To stay competitive in our lightning-fast digital world, organizations are redesigning traditional structures. According to the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016 study, 92% of participating companies identify “redesigning the way we work” as their top priority, and in the 2017 study, many of them report taking actions to move from a traditional hierarchical structure to a more flat “network of teams.” A Forbes article addresses the implications of these findings:
This new model of work is forcing us to change job roles and job descriptions; rethink careers and internal mobility; emphasize skills and learning as keys to performance; redesign how we set goals and reward people; and change the role of leaders.
Whether you’re an executive, a manager or an individual contributor, most of us work in teams in some capacity at some point. Developing teams, not just individuals, should be a primary focus for today’s organizational leaders. Teams are here to stay and are more crucial than ever to an organization’s success.
Given these new ways of working, it’s time to examine how we invest in our teams to create positive, engaging and effective work environments.
From a productive team to a high-performing one and then some
In a previous article, What It Takes to Create a High Performance Team, we discussed the differences between a productive team and a high-performing one. A productive team excels at getting work done; it’s driven to achieve a certain output. A high-performing team, on the other hand, establishes the cultural infrastructure and processes that enable it to adapt and innovate as well as accomplish.
Over the last few years, we’ve worked with many teams to enhance their performance while also exploring contemporary research on teamwork and reflecting on our own team experiences. This led us to create a robust and holistic framework for teamwork called “Thriving Teams.”
What is a Thriving Team?
Thriving teams are multi-dimensional. Of course, there is a focus on achieving high performance and delivering stellar output. Yet they also value each member, strive for workplace balance, and create a culture of learning and engagement.
We’ve identified the eight most important elements of a thriving team. These elements are not mutually exclusive, and, in fact, overlap and influence each other.
Achieving balance means more than work-life harmony. In a world that rewards productivity and results, attention to learning and experimentation can be easily compromised. While people may be driven by their work, they may also suffer from the stress that comes with it.
We believe that a thriving team is mindful of the importance of balance. A thriving team walks the line between team performance and individual learning, accomplishing tasks and mastering processes, achieving results and maintaining well-being.
A thriving team focuses on more than achieving high performance. Execution and reflection are equally important. A thriving teams honors the tension between learning and performance as key to success and sustainability.
Members of a thriving team balance workloads and priorities, perfection and “good enough,” and thinking and execution in order to optimize their use of resources.
Members of a thriving team work hard to deliver results, but they also know how to take care of themselves. They are able to establish clear boundaries and keep a healthy work-life balance.
Common Purpose and Direction
"Purpose plays this critical role because it is the source of the meaning and significance people seek in what they do.”- Linda Hill & Kent Lineback, authors of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader
Teams often commit to shared goals and short-term actions, but lack an understanding of the deeper purpose for the team’s existence. A team’s purpose should guide their day-to-day actions. A shared purpose and direction also anchor teams in time of change, as in when team members or other circumstances shift.
A thriving team understands the purpose of the team, why it exists, and what impact this team has on the organization’s success.
Members of a thriving team rally around a compelling shared vision and use the vision to guide their day-to-day work.
Individuals on a thriving team connect their individual values with those of their team.
A thriving team has clearly defined goals that produce valuable results and establishes metrics to measure success.
Effective Communication is the engine of a thriving team. MIT Human Dynamics Laboratory found that when people connect directly with one another and establish communication channels with people outside the group, they are more likely to be successful.
On the other hand, when a team doesn’t encourage open communication and transparency, people work in silos and don’t share information that could be helpful for teammates. When a team doesn’t know why they meet and how to run meetings, time is wasted and productivity suffers. When team members are not actively listening to each other and asking questions, it’s difficult to consistently produce excellent work. A thriving team needs to invest in developing the right mindset and skills for effective communication.
The team runs effective meetings and uses their time together to move work forward.
The team champions open communication and establishes an inclusive environment in which different communication styles thrive.
A thriving team encourages transparency. Team members share information in a timely manner to keep everyone informed and aligned, especially when the context changes or new information emerges.
Team members use different tools and communication mediums appropriately. They master how and when to use different forms of communication, such as meetings, chat messaging, email, and phone.
Team members proactively address conflict and don’t shy away from difficult conversations.
Shared Accountability and Support
Team alignment on purpose and direction does not guarantee effective execution. A lack of accountability can normalize negative behaviors like missing deadlines, compromising quality of work, or letting work fall through the cracks, all of which which can harm a team’s performance and culture. When people feel a sense of shared ownership, they take initiative and contribute to each other’s success, whether or not it’s “their job.”
A thriving team has a clear plan of action. Team members are committed to holding each other accountable for individual and team results. They set high performance standards and count on each other to deliver high quality work.
Team members are clear about their roles and responsibilities but are not restricted by them. They adapt to evolving roles and responsibilities as the team needs. They understand how each other's capabilities contribute to the team's success.
Team members support each other to contribute their best work and look for the best ways to collaborate with each other.
In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni identifies “absence of trust” as a root cause of team dysfunction. Without trust, team members may not feel safe to express themselves or be vulnerable. They may avoid sharing their ideas, taking risks or giving feedback. This hurts the team’s performance and relationships.
A thriving team is trusting and trustworthy. Establishing group trust takes time and effort. When people trust each other, they are more willing to share knowledge, resources and new ideas, which builds the team’s capacity to innovate and achieve greater results.
Members of a thriving team treat each other with warmth and respect, honoring each person as unique. They value the diversity of experiences, beliefs, perspectives and backgrounds that come in a group.
Team members give each other candid and constructive feedback with the intent to help each other grow and become better versions of themselves.
A thriving team creates a safe environment for people to take risks, share incomplete ideas or unpopular perspectives, and experiment without feeling insecure or embarrassed.
Norms and Processes
Norms and processes - whether implicit or explicit - determine how a team gets its work done. They guide behavior by defining what is appropriate. Clear norms and processes help a team simplify workflow and coordinate execution to accomplish their goals. When a team is intentional about its norms and processes, it’s easier for the team members to understand and adopt them. This is especially true in meetings and of virtual teams.
A thriving team has effective work processes in place and follows them consistently to accomplish work. Team members periodically reflect on and improve their processes.
The team establishes helpful norms that support effective teamwork, such as valuing all voices, encouraging innovation, and rewarding experimentation (even if it fails).
The team establishes clear processes for decision-making. They use effective and appropriate decision-making strategies for different situations.
A thriving team applies practical conflict management strategies to reach resolution between team members when conflict arises.
In preparation for overcoming challenges in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world, change agility is a must-have team competency. Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School professor and author of Teaming, says,
Fast-moving work environments need people who know how to team, people who have the skills and the flexibility to act in moments of potential collaboration when and where they appear.
One core differentiator of a thriving team is that its members have the mindset and skills to effectively adapt, manage and lead change.
Team members are encouraged to engage in rapid experiments, learn from failure, iterate their approach and seek continuous improvement.
A thriving team remains calm under pressure and is able to support each other to manage ambiguity, uncertainty and change.
Team members recognize change is not easy and may not be pleasant. They are aware of their own reactions but strive to adapt, engage and embrace the unknown regardless of discomfort.
A thriving team views change as an opportunity, not a threat. It believes change can fuel improvement and growth.
Recent research by Gallup reveals that “engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees do.” Being engaged in work is a crucial component of high performance, productivity and retention, regardless of industry, country, or an organization’s size. Meaningful engagement means cultivating a culture in which people care about and are fulfilled by their work, build healthy relationships, and co-create a workplace that they love. Meaningful work can inspire and empower team members to go above and beyond.
Leaders genuinely care about every member’s personal growth and well-being. They invest in one-on-one meetings with employees and support them to grow.
Members of a thriving team feel connected to the work that they do. They are motivated by and committed to their organization’s values and purpose.
Team members openly appreciate each other, and not just during Thanksgiving.
Members are proud of their collective and individual achievements. They celebrate their team’s collective success while also recognizing each other’s unique contributions.
Members have fun and enjoy working with each other, creating a positive workplace atmosphere.
Is your team on the road to thriving?
Building and sustaining a thriving team is a dynamic and ongoing process.
We believe that every team has the potential to become a thriving team, regardless of its current state or size. Whether you’re a senior leadership team, a newly formed cross-functional team, or a product or project team, you and your team members can build your team’s capabilities and establish an environment in which everyone thrives.
At Meeteor, we’re on a mission to create thriving teams! We’ve launched a 12 month Thriving Teams Program to bring the principles we discuss in this article to your teams. We’ll work closely with your team to develop, implement and sustain the skills and practices for highly effective collaboration. Apply now to secure your spot!