There is so much research and analysis out in the public domain about how to form high performing teams. A common perception being that team performance is derived from understanding the personalities, behaviours and preferences of team members with a view to striking a balance of these as part of the team formation process. Such an approach draws on the underlying fundamentals of the human psyche and how we naturally act in the presence of others and importantly considering how different people react to different personalities and behaviours when presented with them in a one-to-one or one-to-many setting. Although being someone who believes in the merits of this "team science", I often find myself wondering whether there may be some simple factors that are agnostic of the individuals that make up the team that can act as a performance catalyst and don't require extensive personal self-assessment and personality pigeon holing - after all despite our modus operandi we can often surprise ourselves at the things we can do when outside of our comfort zone and in the presence of those that challenge or inspire us to be courageous.
This article is one of many that covers the work carried out by Google to find the formula for what makes the perfect team, but of the many articles out there I think this once captures the essence of the research succinctly. The concluding five factors, although qualitative and not necessarily earth shattering, resonate with me from my experiences working as part of both high-performing and performance-challenged teams.
It is important to note at this juncture, that as someone who studied Management Science at undergraduate and has an MBA I have a lot of time and great appreciation for the science behind business and the work of thought leaders in this space like Jung, Belbin, Myers, Briggs, Porter, Mintzberg and Taylor. However, the reality is that it is simply not that practical or realistic to have a pool of resources available with the perfect mix of technical skills, psychological profiles and behavioural preferences for every team or project - but as businesses we need to be able to form teams that can perform at their optimum given the skills and personalities within that team. It is important to acknowledge that there have been many successful teams that have not had the perfect balance of expertise, idea generators, leaders and do-ers; therefore there must be some fundamentals that if in place can get the most from any group of individuals working as a team.
Having been close to business change or the introduction of new technology throughout my career, I see the importance of a high-performing team to deliver in challenging environments. With the on-set of a digital revolution driving disruption and change across most industries it is as important as ever to be able to assemble effective teams for both operating your business and transforming that business.
More often than not businesses and teams have limitations on the amount of change they can make to personnel to form perfectly balanced teams, but quite often this could be considered the easy answer for why a team or business may not perform. This piece of work by Google has shone a spotlight on the importance of getting the basics right and making sure that teams (project or operational) have a common goal, are suitably empowered and have a safe environment within which they can be creative, inquisitive and challenging (without feeling the unnecessary pressure or judgement by others in their team).
Whether it be a project team, operations team or management team it is worth taking a step back and really considering whether your team:
- Can be depended and relied upon to deliver;
- Has clarity on their roles and structured around the team goals;
- Buys into the goals of the team (and wider organisation) and understands the role that they play in achieving those goals;
- Believes in the purpose of the team and is proud of what they are trying to achieve; and,
- Fosters an environment of safety for expressing ideas, asking questions, showing emotion and taking appropriate risks in line with the team goals.
Speaking from my own experience, more often than not one or more of these points aren't being addressed within teams. This doesn’t necessarily mean a team is dysfunctional, but it can put an overhead on the team that makes delivery that bit more difficult or has the potential to put the team into a spin when faced with unexpected crises. The key point that I hope you take away from reading this is that in practice it shouldn't take a great deal to address each of these areas - but the yields of doing so can be quite remarkable.
Welle described five dynamics that distinguish effective teams at Google. In descending order of importance they are: 1. Psychological safety Members feel they can be vulnerable. They know their ideas and opinions will be respected and considered, even when they conflict with those of the rest of the team. 2. Dependability Members are confident their coworkers will deliver what they are supposed to when they are supposed to. 3. Structure and clarity Members understand their roles and the roles of others, and the goals of the team overall. 4. Meaning Members feel that what they are working on is important to them personally. 5. Impact Members believe what they are doing will have a positive effect on the organization and the world.