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Tom Marsden



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Work teams need these six things to be successful


Historically, when it comes to people performance, we’ve always focused on the individual, forgetting about the importance of teamwork. Human beings are naturally social creatures and the impact that team dynamics can have in the workplace is huge.

Research shows that employees who fit well with their job, team and organisation have greater job satisfaction, are more likely to remain in their organisation, and show superior job performance.

If you ask a group of people why they left their last job, I guarantee that a significant number of the responses will involve the people they worked with. Below we dive into the six secrets to a great team. 

Have a purpose

A team without a clear and shared purpose is very unlikely to be successful. According to CIPD Research, having a sense of shared purpose helps build a personal attachment with the organisation – 51% of people who felt a sense of shared purpose felt a connection to the business.

A purpose drives a group of individuals to work together, so this should be established from the outset. 

However this isn’t a case of a simple mission statement like “help users save time and money”.

The purpose needs to be meaningful to the people who work for you. To create something meaningful we need to look again at values: what motivates your team? Why do they come to work every day? For some people this will be ambition and success, while others strive for the financial freedom that allows them to have fun outside of work.

If you can create a team with aligned values and a purpose that reflects these values, you’ve taken a turn onto the road to success.

Once your purpose and goals are set, you can start to recognise achievements in line with these goals, incentivising the right things. This generates a stronger business focus on results: and if you’ve collectively agreed on your purpose, your team’s motivations will be more closely aligned.

Know how to make decisions

You can’t get every decision right, however you can create a process that increases your hit rate. Establish a robust approach for making decisions that works for everyone, and make sure that everyone in the team understands what it is.

Never stop assessing your decision-making processes, and always remember to leverage existing social networks within the organisation.

A good decision isn’t always replicable, however a good process, that takes into account the complex social relationships of the workplace, certainly is. Daniel Kahneman offers some simple but elegant advice in this lecture.

Define roles and responsibilities

The more autonomous teams are within an organisation (which is fast becoming the way of the working world), the more important it is to make sure each person’s roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.

Getting the right people doing the right things at the right time is much harder than it looks. If everyone is clear on what their role is within the team, working processes will be much more efficient and outputs will be reached more quickly, without unnecessary bottlenecks or overlap of activity.

Identifying your team role goes beyond job titles and responsibilities.

The team role you play is about how you contribute and relate to others in your team, which means it’s important for the whole team to weigh in. It requires the team to look critically at how they work together and be fearless about identifying strengths and weaknesses.

It’s also an ongoing process which needs to be revisited as people join and leave the team.

Have clear communication channels

Productive ways of working vary on an individual basis, so they will inevitably also vary team by team. Working practices, such as design thinking, lean, agile and waterfall need to fit the environment the team is working within, and the key to this is collective buy-in.

Team members need to have access to the right communication channels, and leverage the technology to make meetings and collaborative tasks productive. It’s equally important to reflect on those processes regularly and make necessary changes so as to avoid working practices becoming stale or irrelevant.

Build trust

All good relationships are built on trust, and professional ones are no different. There’s no quick or easy solution to building trust: it takes time, self-awareness, and a willingness to recognise both individual and team strengths and as well as learning how to discuss weakness.

Developing a “safe” environment where people feel free to speak up helps this happen.

Giving and receiving feedback is key to instilling trust in teams and it’s a cycle – once an environment of trust has been established it becomes easier to encourage open and honest feedback.

Build links between teams

Teams do not operate in isolation. It’s very important to develop appropriate network links between different teams within each department, and different departments within an organisation.

If an organisation has clearly defined values, and each team is aligned to these values, the company will feel more united and employees will be more engaged, motivated and produce better work.

Establishing internal events such as joint lunch-breaks and post-work socialising can encourage strong positive changes in this area: internal relationships between teams of different disciplines can be a great way of encouraging serendipitous encounters and combinations of ideas.

This serendipity was so important to Steve Jobs that he had the toilets in Pixar’s offices placed in such a way to encourage chance interactions.

We can’t all design our office buildings from scratch, but experimenting with desk layouts and encouraging and subsidising social activities can be a great start.

The vital thing to remember amidst all this is that teams are never fixed – they are living and breathing and constantly changing (such is human nature). Therefore, they can excel in certain areas, develop problems in others, and sometimes be the biggest blocker to their own success.

If we start looking at team performance with the same intensity that we analyse individual performance, employee happiness and business productivity will flourish.

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