When a sports team is working well together, it can feel like magic. We've all experienced it, either as a team member or as a fan. Fortunately, you do not have to be an Olympic coach to have the skills you need to build and lead high performing teams in your organization.
An important leadership competency for any size organization, the ability to build and lead high performing teams is especially critical in small-to-midsize businesses. Here, people must work closely together, wear many hats and work effectively across the organization to get tasks accomplished quickly enough to remain competitive.
An effective team builder and leader always does the following three things:
- Promotes understanding of why a group of people need to be a team. The team needs to understand its shared goals and what each team member brings to the team that is relevant and crucial to its overall successes.
- Ensures the team has adequate knowledge to accomplish its task. This includes information relevant to the team's goals and individual job competencies.
- Facilitates effective interaction in such a way as to ensure good problem solving, decision making and coordination of effort.
Characteristics of Highly Effective Teams
To better understand how these leadership competencies create effective teams, let's examine some characteristics of highly effective teams.
- An effective team understands the big picture. In an effective team, each team member understands the context of the team's work to the greatest degree possible. That includes understanding the relevance of his or her job and how it impacts the effectiveness of others and the overall team effort. Too often, people are asked to work on part of a task without being told how their role contributes to the desired end result, much less how their efforts are impacting the ability of others to do their work. Understanding the big picture promotes collaboration, increases commitment and improves quality.
- An effective team has common goals. Effective teams have agreed-upon goals that are simple, measurable and clearly relevant to the team's task. Each goal includes key measurable metrics (that are available to everyone on the team), which can be used to determine the team effectiveness and improvement. Understanding and working toward these common goals as a unit is crucial to the team's effectiveness.
- An effective team works collaboratively, as a unit. In an effective team you'll notice a penchant for collaboration and a keen awareness of interdependency. Collaboration and a solid sense of interdependency in a team will defuse blaming behavior and stimulate opportunities for learning and improvement. Without this sense of interdependency in responsibility and reward, blaming behaviors can occur which will quickly erode team effectiveness.
Remember: a "willingness" to participate collaboratively as a team member does not guarantee the desired outcome. People thrown into a collaborative situation, especially those without experience operating in this mode, need assistance to guarantee success. Managers who are skeptical of team participation to begin with often throw their people into an unplanned, unstructured decision-making process, responding with "I told you so" as they watch their team flounder.
By contrast, managers who focus on promoting good understanding, ensuring adequate knowledge and facilitating effective interaction, will watch the transformation of their job from one that required constant supervision, firefighting, and oversight, to one that allows the leader to focus on serving the needs of the team and each individual team member.