“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare. A friend of mine, the founder of a company that grew to a billion dollars in annual revenue, best expressed the power of teamwork when he once told me, ‘If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.'”
When we talk to our clients about teamwork, we coach them in ten characteristics that define a high-performing team. Here is an overview of those characteristics; in future weeks, we will share insights and tools on each topic to help teamwork become your “ultimate competitive advantage”!
1. Trust each other
Trust is the foundation of every successful relationship. When trust exists, team members can be vulnerable with one another, even when it comes to tackling the challenging matters that inevitably arise in business. It is impossible to over-invest in trust: for trust to be sustained among colleagues, it must be strengthened continually and intentionally.
2. Understand each other’s roles
We estimate that some eighty percent of the challenges that are faced in building effective teams comes down to a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities. For a team to function well, each person must understand his or her own role and what they are expected to do, and understand what their colleagues’ roles are. Confusion about roles leads to duplicated or missed work, conflicts, harmful assumptions, and a host of other problems that undermine team performance.
3. Communicate and share information effectively within the team
Communication is like a river. When it flows free and clear, it delivers life and energy. When it is dammed up, it becomes muddied with dirt and debris. Some of the many ways to dam communication are failing to show respect, failing to listen, and failing to check for understanding.
4. Handle conflict effectively
Teams must be able to engage in healthy conflict – that is, a willingness to arm wrestle with each other over critical issues that are facing the business. They also need to be able to handle unhealthy conflict – namely, by slowing down and seeking the right method to address the issue at hand.
5. Hold yourself and team members accountable
For many people, “accountability” conjures up images of being assessed, judged, and berated for some shortcoming. However, accountability done right energizes teams because everyone knows that people are pulling their weight and getting the work done. Does it take discipline and courage to hold one another accountable? Yes, it does. But when done respectfully in an atmosphere of trust, accountability is nothing to fear.
6. Provide each other with appreciative and constructive feedback
Feedback is essential to team health: not just to redirect negative behaviors but also to reinforce positive behaviors. Feedback done right strengthens trust, builds relationships, increases productivity, decreases conflict, motivates team members, and much more.
7. Clarify and understand team priorities
It can be challenging in this day and age to focus; we all have so much to do that we get into the habit of responding to what is urgent and putting off what is important. Ironically, however, when teams clarify their priorities and zero in on, for instance, three goals instead of ten or twenty, they find that they accomplish much, much more.
8. Help each other proactively
On healthy teams, team members intentionally look for ways to help each other out. They focus on mutual success, rather than staying confined to separate silos. When team members divert some of their energy to helping one another, they invariably find that the team as a whole accomplishes much more than if each person remains hunkered down to just do “their own stuff.”
9. Know each other’s strengths and weaknesses
Everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses. The team that acknowledges that and works to take advantage of each person’s strengths and to compensate for each person’s weakness discovers that the team as a whole is 100% strong.
10. Solve problems and make decisions collaboratively or independently as needed
Decision making, problem solving, and issue resolution are daily fare for teams. Much of the time, these activities are optimized by collaboration and the influx of ideas, perspectives, and insights such conversation brings. Other times, however, collaboration is not the right answer and team members need to have the courage to proceed independently – but always with open communication to the rest of the team.
Keep your eyes open over the coming weeks for more on each of these topics to help you build a high-performing team!