March 11, 2020
5 Key Dynamics For Building Successful Teams
There is a difference between teamwork and a team. Pat MacMillan, author of The Performance Factor: Unlocking the Secrets of Teamwork writes it this way:
“Teamwork is an organizational philosophy or value system, an occurrence, whereas teams are specific and discrete organizational units.”
Any set of two or more people can experience teamwork. When multiple people combine their talents and skills to accomplish something quicker or better than would have been accomplished by one of those individuals, you have teamwork.
But not all groups of people qualify as teams. In fact, most groups of 2 or more people will never be a team, at least not in its truest sense.
Pat MacMillan goes on to describe what distinguishes a team from any other group of people. Ultimately, for him, this distinction boils down to performance. Teams perform exceptionally, which is only possible through a true and deep synergistic connection.
“The primary difference between a team and any other type of group is synergism. Many groups have a common purpose; most even see some level of cooperation. But in a true team the combination of factors and the intensity and consistency with which they are applied allows a team to experience exceptional results on a regular basis.”
As leaders look to create and sustain exceptional results, creating great teams must be a high priority. In order to do this, Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, helps lay out five key dynamics that leaders must address and prioritize if you want to create winning teams.
1. Psychological Safety
It is impossible to have a team without trust. In order to cultivate trust, each individual team member must be convinced that psychological safety is available for them in their team dynamic.
Experiencing psychological safety means that each individual knows and believes that they are able to themselves without fear of judgment or repercussion. As a leader, creating a culture of safety can feel like an elusive task, but there are core elements that are foundational for making sure your team members feel safe.
Fostering an environment of listening and soliciting healthy feedback are two great pillars of creating an environment of safety. When people feel valued and free to share what is on their mind, they are more likely to develop trusting relationships with the people they work with.
Psychological safety is important because it becomes the foundation upon which the four other key dynamics of team building are founded.
You cannot have a winning team without demonstrating consistency. It is important, however, to be aware that there is a difference between consistency and permanence. Very few teams last forever, and more often than not, teams are formed for shorter rather than longer seasons.
Because most teams aren’t purposed for hyper-longevity, dependability in the short-term becomes even more crucial for building a winning environment. As a leader, if you are committed to fostering a culture of psychological safety, one of the greatest ways to build upon that foundation is by demonstrating your dependability through your consistency.
Great teams are often at the centre of change and growth. It is your role as the leader to recognize the burden of constant change and provide the counterweight of dependability that evens out and keeps a team connected and rooted in their mission.
Be dependable by doing what you are going to do and by showing up day in and day out.
3. Structure and Clarity
Teams don’t thrive in chaos. And yet, the majority of teams are formed for that very reason — to manage and mitigate chaos.
As a leader, if you’re always responding to chaos instead of anticipating it, you are not building a team that will win. Instead, you are building a team of fire-fighters, known for their responsiveness. Fighting fires is an important task of leadership, but it is not the culmination of leadership. The goal of every great leader should be the eradication of fires before they begin, not simply become faster eliminators of fires after they have started.
Great teams require a structure that is both specific and flexible. This oxymoron is only accomplished through an intentional and consistent commitment to clarity. Clear expectations about the structure and clear conversations about that structure’s effectiveness are the right and left hand of the great leader. Teams that thrive will know their boundaries but will understand how to edit and challenge those boundaries on their way to greatness.
Nobody ever did anything great by standing still. But if you are to move, move with clarity on the path that leads to the greatest effectiveness.
Great teams all embrace the true meaning of their collective partnership. You know you are leading a great team when your individual members no longer consider their unique goals as the primary dictator of their happiness, but instead look towards the collective vision as their source of professional meaning.
This does not insinuate that leaders can demand that each individual member of their team must fully deny their unique goals and ambitions for the collective greater good. No team truly thrives by coerced self-sacrifice.
Instead, it is the role of the leader to learn and truly comprehend the unique and valuable personal goals of each team member. Only then can that leader sufficiently explain and convince each member as to why their goals are, in fact, more likely to be improved upon or accomplished through the collective team dynamic.
Creating a sense of meaning as a team requires creating buy-in to a bigger purpose than one can accomplish on their own. Creating this level of buy-in is essential for great teams because it is this buy-in that will sustain each team member through the ups and downs of a difficult and challenging vision.
Lastly, in order to build a successful team, leaders must find opportunities to demonstrate both in words and actions the tangible impact of the work being accomplished by the team.
Very few people are willing to work excellently if there is no impact as a result of the work. Knowing this, when forming a team, great leaders will speak and declare with confidence exactly what impact that team can tangibly expect to witness or experience as a result of their collaborative efforts. This vision-casting is what fuels the team at the beginning of their journey.
However, because vision has a short shelf life, it is necessary for high-functioning and successful teams to have consistent interactions with their tangible impact. Story-telling and relational connections with those who are primarily benefitting from the team’s task are great avenues for leaders to provide those interactions with the impact of the mission.
Understanding the impact and internalizing the motivation behind the work is the fuel that keeps a great team on the winning path.
Aim for Progress, Not Perfection
There has never been a perfect team nor has there ever been a leader who has made every decision perfectly. There have been great teams and equally great leaders, and from these examples, we can derive core baselines and guardrails that can help guide any growing leader towards a greater chance of success and competency.
When it comes to building a great team, you will never build what you are unwilling to start. Don’t let the fear of making a mistake keep you from experiencing the rich reward of progress. Take steps, ask for feedback, learn and absorb from the experiences of others, and adjust accordingly.