Ask yourself this: when you start a job what is the primary thing you worry about, and what’s the reason you left your last job? For most of us both answers will involve the people we work with. It stands to reason then that a successful team is fundamental in business.
Despite the significance of a successful team, there’s little focus on how they work in practice, and how we can make them better. Over the past century there’s been a huge amount of analysis from respected academics and institutions like Wharton and MIT, into how teams work, but much of this research has yet to filter into widespread business consciousness.
While the research material all came from different perspectives we found that the great and the good of team science and management agreed more than they disagreed. We’ve distilled their findings into a framework of six key ingredients which can help you build a happy, efficient and successful team.
Purpose and goals
Always start with your purpose: a successful team cannot exist without a common goal to drive individuals to work together. Everything flows when you know what you’re about. Establish your goals and communicate them clearly to the team, then work together to create a strategy to deliver those goals.
Once your goals are set, you can start to recognise achievements in line with these goals, incentivising the right things. This generates a stronger business focus on results: and if you’ve collectively agreed on your purpose, your team’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivations will be more closely aligned.
You can’t get every decision right, but you can create a process that increases your hit rate. Establish a robust decision and problem solving approach that works for everyone, and make sure the wider team assents to the process.
Roles and responsibilities
Getting the right people doing the right things at the right time is harder than it looks. Start with employees in a position of seniority: are they aligned with what leadership means in the context of their team? The more autonomous teams are within an organisation (which is fast becoming the way of the working world), the more important it is to make sure each person’s roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.
Productive ways of working vary on an individual basis, so they will inevitably also vary team by team. Working processes, such as agile or waterfall-based product delivery, need to fit the environment the team is working within, and the key to this is collective buy-in.
Team members need to have access to the right communication channels, and leverage the technology to make meetings and collaborative tasks productive. It’s equally important to reflect on those processes regularly and make necessary changes so as to avoid working practices becoming stale or irrelevant.
Relationships are about trust, and professional ones are no different. If teams establish trust they can reduce the cost, both monetary and emotional, of teamwork. There’s no easy answer here: it takes time and self-awareness, and a willingness to recognise both individual and team strengths and weaknesses.
Once an environment of trust has been established it becomes easier to encourage open and honest feedback: giving and receiving feedback is key to instilling trust in teams as it keeps everyone real and grounded.
Teams do not operate in isolation within companies – it’s very important to develop appropriate network links between different teams within the organisation. Relationships with stakeholders and other teams are important: if a team is aligned to the organisation’s values and goals it will be more engaged, motivated and do better work.
This is only a quick snapshot of some best practices for team management. The important thing to remember is that teams are living and breathing and constantly changing: they can excel in certain areas, develop problems in others, and sometimes be the biggest blocker to their own success. If we start looking at team performance with the same intensity that we analyse individual performance, employee happiness and business productivity will flourish.
Tom Marsden, CEO of team analytics company Saberr
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