I spent a day last week with one of the teams that reminds me of the value of a great team. It’s a team that’s invested a couple of years in building a strong team dynamic to accomplish a challenging turnaround. At one point in the day, I started to say to someone that “you are lucky,” to be on such a great team. I stopped mid-sentence and changed my statement to you “have earned” your awesome team. Are you doing what you need to do to get the team you deserve?
Here are a few difficult and/or time consuming investments great teams make.
- Do you spend time getting to know one another as people? The team I was with this week spends a two-day offsite together once a quarter. On one of the two days, they strike out on a one-hour walk. Groups of two and three form and reform as the conversations meander across a variety of topics. This week, we returned from the walk to a contentious discussion on how to pare back tens of millions of dollars in capital projects. It’s not surprising to me that the discussion was more level-headed and less personal than expected after a shot of both oxygen and human connection.
- Do you constantly align and re-align yourselves? Alignment needs to happen at multiple levels. From the start, your team needs to be clear on your mandate and the highest priority actions that will help you fulfill it. From there, you need to adjust the list of priorities and make the effort to re-open people’s performance objectives to reflect the changes. At the most micro-level, great teams seek alignment throughout their discussions, re-centering debates by asking “what are we solving for?” It feels a little more tedious than just jumping in with a free-for all, but seeking alignment is always worth the investment.
- Do you participate equally in conversations? We know from research out of MIT that equal participation in conversations is the #1 predictor of team performance across a variety of outcomes. Yet, this simple discipline is almost never enforced. If you’re a vociferous contributor, are you wrestling with yourself to shut your mouth and listen more or do you just shout out everything that jumps to mind? If you’re a quiet thinker, are you forcing yourself to interject more often or deluding yourself that what you have to say won’t make a difference?
- Do you have the uncomfortable conversations that are required? Great teams approach the issues that make team members uncomfortable, they speak with candor, and they come to a resolution so they can move on. Are you calling out the unresolved issues that stop your team from making progress? Are you providing feedback to teammates so they know when their behavior is having a negative impact on you or on the team?
- Do you ask for help from one another? Coming together and having excellent meetings is only one measure of a team. People on great teams seek each other out one-on-one or in small groups on all sorts of topics. Ad hoc interactions create visibility to one another’s priorities and help you keep everyone aligned. Seeking out a teammate also sends a strong message that you value their perspective and are open to their advice. The more you demonstrate that you appreciate the contribution of your teammates, the stronger your team will be.
- Do you ask for a do-over when you mess up? It’s impossible to behave perfectly all the time. Great teams have a culture of giving (and accepting) apologies for transgressions. Taking a moment to say, “I was out of line back there,” goes a long way to showing self-awareness and demonstrating that you’re willing to accept responsibility for how you show up. Great teams also call it when they have an ineffective meeting, go down a rat hole, or make a bad decision. By admitting suboptimal performance openly, they reinforce what good looks like and learn how to avoid derailing again.
Of course, if you don’t make those investments in strengthening alignment, fostering trust, improving communication, embracing productive conflict, you too will get the team you deserve. You just won’t like what you get.