How to Improve Team Effectiveness

effective team

Teamwork and Effective Teams

I read everything I can about teamwork and effective teams. Simon Mac Rory’s new book, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: The Imperative of Teams, takes us on a journey to deliver improved team effectiveness.

Simon Mac Rory is a team development specialist and founder of the ODD Company. He says that sometimes, when he’s in a room with some teams, he says, “For Pete’s sake will you wake up and smell the coffee” which is how the title of his new book came to be. I recently asked Simon to share more about his perspectives of teams in the workplace.

 

“If teamwork is so important you would think that organizations would treat team performance as a strategic imperative, but most do not.” – Simon Mac Rory

 

What do most people get wrong when they think of the term “team”?

There are so many misconceptions about teams in the workplace that it is hard to choose one or two. If I am to choose, these are my three top gripes in terms of what people get wrong when they think of teams.

The biggest and most fundamental issue is in the assumption that teamwork happens by magic. 90% of what we do in the world of work happens through collaborative effort, and that makes teams and teamwork an imperative and a strategic imperative at that. Yet the majority of organizations have no strategy for teams. Label a group of people a team, stand back and ‘hey presto’ you will have a high performing team. Nothing could be further from the truth. If teamwork is so important, you would think that organizations would treat team performance as a strategic imperative, but most do not, preferring to muddle on with poorly performing teams and accepting mediocracy.

Contrary to popular opinion only 10% of teams are high performing, a frightening 40% are dysfunctional and detrimental to members’ experiences and lives, leaving 50% which are performing at best with small incremental results. This is what most organizations accept. I consider this unacceptable, particularly when delivering high performing teams is not rocket science. It does, however, take effort, it does take strategy, it does take time, it does take budget, and critically it takes persistence and commitment from the organization, leaders and team members. We are not all team experts, we do not operate intuitively as a team, and if organizations want high performing teams, they need to put in the effort and stop dreaming. They need to think and strategize about it and stop making so many ridiculous assumptions.

The assumption about teamwork and fun drives me crazy. Teamwork is not fun. Work is work and fun is fun. Fun is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as “behaviour or an activity that is intended purely for amusement and should not be interpreted as having any serious or malicious purpose.” Now tell me what that has to do with the world of work? The fact that it can be an enjoyable experience to work in an effective team should not be confused with it being fun. Real team development does not happen up the side of a mountain, putting life and limb at risk once a year or completing exercises with no connection to the reality of the workplace. Real team development that delivers sustainable development and effectiveness happens in the work place day-to-day. Give time to tackling real issues for the team and not worrying about how to build a house of straws, how to build a raft or how to build trust by falling backwards into someone’s arms. I come to work to work and I would much prefer to give of my time with my colleagues, dealing with and finding solutions to real work challenges. Team members are much more likely to be engaged, committed and enthusiastic if they are dealing in reality, where their opinions and ideas, and inputs to real challenges of the team are welcome and actually considered—in other words, doing the work they are employed to do. Enjoying your work is important, having fulfilling work is motivational, being challenged is good (most of the time) but do not confuse this with fun. Work is serious and not fun.

And size does matter after all. There is substantial evidence that team size has a very great impact on the effectiveness of a team in a work context.

 

“There is substantial evidence that team size has a very great impact on the effectiveness of a team.” – Simon Mac Rory

 

The issue of team size is linked to how we define a team and indeed to the way the term ‘team’ is used and understood. The term is applied generically and seems to encompass all group activity and often is used to refer to an entire department and in some instances to an entire company. These larger groups, mistakenly called teams, are in fact comprised of many teams. The term team should only be used to refer to a real team, that by definition is:

“A group of people, less than ten, that need to work together to achieve a common goal, normally with a single leader and where there is high degree of interdependence between the team members to achieve the goal or goals”.

There are several issues that have been identified when a team is in double digits – social loafing, cognitive limitations and the communication overhead. These are aside from the issue of larger teams breaking down into sub-teams and the inevitable emergence of cliques which can be very damaging to effectiveness and relationships. The biggest issue in failing to deal with team size is communication overload.  The more members in a team, the more communication channels required to keep the team informed. A team of 5 people require 10 conversations to be fully connected and informed. This rises to 45 for a team of 10 and 91 for a team of 14. The reality of the situation is simply the larger team will not be able to manage or complete the communication required.   Organizations need to get their language and definitions right. A team is not a group, a department or a company if it is comprised of more than ten people. Once you go into double digits, I can assure you that there is more than one team in play.

There are many more assumptions but these three are the biggies.

 

“Teamwork is not fun. Work is work and fun is fun.” – Simon Mac Rory

 

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

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.

How Leaders Achieve Radical Outcomes

outcomes

 

Do you want to create radical outcomes?

 

Juliana Stancampiano, author of RADICAL OUTCOMES: How to Create Extraordinary Teams, is an entrepreneur and the CEO of Oxygen. For more than fifteen years, she has worked with Fortune 500 companies, both in them and for them. Her firm’s clients include Microsoft, DXC, Delta Dental (of WA), Starbucks, F5 Networks, Avaya, and Western Digital, among others. Her in-depth experience, along with the research that Oxygen conducts and the articles she has published, has helped to shape the perspective that Oxygen embraces.

After reading her new book, I reached out to Juliana to learn more about her work.

 

“You cannot defend your design without knowing what you’re designing for.” -I.M. Pei

 

Set the Vision

What’s the role of the leader in the team to produce radical outcomes?

The leader sets the vision and acts as the guard rails. The leader remains outcome-focused yet allows flexibility to achieve the outcome.  It’s not commanding and controlling your team.  It’s knowing their strengths and ensuring roles and abilities are aligned.

 

“Teams must understand and focus on outcomes, not on tasks.” -Juliana Stancampiano

 

Face Team Obstacles

What are the obstacles many teams face in becoming an effective ensemble?

Lack of role clarity. Clearly defined roles and responsibilities avoid internal disagreements.  Teams must understand and focus on outcomes, not on tasks.

Structure and process that prevent ensembles working effectively. We’ve seen performance management that rates people in comparison to their peers, not based on outcomes. When people are rated on a curve, they constantly compete with each other to improve their own rating.  This prevents meaningful ensemble work.

Lack of visibility of work product. Teams must share, even before the “thing” is completed. Early sharing allows teams to iterate together and stay focused. Lack of sharing produces work that often doesn’t meet the stated outcome. It also causes unnecessary re-work.

Various modes of communication.  Effective teams must communicate differently – fast communication, phone communication, chat communication – depending on topic and need.  They embrace different modalities, at different times and with different people.

 

“Lack of sharing produces work that often doesn’t meet the stated outcome.” -Juliana Stancampiano

 

How do team members become collaborative and not competitive?

8 Core Elements of High-Performance Teams

team
This is an excerpt from Team Quotient: How to Build High Performance Leadership Teams that Win Every Time by Douglas Gerber. Doug is Founder and CEO of Focus One, a consulting firm that helps leaders create High Performance Teams.

 

High-Performance Teams

Culture defines us in our family units, businesses, and organizations. It distinguishes who we are and how we are described. Employees can readily describe their organizational culture, using such words as supportive, open, results focused, etc. Much of that culture is built up over years or even decades. Yet we don’t have decades to build a successful team culture; we endeavor to create a strong and powerful culture within one to two years. We do this deliberately and consciously by defining the culture we want and then bringing it to life. When team members start to identify strongly with the team, we know that the team culture has become embedded.

 

THE 8 ELEMENTS OF HIGH – TQ TEAMS

As a result of working with hundreds of teams over many years, I have found that there are certain elements of High-Performance Teams that can be summarized by the acronym VIVRE FAT!

The idea of VIVRE FAT is not to create a group of ‘bon vivants’ or ‘gourmands.’ It’s rather about focusing on the ingredients that will create a great team that fulfills its mission and realizes its vision. Let’s examine each of the eight elements more closely.

 

Vision (Mission)

High-Performance Teams know where they are going and have a keen sense of direction. The Vision syncs with the overall company vision yet is distinct to the team. The Vision is not something created and communicated by the team leader alone; rather it reflects a core team effort, allowing all to feel ownership. The Vision is a motivating factor that propels the team forward. It allows team members to set clear goals, and targets and measures success. The Vision encompasses not only the business but also other aspects, such as team, people, key financial metrics, industry, and stakeholders. Besides Vision, we may also want to define the ‘purpose’ or ‘mission’ of the team, which essentially defines its ‘raison d’être’ or reason why the team exists.

 

“Every company needs to nurture its own culture organically, developing a distinct personality.” -Douglas Gerber

 

Identity

High-Performance Teams identify with the team and are proud of it. This sense of pride is due, in part, to the personal efforts that each team member has invested in moving towards High Performance. Identity forms an important part of one’s own self-perception and may even be more powerful than company or industry Identity. Identity places the team first and knows that team effort is a key to overall success. The sense of being part of something much bigger drives team members the extra mile. They believe what they are doing has meaning and creates value.

3 Ways to Be More Likable

be likable

The Snowball System

 

Many people want to grow a business, increase client referrals, and spark momentum. At the same time, people resist sales efforts and struggle with developing business.

How do you grow your business without selling your soul?

Mo Bunnell is an author, speaker, consultant, and founder and CEO of Bunnell Ideal Group (BIG). In his book, The Snowball System: How to Win More Business and Turn Clients into Raving Fans, he shares his knowledge and experience in helping businesses grow.

I recently spoke with him about how to be more likable, gain referrals, improve business development, and create teams that have momentum.

 

Be Strategically Helpful

Why do so many people have such a negative feeling about sales?

The word “sales” is loaded. For many people it conjures up being pushy, dishonest and selfish—and that the salesperson stuff they try to push on others, whether they need it or not.

This is sad because when selling is done the right way, it’s great for all involved. It helps create a future that didn’t exist before. It’s long-term focused. It’s about the other person.

This is one reason we have to use code words for sales: business development, relationship building and the like. “Sales” is just too charged to use with some people.

In The Snowball System, we say sales is “being strategically helpful.” When people do that, everyone wins.

 

“Sales is being strategically helpful.” -Mo Bunnell

 

Experts Are Made

Can anyone learn the skills of business development?

Without a doubt, yes. And that’s different than a lot of people think.

My favorite researcher on expertise is Dr. Anders Ericsson out of Florida State University. He’s widely known as the worldwide exert on expertise. He says, “Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born.”

We’ve trained comprehensive sales skills to over 12,000 professionals. I’ve seen people in all roles, at all starting points from all areas of the world. With that context, I’d add this: “Nearly everyone has a few natural tendencies that will help them with sales. Maybe they’re gregarious, are inquisitive or relentless in pursuing goals. But being great at sales requires dozens of skills—it’s a complex craft worthy of its own study. No one is a ‘born salesperson,’ and everyone can improve. It’s no different than learning a musical instrument or a sport. Some people are naturally disposed to be have a higher upper ceiling, but anyone can improve. And anyone that’s great learned it and earned it.”

Once people have that mindset, they can learn to love selling and become great at it. It just takes knowing the skills needed and an ongoing system to incrementally improve over time. The Snowball System breaks down every skill needed to become great at sales.

 

“Likability is a soft skill that leads to hard results.” -Mo Bunnell

 

3 Ways to Be More Likable