“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.” —Patrick Lencioni
Why do thought leaders give tremendous weightage to teamwork in an organizational setup? If it is so important, then why is it rare to find?
Well, to begin with, it’s because of our limited perspectives on teamwork and the importance of team building. We presume skilled individuals will combine to produce skilled performance in the same way we presume two plus two adds up to four.
This is not what collaboration is. Collaboration is when the result exceeds the sum of the parts, where two + two can be eight. This may not be the case in mathematics, but it is possible to achieve collaboration at the workplace by creating highly effective teams through team building.
With today’s complex business processes, no entrepreneur, leader, manager, or anyone for that matter can do it individually. You can be alone to go fast, but one needs to be together to go far.
The usual perception and understanding of team building is about organizing activities and games. Well, this is just a tiny part of the complete process.
Yes, you read that right. Team Building is more than just an event. Instead, it is a continuous process of diagnosing team dynamics and instituting plans and processes to improve team performance.
Let’s take an analogy to understand this better. One can relate Team Building to a car with four wheels driven by the leader. The destination of this car is improved performance.
The first two wheels are related to Team Dynamics.
1st wheel: Context — Does organizational culture, structure, and systems support teamwork? For example – is teamwork rewarded?
2nd wheel: Composition — Do team members have the required individual skills, experience, and motivation to do the job? Are we getting the right people on broad?
The other two wheels are related to Instituting Plans and Processes.
3rd wheel: Competencies — Is the team consistently developing behavioral team skills and competencies like goal setting, decision making, conflict management, etc.?
4th wheel: Change — Is the team measuring its performance and devising more effective ways of working together?
The car won’t run at the expected pace if any of the wheels is flat.
All these can be explained individually in depth. For want of space, let’s, for now, look only at the third wheel of competencies and developing them through behavioral training. A regular combination of experiential and classroom training can yield excellent team-building results.
Highly Effective Team Behaviors
Below are behaviors required for building highly effective teams (HET).
1. Purpose-Driven Attitude: HET is purpose-driven. The purpose is different from generating profit, making money, or just winning. It’s bigger than that and can be explained as their “Why” or “Just Cause” which fuels every action they take. Profit or winning becomes the outcome of their purpose. Usually, this purpose is known as the “Vision” of the organization in the corporate setup. HET believes in its purpose and creates milestones/goals for its fulfillment. These milestones and goals are their tangible, time-bound performance results.
2. Sharing Vulnerability: HET members are comfortable sharing their weaknesses, skill deficiencies, interpersonal shortcomings, and mistakes with each other. They feel psychologically safe to being exposed. Usually, it is difficult for everyone to be vulnerable as we have learned to become competitive and being protective of our reputation. HET breaks this barrier and goes beyond that. The secret sauce here is Trust. Trusting each other encourages everyone to be open and share their respective vulnerabilities. Since the attention is on collective performance results, any individual weakness becomes the team’s weakness. Working in silos is not something you see in HET.
3. Engaging in conflicts: If you are thinking about how conflicts can be engaging and productive, then you probably haven’t encountered any HET, which believes that conflicts are constructive and a must to grow. They do not fear it and constantly engage in conflicts to make decisions. In any team, every member is unique, and it’s natural for everyone to come up with different ideas. HET extracts and exploits ideas from all of them. Different perspectives are discussed, even if topics are critical and controversial. Average teams ignore such matters even if critical to team success but not HET. Engaging in conflicts prevents back-channel politics and personal attacks. It saves time as it is utilized for quick decision-making rather than solving interpersonal ego and status problems.
4. Being Committed: As simple as it seems, the commitment habit is challenging to develop. In a team setup, commitment is a function of clarity of objectives and buy-in from every team member, even if they were against the final decision in the initial discussion. Lack of commitment is the enemy of decision-making. In HET, everyone commits to the decision. Members are committed when they exhibit the following signs – having no ambiguity about the direction and priorities, having no fear of failure, developing abilities to learn from mistakes, taking advantage of opportunities, pivoting without guilt, etc.
5. Taking Accountability: Big word, right? Not for HET as they live this word. Being accountable for self and every team member makes any team high performing. This reflects keeping ambitious standards for each other. In simple words, accountability boils down to the willingness of team members to call their peers on performance and behavior that might hurt the team. Mediocrity is not tolerated. Fear of letting teammates down motivates people in HET. Many thought leaders agree that peer pressure is the most effective and efficient means for maintaining high performance.
All five behaviors are interdependent. No team can become HET by developing just one or two habits listed above. It’s a complete cycle. If teams are not driven by purpose and do not know their performance results, what will they commit to? If they do not commit themselves to results, why and how are they going to discuss and brainstorm ideas? If there are no real discussions and decisions, then do we really have anything and anyone to hold accountable for? It is always the integrated and not the individual approach that wins.
Whether you run a large organization or a small business, you need teams, and you need to build them systematically to go as far as you possibly can.