It would be remiss of me to write an article about teams without using this old nugget, so I’m just going to get it out of the way, and then we can all move on. There’s no “I” in team. There, I said it. But now that I’ve typed it out, I’ve noticed it’s an anagram of mate. That sounds better already, right? Your team can also be a mate, a pal, a best bud. And if that’s really the case for you, then congratulations: You’ve hit the work jackpot.
But, on the other hand, they can sometimes be hotbeds of personality clashes, misunderstandings, differing work styles and—small wonder after all that—a revolving door of unhappy ex-colleagues. What are the factors that make some slick, high-performing units, while others couldn’t organize the proverbial craft beer tasting session in an artisanal brewery?
Well, for me there are four factors: process, climate, focus, and flow (don’t worry, I’ll explain). If you don’t have balance where these critical pillars are concerned, then your team is likely to be a tense and tricky place to spend your 40-plus hours a week.
So, if you’re looking to improve the way everyone works together, read on:
You might be a group of creative geniuses, but unless there is some structure in place, the output isn’t likely to be that inspiring. All teams, no matter their function, need processes—and I don’t just mean “How Things Are Done.” I’m talking people processes, too.
Things like, does everyone have clarity of purpose, both individually and for the team? Are there efficient interdependencies going on, and does everyone know who to work with on specific projects? Do they have the right mix of skills and styles to complement each other professionally and gel on a personal level too?
If people don’t know where they stand, in relation to whom, and what the point of it all is, then you have a problem. One you get these things locked down, everyone can breathe, safe in the knowledge that they’re doing the right things, for the right reasons—and with the best possible people.
What’s the vision for your team, and does every member share in it? Because if your group’s lacking in a strong mission, it will also lack potency and self-belief. A shared vision brings with it accountability, a commitment to getting stuff done, and a strong desire to deliver. It also puts you all automatically on the same side, and that counts for a lot when you’re coasting along, unsatisfied and looking for something to believe in.
And if your people are drifting aimlessly along, its focus changing with every quarterly review, then this is an occasion where a strong leader really needs to take the helm, gather the troops and generally inspire the team like their life depends on it. You’ll need to promote the company purpose and the mission of the group, and then make sure every single person knows their part in accomplishing it.
If you could do a weather report on the people you work with, what would you say? Would it be looking stormy overhead, with some black clouds moving in? Or are you looking ahead to weeks of unbroken sunshine? OK, these are the two extremes, and most teams will vary as people, workload, and focus change—but there were likely some honest words that leapt to your lips when I asked that question.
Teams want to get stuff done—that’s why they exist after all. But if the output comes at the expense of respect, honesty, and trust, then there’s likely to be a big revolving door on the office which just keeps on spinning. Creating a climate in which everyone feels able to be candid, in which mutual respect is the default, and where everyone is enabled to be productive isn’t a quick or easy task, but it’s completely, utterly necessary to get the best possible output.
Hands up if you’ve ever been in a team working in perfect flow? Just like they say about being in love, if you’re not sure, then you haven’t. And if you have, then you’ll remember it as an exhilarating, motivating, rush-of-blood-to-the-head halcyon time of your career.
A group of people in full flow is a beautiful thing to behold. Innovative, agile, bubbling over with more ideas than they can handle, and working in true harmony. And on the other hand, a team where each person is working without the safety net of cohesion and trust can be a pretty ugly place too. It might take a lot of work to reach full flow—everyone has to be fully on board, and that alone can be a hard-fought battle. But when you’re all in, everything is possible.
So, if you’re the leader of a team that isn’t working, and you just can’t figure out what’s wrong—think about the balance of the four pillars of process, focus, climate and flow. Yes, I know that transforming into a high-performing unit can seem daunting—if not impossible—but by looking at each of these separate factors in turn, you can begin to build a strategy that will lead you toward true team success.