Team work isn’t optional. Management theorists tend to over-complicate things by differentiating between groups and teams, but I like to keep it simple.
I frequently work with leaders and teams who ask me a version of this question:
“What if we’re not a great team and we don’t all really trust each other?”
Which is a necessarily honest and courageous start.
In my work I encourage my clients to consciously re-think what we mean by “teams”; to go beyond the idea that a team is only the group of people who report to one manager or one project lead.
We all belong to multiple teams
If you need other people to contribute to your output at work, then you’re part of their team. Their contribution might be time, advice, encouragement or materials and the contribution may be big or small, consistent or intermittent.
Team work is about co-operation and contribution
Great teams work well when the individuals have the mindset:
“What can I contribute?”
“What can I get out of this?” or “How can I get other people to do what I want them to do?”
Don’t obsess about trust
Of course, trust is a fundamental aspect of a high-performing team, but the reality is that we all have experience of belonging to teams where trust might not be optimal.
Virtual teams, matrix organisations and a tendency to promote managers without formal training; mean that politics, turf wars and competing agendas are bound to get in the way of teamwork.
Teams don’t have to be perfect
I think that we have a tendency to romanticise the ideal team, when “good enough” is sometimes a lot better than average.
Instead of waiting for some magical time when trust will emerge or crossing your fingers that you’ll get some budget to hire an outside coach to help you strengthen those bonds, you could just do five things.
The real world guide to “good enough” teams
Five things any team can (and should) focus on to get great results
Does the group decide HOW the task is going to be achieved, WHO is going to do what and WHEN each part of the task needs to be finished?
I’m always amazed at how little time teams spend planning before leaping to the doing-phase. This stage is the foundation for successful and timely output, but only if attention is paid to both WHAT is required and HOW it should be achieved. Differences that are swept under the carpet at this stage will affect the team later on.
Do you have a system for assessing the relative merits of suggestions that are made against the goals for the team? How objective are you? What part does emotion play? Are you making any assumptions?
Neuroscience shows that we feel first and think second. In other words, we use our thoughts to rationalise our feelings. The strength of working in a group is having the courage to use collective wisdom and diversity of approach to uncover these emotions and assumptions.
Do you listen to each other? Do you all participate constructively? Do you support each other? Can you ask each other for feedback?
This is where setting your intention to good is so vital. Very often what is needed at this stage is the courage to talk about what is working and what is not working IN THE RELATIONSHIP. Instead, what often happens is the group focuses on the task or project that might be going off track.
Effective teams develop a habit of spending some time as a group to check-in and ask: “How are we doing? How might we improve?”
Does a leader emerge? Does the group accept leadership? What kind of leadership is shown?
Leadership comes in many forms – some helpful, some less so. Formal coercive power is not really leadership, so good teams get used to nurturing leadership behaviours within the group, based on collaboration.
How does the group cope with pressure, disagreement or deadlock?
One thing is certain – projects don’t go to plan and people are predictably unpredictable. Being able to stay engaged and keep contributing and supporting is seen as key elements of team success.
Trust is an outcome of team work, not the start point
Trust emerges in a relationship. So what we need at the beginning is something else, something that we can offer that does not depend on others. You might have noticed that all five of these elements required something we all have.
That something is courage.
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“I would highly recommend journal writing. I joined one of Moyra’s journal safari sessions a couple of weeks ago and have been keeping a daily journal ever since. The main benefits for me is it’s helped me to keep perspective in these times, not to be too hard on myself and be thankful for the things I have achieved.“