of the team and, at the extreme, reduces the value.
- Unproductive conflict within the team. There is good conflict which leads to lively debate, creativity and innovation. There is bad conflict that causes disruptive noise and decreases the overall productivity of the team. Managing bad noise is an all-hands responsibility with a dominant role to be played by the team leader. This is the most common failing of team leaders who do lead well—an inability and unwillingness to nip bad conflict in the bud, poor conflict management and resolution skills, and failing to anticipate and intervene early.
- Not listening. The research is clear. People look forward to being asked and heard. People tend to go along with change and difficulties when they have had a direct hand in addressing the challenges. Not listening enough or correctly happens between team members. When the team leader falls into this habit, it is an even bigger problem. Along with poor management, a lack of listening skills or pure disinterest is one of the lowest rated skills of team leaders. Not listening will lead to not knowing, which means conflicts could be brewing unaddressed.
- Not learning agile. Increasingly, we are living and working in VUCAville. Everything is always changing. In the digital world, all team processes are being upgraded. Best practices are developing, sometimes literally overnight. Team leaders and teams have to constantly adjust, be more in touch with the times and be more creative and innovative. The team leader has to lead team agility. If the team leader isn’t agile, has a fixed mindset or is too comfortable with “the ways we have done things in the past”, the team will not be agile. It will fall behind and the agile team members will leave.
Focus on getting great things done while developing team members requires doing six things well, while avoiding four common more teaming errors. Master this approach and your outcomes will follow.