Elements of Effective Teams
“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Teams have the potential of exponentially empowering an organization as every member completes the other and in turn creates synergy. Creating and managing effective teams is a challenge worth taking on as the benefits of synergy are a great reward.
This article offers some thoughts on transforming and managing effective teams in the workplace.
Forget good to great. Here’s what makes a great team member remarkable.
Great colleagues are dependable, diligent, proactive, reliable, great leaders and great followers… they possess a wide range of easily-defined—but hard to find—qualities.
A few team players hit the next level. Some members are remarkable, possessing qualities that may not appear on performance appraisals but nonetheless make a major impact on performance.
Here are some qualities of remarkable team-mates:
- They Ignore Job Descriptions. The smaller the company, the more important it is that employees can think on their feet, adapt quickly to shifting priorities, and do whatever it takes, regardless of role or position, to get things done.
When a key customer’s project is in jeopardy, remarkable employees know without being told there’s a problem and jump in without being asked—even if it’s not their job.
- They are Eccentric… The best employees are often a little different: quirky, sometimes irreverent, even delighted to be unusual. They seem slightly odd, but in a really good way. Unusual personalities shake things up, make work more fun, and transform a plain-vanilla group into a team with flair and flavor. People who are not afraid to be different naturally stretch boundaries and challenge the status quo, and they often come up with the best ideas.
- But they Know when to Dial it Back. An unusual personality is a lot of fun… until it isn’t. When a major challenge pops up or a situation gets stressful, the best employees stop expressing their individuality and fit seamlessly into the team.
Remarkable employees know when to play and when to be serious; when to be irreverent and when to conform; and when to challenge and when to back off. It’s a tough balance to strike, but a rare few can walk that fine line with ease.
- They Publicly Praise… Praise from a boss feels good. Praise from a peer feels awesome, especially when you look up to that person.
Remarkable employees recognize the contributions of others, especially in group settings where the impact of their words is even greater.
- And They Privately Complain. We all want employees to bring issues forward, but some problems are better handled in private. Great employees often get more latitude to bring up controversial subjects in a group setting because their performance allows greater freedom.
Remarkable employees come to you before or after a meeting to discuss a sensitive issue, knowing that bringing it up in a group setting could set off a firestorm.
- They Speak When Others Won’t. Some employees are hesitant to speak up in meetings. Some are even hesitant to speak up privately. A team leader once asked me a question in a meeting about potential layoffs. After the meeting I said to him, “Why did you ask about that? You already know what’s going on.” He said, “I do, but a lot of other people don’t, and they are afraid to ask. I thought it would help if they heard the answer from you.” Remarkable employees have an innate feel for the issues and concerns of those around them, and step up to ask questions or raise important issues when others hesitate.
- They Like to Prove Others Wrong. Self-motivation often springs from a desire to show that doubters are wrong. The kid without a college degree or the woman who was told she didn’t have leadership potential often possess a burning desire to prove other people wrong. Education, intelligence, talent, and skill are important, but drive is critical. Remarkable employees are driven by something deeper and more personal than just the desire to do a good job.
- They are Always Fiddling. Some people are rarely satisfied (I mean that in a good way) and are constantly tinkering with something: Reworking a timeline, adjusting a process, tweaking a workflow.
Great team members follow processes. Remarkable team-mates find ways to make those processes even better, not only because they are expected to… but because they just can’t help it.
Next, let us look at the Team Leaders and Managers.
Poor Habits of Highly Ineffective Managers
Being the boss is hard work, but it’s even harder if you are stumbling over your own mistakes. Here are some common management behaviors that make you seem weak and clueless, along with descriptions of what top leaders do differently.
- Being a Know-It-All. Weak bosses quash discussions that might reveal their ignorance, belittle the true expertise in the group, and then (often without being aware of it) recruit and retain second-rate “stupider than Moe” employees.
Strong bosses surround themselves with the smartest and most talented people they can hire. Rather competing to see who’s a bigger brainier, they draw on the expertise of the entire group in order to make better-informed decisions.
- Managing Numbers, Not People. Weak bosses spend more time with their spreadsheets than with their employees. While they give lip service to employee morale, they are all about the bottom line—even if it means making everybody miserable.
Strong bosses see the numbers not as a reason for managing employees but as a measure of how well those employees are managed. These bosses consider coaching to be top priority and trust that investing in people will cause the numbers to improve.
- Embracing the Status Quo. Weak bosses feel the need to control employee behavior. They consequently monitor web traffic, social networking, emails and messages, all the while expecting to discover disloyal behavior. Some even use GPS to track employee movements.
Strong bosses realize that corporate snooping is pointless (because any half-wit can avoid it) that creates an atmosphere of paranoia which drives employees to become even more secretive.
- Spying on Employees. Weak bosses secretly believe that “the only people who like change are wet babies.” Since the status quo put them in power, the status quo (by definition) must be the best of all possible worlds. After all, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Strong bosses don’t value change for its own sake, but they do recognize that both teams and individuals must swiftly adapt when the situation changes. While this might sometimes put the boss’s power base at risk, it’s a risk that they are willing to take.
- Believing the Technology Myth. Weak bosses swallow the malarkey (endlessly promoted in high-tech ads) that computer technology automatically makes employees more productive. They are thus ready to shell out big bucks … even when the last three IT projects died on the vine.
Strong bosses are well aware that new technology can eat up resources without providing much benefit. They are skeptical about which technologies to embrace, and they encourage their employees to be selective when deciding what to use.
- ‘Divide and Conquer’ Weak bosses pit individuals and teams against one another, hoping that competition will spur everyone on. These internal conflicts tend to create work environments that are seething swamps of resentment and pique.
Strong bosses discourage internal competition in favor of external competition. They encourage employees to see rival firms, not the guys down the hall, as the ones that deserve a good drubbing.
- Refusing to Delegate. Weak bosses believe that delegating makes them less important. They therefore cling to their authority, relinquish it with great reluctance, and then micromanage the results, hoping (secretly) that the employees will conclude that the boss is essential.
Strong bosses know that delegating makes them more important. They realize that there is a limited amount of time in each day and every hour spent doing something an employee could do is just an hour wasted.
- Expecting Employees to Read Your Mind. Weak bosses believe employees will stay on their toes if they never know exactly what the boss is thinking. When such bosses provide feedback, it’s something like: “Nope, that’s not it!” or “Back to the drawing board!”
Strong bosses are explicit and specific about what they want and what needs to happen. They explain exactly how every project will be measured, and intervene only when those measurements show the project is going awry.
- Refusing to Commit. Weak bosses are afraid to take a stand. If asked for an opinion, they’ll say: “That depends.” If asked for a decision, they’ll say “I have it under consideration” or (if they are feeling frisky) “I have it under active consideration.”
Strong bosses realize that delaying a decision is, in itself, a decision—and usually it’s the decision to fail. They therefore make decisions quickly, without expecting or requiring exhaustive analysis and debate.
- Ignoring Non-Performers. Weak bosses hope against hope that an employee who can’t do the job will somehow manage to soldier through. Meanwhile, as everyone else on the team has to pull a little harder to drag the deadweight along, resentment builds and morale suffers.
Strong bosses understand that when a job isn’t right for a particular individual, and it’s clear that further training or coaching won’t change things, it’s better to cut that employee loose, so that he or she can find a better match.
- Stealing Credit. Weak bosses find a parade and get out in front of it. They jump in at the end of a project, add a little bit of “management input,” and then stick their name at the top of the victory presentation. If the project fails, though, the team “acted without my knowledge.”
Strong bosses give their employees the credit for doing the actual work, secure in the knowledge that bosses contribute in subtle but essential ways: resolving conflicts, coaching individuals, and providing perspective. And they take the heat when things go wrong.
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