Much has been documented with respect to team success or failure. High-performance teams, upon evaluation of performance characteristics, seem to have that “special something” that drives their achievements. Their reputation grows and every success seems to inspire further greatness. They “win” nine times out of ten and use any failure as a springboard to learn, re-evaluate behaviour and refine their focus. They always take responsibility for their actions and are valued highly.
Teams that just don’t seem to make the grade and that frequently don’t live up to expectations, however, are characterised by blame, a lack of initiative and frequent bouts of infighting. Morale is low and focus is diffused. Energy is applied to protecting one’s back and behaviour is governed by suspicion and fear. These teams seem to fail for one or more of the following reasons:
- A lack of clarity with regard to vision, purpose and goals — having unclear priorities is the foremost reason for team failure.
- No or low trust in leadership — low trust grows fear and resentment and diminishes hope.
- Inadequate team skills — when teams are not able to put team goals before personal agendas, inability to work with diversity, a lack of respect for each other, a lack of conflict resolution skills, blaming and defending, not being able to invite and offer constructive feedback, etc.
- Lack of support from everyone — failure to gain the involvement and commitment of critical stakeholders and the organisation as a whole can leave the results of a winning team’s efforts ignored or marginalised.
- Relational issues — energy applied solely to work deadlines can cause relational concerns to develop into bigger issues.
- Management fails to place their trust in team efforts — micro-managing, over-control and failure to trust shared values, compelling goals and flexible processes inhibit team performance.
- Little time spent on ongoing development — stretching staff with new information, recognising effort, giving encouragement and offering time to relax all add together to prevent burn-out. When neglected, teams get over-stressed.
Creating constructive teamwork requires a focus on ten effectiveness factors, all of which, when in place, combine to give birth to that “special something” that gets the team to winning status:
- Goals — everyone knows, agrees to and implements the goals
- Participation — everyone joins in, contributes and listens to others
- Giftedness — everyone knows and respects the others’ skills and everyone’s talents are being used
- Communication — misunderstandings are quickly resolved and dialogue is the operating environment
- Mutual support — care is expressed in good or bad times
- Role clarity — everyone is clear on their individual role and functional expectations
- Responsibility — an environment of proactivity is created where tasks are apportioned appropriately. No blaming allowed
- Working together — everyone shares work and offers discretionary effort when required
- Feedback — this is seen as a gift and serves to develop and encourage
- Conflict handling — differences of opinion and conflict are dealt with openly and fairly, with no gossip
Creating constructive teamwork necessitates great leadership. Casey Stengel noted: “It’s easy to get good players. Getting them to play together, that’s the hard part”. Armed with a compelling vision, emotional intelligence, great communication and coaching skills, the leader will be able to focus the combined efforts of the individual players into energised execution.