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?

Tap the Power of Collaboration

collaboration

Boost Your Team‘s Potential

If you want to create amazing results, you must almost always learn the power of collaboration. In a world that seems more polarized than ever, achieving true collaboration may seem more difficult than ever.

Dr. Thea Singer Spitzer is the founder of Critical Change, LLC, and she believes that we need a new approach. A consultant, strategic advisor, and coach to top executives for nearly 30 years, she has researched and experienced these issues first hand.

Her new book, The Power of Collaboration, is a guidebook to effective teamwork. I recently spoke with her about her new book and her unique perspective on collaboration.

 

“Collaboration is no longer just a strategy: It is the key to long-term business success and competitiveness.” -Bob Mudge

 

The Power of Collaboration is the title of your new book. Tell us about that power and why tapping it is vitally important. 

The Power of Collaboration is reaching an entirely different level of achievement by working exceptionally well with others. When we do this, we alter the climate and create radically better outcomes rather than trying to convince others that ‘our way is the right way’ or working around those others if we are unable to convince them.

When we are really collaborating, we create what Michael Schrage calls, a ‘communal brain.’ We not only bring out everyone’s best, we’re able to turn those ideas into a ‘collective intelligence,’ which allows us to achieve better results.

Turning individual perspectives into collective intelligence isn’t a new concept. Most companies are much better at it than they were 10 or 15 years ago. But those improvements may be making us lackadaisical. We’re so busy patting ourselves on our backs for the distance we’ve come, we’re not realistically assessing where we are still falling short. The idea of collaborating sounds simple because of the progress we’ve made. But in a world where people with opposing views on nearly every topic imaginable must come together to achieve organizational objectives, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Employees and teams may be quite capable of handling their specific areas of focus. But unless they work together in a whole different way, products, services, and profits will suffer. Do your colleagues work together so well that your company is positioned to create the next all-electric car (or your industry’s equivalent)? If you can’t answer this question with an unequivocal “yes,” then it is vitally important that you and your organization tap this power.

 

“Access enables collaboration.” -Thea Singer Spitzer

 

Lessen the Rifts

Do you think it’s more or less difficult to get employees to work together today than in decades past? Why or why not?

That’s a great question.  Sadly, I believe it is harder today.

9781632651235The number of people in the United States who feel drawn to those with similar beliefs, and cut off from those who differ, is growing. Rifts among people holding opposing views are creeping into the workplace. This creates schisms and reduces trust between staff who may have previously worked well with each other. It often increases ‘us versus them’ thinking, alienating folks from others, and making collaboration more challenging.

People want to fix these schisms. Some think that in order to improve collaboration, the rifts need to be resolved first. Fortunately, that isn’t the case. Successful collaboration calls for honest conversations about deeply held views. Those dialogues need to happen in a way that maintains trust and allows people to mesh divergent perspectives into great solutions.

The philosophies and practices offered in this book help lessen schisms and reduce ‘us / them’ thinking in ways that build a collaborative culture.

Tap Into The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict

creativity

Disrupt to Innovate

Teamwork. Harmony. Getting along.

If these words come to your mind when you think about brainstorming and innovation, you’ll want to pay close attention.

Because it’s about not getting along, about disruption, about disagreement, and about contrasting perspectives. That’s what makes innovation happen.

In The Innovation Code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict, Jeff DeGraff and Staney DeGraff introduce a framework to explain how different kinds of leaders can create constructive conflict in an organization. Staney DeGraff is the CEO of Innovatrium Institute for Innovation. And Jeff DeGraff is known as the Dean of Innovation, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a friend of mine for many years. I recently spoke to Jeff about his latest book.

 

“Disharmony is crucial to innovation.” –Jeff DeGraff

 

Many people think that conflict and in-fighting must be solved before you can innovate, but you teach that it’s a healthy part of the process. Why is discord a good thing?innovation code book cover

Innovation is simply a form of useful novelty. It’s the opposite of standardization. Positive tension is required to generate the energy required to create unique ideas. Apathy is the death of innovation, not conflict. So, to make innovation happen, you need to have divergent worldviews – points of departure. This creates new connections and forces ideas to morph into ever more potent forms. Take a good look at the most creative civilizations throughout history, and you will find they sit at the crossroads where a variety of people, and their ideas, meet both geographically and culturally: Athens, Hangzhou, Vienna, or New York. The same is true for teams and partners: Anthony and Stanton, Lennon and McCartney, or Shaq and Kobe. Every strength brings a weakness, and we need the “other” to push us forward and to overcome our own shortcomings. The key is to keep these conflicts constructive and focused on ideas, not personalities.

 

“Innovation is about constructive conflict-positive tension.” –Jeff DeGraff

 

4 Approaches to Innovation