Build more successful teams: 4+ bold ways to do it
“Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan.” – Unknown
Do your teams work? I’ve been involved in loads of teams in my career, both as a contributor and as a team leader. I’ve worked with some great teams, while others… eh, not so much. But what are the attributes of the best teams? Is there anything great teams have in common? In my experience, here’s what you’re looking for:
- Owned goals – Successful teams demand clear, shared goals. If it’s true that the first job of a leader is to keep hope alive, the second job of a leader is to define a clear and common set of goals for the team to work towards. When each member is pursuing their own agenda, you don’t have a team. You have a tug of war.
- Honest commitment – Real, lasting, engaged, caring commitment. Not commitment to looking good; that’s for fashion models. And not commitment to a small piece of the puzzle; people who point, laugh and say, “Your end of the boat is sinking” are people you should throw overboard. You want commitment to the business result. To the team. To the customer. Projects that have commitment from all levels of the organization to those same three things – results, team, customer – are the ones that produce positive results, strong teams and happy customers.
- Fierce communication – Communication means not only talking, but hearing, listening and understanding. Fierce means unafraid. Unafraid to challenge each other for the good of the goal. Unafraid to ask for help when you don’t understand the when, the what, the how or the why of the effort. Unafraid to be challenged, regardless of your level – and the level of the individual challenging you.
A friend of mine likes to say, “I think I heard what you think you said” when she’s actively trying to understand a message. Do you know what I mean? No? Then ask me to repeat it, rephrase it, restate it or reframe it until you do. That’s fierce communication.
- Mutual respect – Look, you’re never going to love everyone you work with. But I’ve seen projects succeed even with teams who otherwise looked like “The Breakfast Club”. And I don’t mean the “Don’t You Forget About Me” kids at the end of the movie, either.
One of the most successful projects I’ve ever been involved with had a leader who routinely pissed off people all over the organization. But once those folks understood she was only taking such a hard line in defense of the project goals and in the spirit of communicating honestly and openly, she won (begrudging) respect and the support of the previously pissed-off stakeholder. I wouldn’t recommend that exact approach – I’ve seen many project leaders accomplish the same results in a more diplomatic fashion. But, commit to the success of the others on the team and watch what happens.
- Organizational alignment – Free! Extra bonus content! Seriously, I almost left this one out, because it’s really just a fancy way of restating #’s 1 & 2. If the organization as a whole doesn’t share the goals and isn’t committed to seeing those goals realized, then the team’s work is made 10 times harder. At least.
There’s an old saying in baseball that “You can’t steal second while keeping your foot on first.” If the team needs to keep it’s “foot on first” by fighting with the people supposedly backing them up, they’ll never have the energy to make it to the next base. Do you get the support of the organization behind your people? Or are you forcing them to “keep a foot on first”?
Are there other factors that help teams succeed? Of course there are. But these four or five items will usually get you most of the way there. Disagree? Think I left out something critical? Then tell me about it in the comments. I’d love to hear what you think.
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Image credit: LuMaxArt via Flickr using Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. Also available at LuMaxArt.com.
leaders, leadership, teamwork
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