Huge volumes have been given over to the discussion of what makes a good team and consequently what kind of development interventions might best help your team make the necessary changes to move from being functional to being ‘high performing’. It often helps to start with very honest discussions about the nature of your team and what you want to achieve.
The most frequent request we get is how to move from being a collection of often highly performing individuals to being a group of people who are more than, rather than less than the sum of their parts. The reality is that lots of ‘teams’ struggle to do that – individual strengths too often detract from collective effort rather than add to it. Sometimes there are just one or two more challenging individuals who consume a disproportionate amount of energy from everyone and throw the work of the team off-course. Our work can help you refine what you want, open up the honest conversations, give some feedback and reflections and help shape the work needed individually and collectively to bring on the performance of the whole. Holding individuals to account often starts with everyone getting a better and more honest appreciation of who they are and what it feels like to be around them. This can be challenging work, but the impact is significant and sustainable.
Other teams and Boards we work with are more future focussed; they are working well in the here and now but have recognised that what has served them well to date is no longer right for a very different future. The incredibly complex world we operate in demands very different thinking and new ways of working. What we have noticed here is that the anchors to old behaviours are very powerful, particularly when people are under stress, so the challenge isn’t about shifting ways of working, it is about embedding and sustaining them.
Some of the principles behind good team development which we follow are shared here:
How you develop team working and teams is crucial to developing an organisational culture and shared sense of purpose, focussed on improving effectiveness of your organisation.
The work of combining the mix of invaluable skills, capabilities, knowledge, experience and diversity of your team members has a direct impact on the culture and climate of your organisation. We know that this requires a shift in some behaviours, and maybe development of new skills, so that individuals are able to work in multiple teams to deliver shared success. So, whilst team development needs to be flexible and tailored to the needs of specific teams wherever they are and at whatever level they are operating, the broader frame of what we seek to achieve is at an individual level. People are rarely just part of one team, working in increasingly complex systems means that greater understanding of what happens for groups of people working together and how your own behaviours, knowledge and approach can best fit makes for much more rounded effective leaders whatever team setting they operate in.
Effective team development should:
- help reinforce from the outset the whole organisation/system concept, that each team is part of a wider ecosystem
- enable team members to support each other across boundaries to achieve the best outcomes
- help reduce the potential for developing silo working, by developing systems thinking and understanding
- maximise the opportunities to build open, inclusive, connecting teamwork which does not let boundaries get in the way of doing the best for the organisation
- promote matrix working internally and with external partners
- develop the culture, mind-sets and behaviours applicable across your whole organisation
a group of people who are working through collective endeavour toward a common goal
This is useful in that it allows a definition that encompasses the many different teams that you might work with as part of your daily activities.
The level of individual critical self-awareness is important within an intact team and these behaviours are transferable to transient and task and finish teams. It might help to think about good team working being made up of two component parts – the individual skills and behaviours of the members of the team and the alchemy of bringing those skills together.
No matter the context many of the principles are the same: increased self-awareness and openness; listening; facilitating; empowering; the intelligent use of emotion and boundaries; reading multiple perspectives and creatively valuing difference; increased curiosity and less rush to judgement; clarity around accountability, responsibility and authority; skill in giving and receiving challenge and feedback; skill and regularity of review and reflection; tolerance of uncertainty; awareness of own leadership style and the climate you create.
Katzenbach and Smith talk about a team as being: 'a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.' The 'hold mutually accountable' is really significant, the lack of which is a key indicator of a dysfunctional team - it means full openness and no avoidance, strong relationships and holding peers to account. It is rare - and is the difference in really high-performance teams.
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Karen has done a fantastic job facilitating the programme for our Senior leadership Team. Her approach is deliberative and engaging which had a profound impact on behaviours and commitment to work collaboratively.
Deborah Cadman, OBE
Chief Executive of the WMCA