Why do we so often fail to work together effectively?
It is clear our capability to respond to problems lags far behind our ability to detect and describe them. It’s a sad paradox when abundant resources exist. We know that solo ventures don’t have the capacity to deliver what collective work can yield. Necessarily, the big and challenging work of change requires attention to teams.
Formal teams occur in our organizations and communities when two or more people are gathered to deliver a performance objective and shared activities are required to achieve it. Regardless of purpose, well-designed teams must include: roles & accountabilities; effective communications; individual performance & feedback; and evidence-based decisions.
A checklist of team essentials is a good start to building an effective team. Research indicates these six features are necessary:
A Clear, Elevating Goal. A high performing team has a shared, clear and specific understanding of what is to be achieved and passionately believes it is worthwhile. When goals are ambiguous, diluted, politicized or individual ambitions take priority then performance lags and dysfunction prevails.
Results-driven. Teams must be structured around their intended goal with explicit accountability. Typically, teams are established to tackle problems, innovate and/or support tactics. Problem-solving teams are often an executive or leadership group where trust is essential. Autonomy is a very significant for innovation and tactical teams must have task clarity to assure execution. Sometimes teams handle all three purposes.
Competent Members. The right people matter hugely. The “right” people have appropriate technical skills, knowledge, training and experience as well as personal attributes which contribute to the collective. Successful NBA coach Phil Jackson said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” One adds, removes individuals to develop a team. Careful thought about the optimal mix of people on a team is time well spent.
Unified Commitment & Collaboration. Loss of self, enthusiasm, loyalty, dedication and identification with a group of people are all features of unified commitment that reflect a physical and mental energy. Collaboration reflects both a safe climate and structure that encourages interdependence.
Standards of Excellence. Urgent pressures to perform with specific behaviors set expectations for team members. Performing to specified standards requires discipline and explicit process improvement. To achieve shared goals, both learning and accountability are present in an effective team.
Principled Leadership. Any effective team includes a capable captain. Team leaders motivate, educate, facilitate and construct a fair environment that engages contributions. When talented people are in charge morale goes up. Principled leaders offer a moral imperative for change. They intensely seek the shared goal. Principled leaders steer past the compromises of politics. They are receptive, accessible and demonstrate a dependable set of internal and public values. They assure team function through: good design, clear goals, a results-focus, member engagement, unity, collaboration and standards.
Team Threats & Multiple Entities
Two common reasons frequently account for weak or dysfunctional teams: politics and individual agendas. They are developmental misfires that torpedo progress and leave the promise of joint efforts unfulfilled. Politics kills both trust and substance. A focus on power precludes collective effort. Individual agendas sabotage shared intentions, interdependence and generate a toxic culture. Sometimes organizational leaders can limit these challenges through their talent selection. Regardless, principled team leaders must respond promptly to politics and selfishness because they cause teams (and organizations) to unravel.
Be aware that complexity gets magnified when coordination is not only inside your organization, but across organizations. The inputs for and implications of creating collective impact are substantial. It means we must understand how to integrate perspectives, engage multiple motives and align energies and skills in effective teams, task forces, networks, coalitions and other structures. Getting our own shop in shape is crucial so that we can constructively reach out to others and generate powerful synergy.
We know what makes great teams. If we have the will, we can do work together far better.
–Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and managing partner at Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com