Think of a team that you were a member of, one that was a good, maybe even great. Pause for a moment and think about what made it a great team. Because what worked for you and your great team, will be played out around the world.
There will have been trust between the team’s members ‘even if you weren’t necessarily ‘best buddies’ with everyone. There may have been a team leader who inspired you. And, almost certainly, a culture of healthy conflict where it felt safe to discuss things, to disagree but you still had respect for one another. There were probably shared goals ‘ winning a project or delivering a piece of work ‘ which together you worked towards. Patrick Lencioni (author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) provides a great definition, he says, The true measure of a team is that it accomplishes the results it sets out to achieve.
The challenge we face as entrepreneurs and business owners is not everyone joins our company (our team) with the same hopes and expectations that we may have had. Indeed, there may be few shared interests and a diverse mix of experience, culture, background, ethnicity and gender. This is, of course, a good thing, but those differences can easily give rise to conflict around values, expectations and ways of working.
You may be able to ‘pick’ your team or you may inherit one. Whatever your situation, here are five things that can help you build stronger, collaborative teams.
Is there a clear strategy for why the team exists? Does the team know its purpose or stated vision? If people can’t see how their role fits within the bigger picture, the team will struggle to come together. As the leader, help them to see the ‘why’, not just the ‘what’ and ‘how’. Paint a picture of what the future holds, create a vision that talks about why you do what you do and why that matters.
How are the team members working together, tactically? Does each member know what their colleagues are working on? Are they clear on how their roles support each other? Clarity on responsibilities is essential as a team comes together. New teams will still go through their storming phase (Tuckman), but the more people understand each role, the quicker they’ll come together. Just as in a sports team, we each have a position to play ‘ we can’t all be in goal or up front as a striker.
How operationally smooth are your teams in how they function? Are your policies, ways of working, processes and practises easy to follow and implement? Have you removed any unnecessary red tape so that the team can get on and achieve their shared goals? Implementing a ‘code of conduct’ or ‘rules of working’ ‘ some people like to call them ‘rules of living’ – mean that team members know how to make decisions. If they have to make a judgement call, they can make it based on the agreed team rules. And even if they make the wrong call, so long as they did it based on the rules, you support them because you know they were trying to make it the right way, with the right intentions.
Great teams are built on strong interpersonal relationships, with foundations of trust and understanding. It may be that everyone gets on, but that’s not always possible. Respect and understanding are what matter. Talk about and share your values ‘ Kouzes and Posner describe this in their Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership as ‘modelling the way’. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything ‘ and so will your people. The more they understand what makes you, you, the better. And the more they are clear on their own values too, the higher their level of commitment to the team.
Every team creates its own, unique culture. No one person is responsible for the culture, but every team member is responsible for their own behaviour. In a great team, everyone commits to the decisions the team makes and everyone is accountable for their own actions. You won’t find those ‘neg ferrets’ sloping off, having side conversations or marching to another tune when the team meeting is over. Talk about the culture you want ‘ share it, define it, tell people what it looks like in action. Be passionate about it and enthusiastic. If you don’t care, why should the team?
Working collaboratively as a team means working strategically, with clear day to day tactics, operationally smooth, interpersonally strong and with a culture that people understand and can relate to. When I train and coach leaders and their teams, I use the acronym STOIC to help people remember.
Stoicism has become synonymous with being emotionless. But the original Greek philosophy was that being stoic meant we minimise the negative emotions in life and maximise gratitude and joy. Great teams are by their very nature, collaborative.
And, as you know from any great team that you’ve been a member of, it really does result in gratitude and joy all round.
Isobel Rimmer is founder of Masterclass Training and leads a team of over 50 consultants and trainers around the world. A speaker, educator and executive coach she is author of Natural Business Development, accredited facilitator for the Leadership Challenge and The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership and works with business leaders and politicians helping them to communicate with impact and be memorable (for the right reasons!).