5 Conditions for an Effective Team

team

The Most Effective Teams

Rodger Dean Duncan’s latest book LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice From Today’s Top Thought Leaders is a collection of lessons from his many leadership interviews. I reached out to Rodger to provide his perspective on world class teams.

 

“Teamwork is more common as a buzzword than as an actual practice.” -Rodger Dean Duncan

 

Tips for Building Teams

Building a world-class team is the job of a great leader. Share a few tips you’ve learned about building great teams.

Teamwork is more common as a buzzword than as an actual practice. Without benefit of nuance, teamwork is one of those catch-all terms often extended as the magic elixir for the moment’s most pressing execution issue. In a bid to boost performance, teamwork is touted in corporate vision statements, on wall posters, T-shirts, key chains, and coffee mugs. Teamwork is the subject of banal pep talks by goofy managers in TV sitcoms (The Office comes to mind). Teamwork has been given a bad name by a world of bad practitioners.

But when we’re strategic about putting both the team and the work into teamwork, beautiful things can happen.

Here’s a helpful metaphor. The suspension bridge is one of the most impressive accomplishments of modern engineering. It begins as individual wires not much stronger than the ones you’d use to hang pictures on your living room wall. Spun together, these individual wires become strands. Then several of the larger strands are combined into giant wire rope or cable that can bear thousands of tons of weight and safely cross obstacles like canyons and rivers.

This same principle is part of the marvelous results that can be produced by genuine teamwork. Ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things when they discover strength in unity.

 

“Some people hesitate in speaking up to avoid being ostracized or being viewed as ‘not a team player.’” – Rodger Dean Duncan

 

5 Conditions of an Effective Team

So what are the ingredients of an effective team?

A team is most likely to be effective when five conditions exist:

 

1. It’s a real team, not just a team in name only.

A collection of people is not necessarily a team. In this context, “team” is used to describe a carefully selected group of people who work interdependently, who are mutually supportive, and who bring out the best in each other as they strive to accomplish a set of specific goals.

Composition matters, and more is not necessarily better. Go for quality over quantity.

 

2. It has a compelling purpose.

Life Advice from Top Thought Leaders

leadership board room

Leadership Lessons

Early in his career, Rodger Dean Duncan interviewed interesting people like Lyndon Johnson, comedian Jack Benny, Baroness Maria von Trapp, pollster George Gallup, and anthropologist Margaret Mead. He traded jokes with Norman Rockwell and discussed home carpentry with Robert Redford.

Later, as a leadership consultant, he advised cabinet officers in two White House administrations and coached C-suite executives in dozens of Fortune 500 companies. He also headed global communications at Campbell Soup Company. He received his PhD in organizational behavior at Purdue University, and writes a regular column for Forbes.

Duncan’s latest book LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice From Today’s Top Thought Leadersis a collection of lessons from these interviews.

 

“You can rent a person’s back and hands, but you must earn his head and heart.” – Rodger Dean Duncan

 

Change Your View

Like you, I’ve interviewed many leadership experts. Were there any surprising interviews that gave you a different perspective?

The interviews for LeaderSHOP certainly provide some thought-provoking perspectives.

Drew Dudley emphasizes the value of regarding every new day as a fresh start and an opportunity for self-reflection on specific behaviors. Leadership, he says, is not a title or accolade. It’s a daily choice about personal practices. His Day One approach to personal management involves making your life less about living up to the expectations of others and more about a disciplined commitment to acting on your core values each day.

In discussing purpose and meaning at work, Dave and Wendy Ulrich highlight the importance of humility in the leader. Humility, they say, is at the heart of a growth mindset that encourages and unleashes learning that, in turn, gives meaning to work and fosters engagement.

Bill George talks about how “authentic” leadership is made possible when the practitioner follows an internal “true north” compass of selflessness and integrity.

Elizabeth Crook emphasizes that our gifts are found at the intersection of what energizes us and what we know how to do. Hint: it’s probably something you’ve been doing in one way or another most of your life.

Hugh Blane talks about a mindset he calls JDTM—Just Doing the Minimum—and how getting clarity on what lights your internal fire can be a critical step toward high achievement.

Rob Fazio gives specific examples of how honest conversation is the key to handling office politics. He also says that listening is bad for your health—that is, listening to discouraging messages from others or to negative self-talk.

Ann Rhoades, former Chief People Officer at Southwest Airlines, underscores the importance of rewarding behaviors that are the foundation of the culture you want—and taking quick and decisive action when expected behavioral norms are violated.

Social psychologist Dan Cable talks about a de-motivator he calls “learned helplessness,” and he explains how leaders can create a work environment that encourages smart risk.

Ira Chaleff reveals the secrets of saying “No!” without getting fired, explaining the situations in which refusing a directive is not insubordination but rather smart collaboration.

Jim Kouzes explains how a feedback-friendly work environment is to everyone’s benefit and why dialogue skills are a hallmark of effective leadership.

Carmine Gallo teaches communication techniques used by great presenters as disparate as Steve Jobs and Pope Francis. The “Rule of Three,” he says, has been used by everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Goldilocks.

Career coach Mary Abbajay discusses approaches to “managing up”—dealing proactively with an incompetent manager in a way that doesn’t derail your career. She suggests tactics ranging from keeping the manager (overly) informed to building your own reputation by filling in where the manager is deficient.

Marshall Goldsmith and Sally Helgesen talk about how striving for perfection can serve you well early in your career (because it supports doing outstanding work), but it can later hold you back because being so invested in precision can dissuade you from taking the kind of risks that characterize strong leaders.

Other people I interviewed—like Brian Tracy, Tom Rath, Jodi Glickman, Laura Vanderham, and Stephen M.R. Covey—provide a rich mosaic of ideas on leadership and personal development. People tell me the individual conversations are interesting, but the real value is having them all in one place that provides insightful “connective tissue.”

 

“Teamwork has been given a bad name by a world of bad practitioners.” – Rodger Dean Duncan

 

How Leaders Impact Culture

Culture is a big topic in leadership circles. Share a few ways leaders best impact culture for the positive.