A team’s effectiveness is the result of several factors being brought together to weave the team into an entity that is bigger than its individual members, aligned towards the achievement of goals and having a culture that is underpinned by positive values adhered to by all team members.
The following seven critical success factors need to be created for a team to be highly effective:
- The quality of the team’s leadership is the foundation upon which an effective team is built.
The team leader has a crucial role to play in creating psychological safety within the team. This allows individual team members to express their opinions and views without fear of being belittled or, worse still, face retribution. Without this in place, it becomes difficult for the team to fully develop its potential. The team leader needs to be skilled in reading their team members, connecting with them, and understanding their needs, strengths, and aspirations. They need to be adept at engaging everyone in the team, caring for them as people first, helping them to develop their capabilities. This often requires a coaching approach to leading the team.
The way informal feedback is provided to individual team members has been found to have a great bearing on their performance. Indeed, informal feedback that was perceived to be fair and accurate was found to increase performance by 39.1 per cent, being knowledgeable about the team member’s performance a 30.3 per cent increase, supporting team members to do their jobs better 25.8 per cent and emphasising the team members personality strengths by 22.3 per cent1. Team leaders also need to be seen to be fair and equitable in their dealings and ready to undertake tasks which they ask their team members to do.
- A team does not operate in a vacuum and the organisation needs to create a climate and culture within which it can realise its maximum potential.
This includes ensuring that the team has the necessary resources at its disposal, not least, up-to-date, and relevant information to inform its decisions and ensure that it is moving in the right direction. Importantly, the organisation needs to embrace those values that support the development of psychological safety within the team and senior leadership must be perceived to support the underpinning characteristics supporting healthy team development. The organisation’s senior leadership also have a responsibility to ensure that processes and procedures are designed to facilitate the work of teams and not hinder it.
- A high-performing team takes time out to learn how team members can work together better.
This, of course, pre-supposes that there is an element of stability within the team to allow its members to learn how to work together. It also requires that the senior leadership of the organisation recognise this need and protects time for the team to be able to practice learning either as a process of reflective self-assessment to identify improvements to its work or with the support of an external team coach.
- A high-performing team is accountable for its actions.
In a fast-moving environment, the team needs to be able to work autonomously to adapt quickly to changes possibly needing to experiment to identify how best to move forward. This implies that the team needs to be accountable for its actions, recognising under-performance and taking the necessary action through team learning to re-align.
- The composition of the team has a direct bearing on its capabilities and potential.
Team composition has different facets, starting off with the need for it to be a proper team which has clear boundaries that identify who is in the team and who isn’t. Diversity of team members is an important aspect to team composition, allowing issues to be examined from different perspectives. This, in turn, requires the team to manage conflict in a functional manner. It also means that the necessary skills needed for the team to achieve its goals are covered by the different team members who therefore need to work collaboratively and adaptively. The different personality styles of the team members need to be accounted for to achieve a better interpersonal understanding that improves the team dynamic.
Moreover, behavioural team roles (such as those identified by Meredith Belbin2) need to be properly understood to ensure that team members work to their strengths and gaps are addressed. It is important to recognise that having the right team composition is as much about developing the individual team members as it is about trying to hire for best fit. A high-performing team also has a strong onboarding process, cognisant of the need to be prepared for changes in the team’s composition. Properly implemented, onboarding results in more engaged team members3 providing greater stability and enhancing the team’s potential through learning.
- The team can achieve flow quickly.
Flow occurs whenever work appears not to require great effort, the team moving at pace to reach milestones and achieve goals rather than seeming to be going uphill all the time. In today’s turbulent environment, teams need to achieve this quickly and with purpose, identifying and agreeing to those work practices that will ensure frictionless interdependent working.
Team members therefore need to agree on the values which drive them, acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, how to resolve conflict, reach decisions, how to communicate, nature and frequency of meetings, technology to use. This needs to be done early in the team’s life to quickly establish norms and move towards high-performance. This is manifested through the drawing up of a Team Charter, with the participation of the team members, which would clearly set out these work practices to which all team members agree to adhere.
- The team is intent on achieving the required impact.
The team needs to be focused with laser-like precision on achieving its goals. It measures progress towards its goals regularly to ensure it is on target. This means that not only is it clear about what needs to be achieved but that all the team is squarely aligned and single-minded about the impact their work is to have. This would also imply agreement and ownership of the strategies to be employed in achieving the identified goals and the actions and initiatives to be undertaken, cognisant of the systemic effect such actions and goals would have on the rest of the organisation, community, and other stakeholders.
A high-performing team, therefore, can be “engineered” by taking the right initiatives supporting the above seven critical success factors. With the aid of team coaching, these initiatives address both the motivation and ability of the team members individually and collectively, resulting in better attainment of team’s and organisation’s goals