As a speaker and seminar leader, I’ve seen a lot of effective and ineffective teams. Over time, I’ve formulated this definition of a strong, healthy team: “A diverse group of people, united by trust, and by a challenge, that calls for their best.”
How does your team measure up to that definition? There are certainly other, more thorough definitions floating around, but in my experience, this simple statement captures it. And it can be used as a team evaluation tool, as follows.
Which of the four facets of team is most evident in your team: Diversity, unity through trust, unity due to a challenge, or attempting something big enough that it calls for their best? And, perhaps more importantly, in which of those four facets does your team most obviously need help?
Take a look at the first facet: A diverse group of people.
Some team leaders fill their teams with people who are like them. This is a big mistake. Because while it may be easier working with people like us, they tend to have the same perspectives, weaknesses, and blind spots. The result, like an inbred species, is a weaker organization.
A team of purely analytical, task oriented types will forget that we’re all in the people business; a team of relational, unstructured types might be too busy partying to complete the job.
There are many different profiles and formulas you can use to shape a diverse team, and future articles may give some ideas. But in the meantime, mull on this: In what ways does your team need more diversity?
A strong team is also united by trust. Does that describe yours?
Patrick Lencioni, in his outstanding book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, points out that the foundational problem or dysfunction of many teams is a lack of trust. The cause? An unwillingness of team members to be vulnerable. He says “Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.”
Certainly the team leader must take a disproportionate responsibility for any absence of trust. But even if you aren’t team leader you can play a part. You can be trust-worthy. You can take a risk and be vulnerable.
Here’s a team building exercise for you: At your next meeting, get everyone to share what they see as one of their biggest mistakes at work (or in life) in the past year. Vulnerability will be a catalyst for trust.
A team is a diverse group of people united by trust, and by a challenge that calls for their best.
We’ve examined the facets of Diversity and Trust. Now let’s look at the third important trait: The Challenge!
I first found this principle articulated in the book The Wisdom of Teams, by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith. In the prologue they make this summary statement that is reiterated again and again: “A demanding performance challenge tends to create a team. The hunger for performance is more important to team success than team-building exercises, special incentives, or team leaders with ideal profiles. In fact, teams often form around such challenges without any help or support from management. Conversely, potential teams without such challenges usually fail to become teams.”
If your workgroup is functioning at a low level, perhaps it’s because there is no challenge that requires them to pull together and give their best. Or, perhaps there is a challenge but it’s not clear- they don’t know who the “enemy” is. Or, there is a clear challenge but it’s so small that it’s not compelling. Business as usual will achieve it, and they’re bored.
Here’s the litmus test: If your team’s challenge isn’t crystal clear to you right now, it’s likely that your team doesn’t have one. And it must. A team rises up when there is a clear and compelling challenge. A strong team is “a diverse group of people, united by trust, and by a challenge, that calls for their best.”