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Building a great team is not as simple as finding six high performers and putting them in the same room.“It’s a process that requires care, effort and ongoing management if organizations want to get the most out of their people,” said Sebastian Reiche, Assistant Professor of Managing People in Organizations at IESE Business School in Barcelona. “Companies often assume that you can gather a group of people and that they will perform together as a team, but simply bringing people together is not enough. The difference between a group and a team is the difference between people sitting at the same bus stop and people who have the same mission and who are accountable to one another.”
Start by thinking about who should be in the team, said Mark de Rond, an Reader in Strategy & Organization at the University of Cambridge’s Judge business school, and author of “There is an I in team: What elite and coaches really know about high performance.”
Dr De Rond advises managers to look for the right mix of personalities as well as the right combination of skills and knowledge. If you are taking over an existing team, take the time to get to know each member separately. “Every team is made up of individuals, but too many managers assume that people are all alike,” he said. “You have to understand that people are very different in fundamental ways. If you don’t know what makes each of them tick when you combine them, you will not understand what makes them work more or less effectively.”
Understanding each individual’s particular skills and strengths will also allow newly-appointed team leaders to distribute tasks correctly, but that’s not enough to turn a group of people into a team, Professor Reiche said. “You also have to think about how you build in the idea of shared goals and a shared mission.” Set clear targets and explain each person’s part in helping the team reach them.
“The next stage is building trust and identity within the team so that you can move beyond this task orientation,” Professor Reiche said. “This means building relationships between the leader and team members, and between one team member and another. You as leader want a connection of trust with each person in the team, but you also want them to connect with each other. And not just about work, but also socially.”Spending time together outside work is a good way to build those connections, he said, but this does not have to mean taking a day off to walk in the woods or clamber across an assault course together. “It can be as simple as going for coffee or a beer to get to know each other better. And it doesn’t always have to be the whole team, especially if it’s big.”
Dr de Rond takes a different perspective. He believes that team spirit is the result of good performance, not the cause of it. His research, conducted with military surgeons and elite athletes as well as high performers in more everyday workplaces, suggests that people bond faster and better over a meaningful challenge than over an out-of-office team-building day. “Managers often assume that as long as people get along, they will perform…but there is no evidence that harmony leads to performance,” he said. “In fact almost the opposite is true – that how people feel about each other is more likely to be a consequence of performance.
“Sometimes the best thing to do is to give people something difficult to do that they can achieve together. Give them something more important than themselves to focus on and they will bond over the challenge.”
The key issue underpinning people’s performance is not whether they have a bond with fellow team members, but whether they feel “psychologically safe” – that is, whether they feel comfortable enough to speak freely without fear of unconstructive criticism. “Often people do not work well in teams – even individual high-performers – because they do not feel safe, so they do not contribute in the same way that they might otherwise,” Dr de Rond said.
This can be why a team of high-performers who appear to be united behind the same goal can still fall short of their potential. “Focus on making organisations psychologically safe places and the rest will come,” he said. “When people feel safe they will become more collaborative because they won’t self-censor.” Another aspect of psychological safety is that each member will feel free to disagree, and will not feel threatened when others disagree with them.
Too much agreement can lead to the team as a whole making a decision that no individual member really supports because no one wants to rock the boat by speaking out when the idea is first suggested, Professor Reiche said. “It means that teams can end up following a course of action without really thinking through the implications,” he said.
Teams can reduce the chance of this happening by nominating someone to play the contrarian in every meeting.
“The devil’s advocate should try to poke holes in the team’s decisions,” he said. “This helps to overcome groupthink, which can be a real issue – particularly in a team that has been together for some time.”
On the other hand, too much difference in people’s thinking can create problems too, if it is not clearly managed. This is why managers need to take extra care when team members come from a variety of backgrounds, Professor Reiche added.
Diversity can strengthen an effective team by enhancing creativity and problem-solving, but it can weaken the performance of less well managed teams. “It’s what called the common knowledge problem: people tend to overstate the value of shared knowledge, which means that ideas and information are more influential when they are shared by more members of a team,” Professor Reiche said. These shared ideas get more discussion time and are given more weight when decisions are made.
The flip side of this is that unusual or unique suggestions – exactly the sort of varied perspectives that managers are trying to get when they create diverse teams – have less influence. This can mean that teams made up of number of talented, high-performing individuals can have a great deal of knowledge and experience between them, but still end up making decisions based on much more limited information.
One way around this is naming one member as the team’s information manager. “His or her job is to make sure that, in brainstorming sessions for example, every piece of information and knowledge that is raised goes on to the whiteboard before people start assessing and judging,” Professor Reiche said. “It’s a simple thing to do but it is often forgotten, which means that organisations do not get the most out of their team.”
1. Clarify the goal. This will provide all team members with inspiring meaning by giving them stimulating challenges and
2. Define the team’s job description. Create an accurate inventory of the required competencies.
3. Determine the group’s composition. Choose the right people for roles in the group based on their personal
4. Identify added value. Assess the additional skills and attitudes of the individuals that can increase the team’s
5. Pinpoint limitations. Identify individual shortcomings that can decrease team effectiveness.
6. Investigate compensating values. Determine which qualities of some team members can compensate for the
limitations of others.
Leaders must also be aware that teams require a common foundation and a shared direction if they are to succeed. A group’s efforts will gain meaning and value when members strive towards a shared vision.
Alongside this, leaders must ensure that team members communicate effectively with one another, and that this communication is based on trust and co-operation. Good synergy facilitates the emergence of creative solutions and guarantees a win-win spirit.