Whether you own a business, manage a group of employees or lead a team of outside contractors that support your enterprise, it is more important than ever to create the conditions for your team to collectively achieve your vision of the future and generate extraordinary results. Teams that are thriving swiftly solve problems, better serve customers needs, drive innovation, provide a competitive advantage and positively impact the bottom line.
However, organizational development research indicates that only one in five teams is actually thriving. In the book Senior Leadership Teams: What it Takes to Make Them Great, Harvard professor of social and organizational psychology, Ruth Wageman, described the performance of 120 senior leadership teams from companies of all sizes around the world as either “poor” (42 percent) or “mediocre” (37 percent).
When your team is languishing, it’s impossible to realize the full potential of your business. These are the typical signs: lack of trust, disengagement, confusion about roles, unhappy customers, ineffective decision-making, unproductive conflict, and burnout which results in significant opportunity costs.
More than 100 years ago, Andrew Carnegie observed that, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Today, Mr. Carnegie’s words are more important than ever. The nature of work in our modern era is infinitely more flexible than the strict, functional architecture that dominated most of the industrial age. When IBM asked 1,700 CEOs in 64 countries what they needed most from their company’s leaders, the ability to collaborate with colleagues ranked number one, with 75 percent of CEOs calling it critical.
According to “Collaborative Overload,” a 2016 Harvard Business Review article, “As business becomes increasingly global and cross-functional, silos are breaking down, connectivity is increasing, and teamwork is seen as key to organizational success.” The article also explained that ‘‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more’’ over the last two decades and that, at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues. More often than not, teams are coming together to achieve a specific time-defined goal, and then disbanding and reforming with different team members, different priorities, and different team leadership to accomplish an entirely new set of requirements. This constant ebb and flow of functional cross-project based work is a new challenge for leadership and requires an entirely new set of rules for team success. Being comfortable navigating the natural tensions that arise between the various functional areas of the business and the competing priorities of individual team members is paramount for success.
Traditional management models and even those framed inspirational quotes found in many conference rooms often illustrate teamwork as planes flying in perfect formation, rowers moving in exact coordination, or ants lifting enormous leaves in unison. Team alignment is often overrated. If your team is agreeing on everything and going along to get along, the purpose of a team – to generate new ideas, to drive innovation, and to achieve new levels of productivity – is completely undermined. There’s no point in collaboration without tension, disagreement, or conflict. Teams need to be given permission – even encouraged – to respectfully challenge disagree and engage in productive conflict for the purpose of improving the value of ideas, exposing risks and enhancing trust among team members.
A recent study by Google revealed that the two fundamental predictors of team success were 1) The ability of each team member to be “heard” by the team and that no one team member dominated the conversation and 2) That all members of the team had a higher than average “social sensitivity” – meaning that team members were cognizant of what their teammates were feeling based on verbal and non-verbal cues. In other words, the higher performing teams listened more, were more empathetic to one another and more tuned-in when a team member might feel threatened or might be withholding input.
To build a better future for your organization and ensure your team thrives, create these seven necessary conditions for team success:
- Build a culture that is based on trust and embraces accountability
- Inspire your team with a clear, compelling vision of the future
- Shift power from the individual to the team and encourage shared leadership at all levels of the organization
- Encourage teams to establish group operating norms – or team rules of engagement—that define how the team will best function, how team members will interact, and what behavior is expected
- Design alliances and establish ground rules for how to engage in productive conflict
- Consciously define the emotional roles of your team members, embrace personality-based diversity and create an environment where it is safe for different working styles
- Harness collective intelligence by creating a safe space for everyone’s voices and perspectives to be heard and acknowledged
From the C-suite to the customer service counter, cultivating a team-friendly culture is imperative for organizational leaders. This environment will make the difference between a healthy organization where teams are thriving and one that is languishing and just surviving.
Grow with purpose…