Accelerating Teamwork

Optimising a Team’s Potential by Accelerating Teamwork

Workplaces depend on team effort more than ever.  What’s driving this?  In part, it’s the frenetic pace of change, redundancy was once an infrequent occurrence, now it can be a weekly event.  This creates ambiguity and uncertainty, which can be both exhausting and threatening at the same time.  One certainty amongst this uncertainty is that teamwork comes to the fore.  A united team, underpinned by its collective knowledge and experience, is going to better weather adverse situations.  A silver lining in this is that mutual effort accumulates and makes the next challenge easier to handle, a win/win for the organisation and the individual.

A challenging statistic from a survey by the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) indicated 86% of leaders surveyed believe that the capacity to work across demographic, geographic, stakeholder and other boundaries is extremely important.  Yet only 7% of these leaders described themselves as “very effective” at working in cross-boundary teams.

The consoling fact in this figure is there must be huge potential for organisations to harness this upside potential!

So how can this process of working as a team be accelerated?

Self-awareness is the starting point for accelerating teamwork.  Feedback is key to self-awareness.  Feedback should come from multiple sources including assessment tools, colleagues, third-party business parties (suppliers, customers), associates and friends. A high degree of self-awareness allows each team member to excel and exploit his or her full potential.  What this includes is identifying each person’s skill potential; their operating style; and where they may need development.

Encouraging individuals to share something about themselves is a good step towards accelerating team development.  It’s important to provide an environment conducive to this that promotes openness. A simple team building exercise is to ask people to select a photograph or symbol that means something to them, they then share what it means to them and why, invariably you learn much more than where they went to school or their favourite food.  Once people start to talk about their photo/symbol you can ask more questions and understand whom they are.

A shared purpose will accelerate teamwork.  At times the conversation around purpose is missed if the team assumes they have a shared understanding of the “why”. A real conversation, with no ‘super chickens’ (a term from Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk – “Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work”) around the team’s purpose, followed by the underpinning behaviours achieves this objective.

Being conscious of the desired team behaviours requires relentless focus (we are only human!). If the team selects behaviours such as curiosity; challenge; listening; and optimism then a strategy may be to focus on one behaviour until it becomes “how we work”, then progress to the next.

Optimising a team’s potential takes time and effort.

So what can you as the leader do right now?

  • Get people talking – face to face, over the phone, Skype – whatever media is available
  • Have some fun together – this doesn’t mean the team has to climb the high ropes – this can be simple: individuals share a Dilbert cartoon that appeals to them; using an abstract image ask individuals to identify what they “see”; have a ‘cook-off’ and ‘break bread’ together, humour and fun is a key ingredient in highly satisfied teams
  • Buddy up individuals – this is a great idea until you are able to get the team together (either physically or virtually)
  • Collaboratively establish a team charter – these are the norms that you and the team establish to ensure efficiency and success.
  • Role model the behaviours you expect from your team – the team will take cues from the leader about what is expected and acceptable behaviour – discuss these expectations as soon as possible with the team

Accelerating teamwork is possible.  The benefits will be worth the effort.

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