On this type of team, there is usually a strong trust bond, people work cooperatively together to reach the common project goals, and often the project is even more successful than the project manager and customer could have imagined.
These types of teams generally have some key characteristics in common that help make them the effective, high-performing teams that they are.
Clearly defined goals
Clearly defined goals are essential so that everyone understands the purpose and vision of the team. It’s surprising to learn sometimes how many people do not know the reason they are doing the tasks that make up their jobs, much less what their team is doing. Everyone must be pulling in the same direction and be aware of the end goals. Clear goals help team members understand where the team is going. Clear goals help a team know when it has been successful by defining exactly what the team is doing and what it wants to accomplish. This makes it easier for members to work together – and more likely to be successful.
Clear goals create ownership. Team members are more likely to “own” goals and work toward them if they have been involved in establishing them as a team. In addition, ownership is longer lasting if members perceive that other team members support the same efforts. Clear goals foster team unity, whereas unclear goals foster confusion – or sometimes individualism. If team members don’t agree on the meaning of the team goals, they will work alone to accomplish their individual interpretations of the goals. They may also protect their own goals, even at the expense of the team.
Clearly defined roles
If the team’s roles are clearly defined, all team members know what their jobs are, but defining roles goes beyond that. It means that we recognize individuals’ talent and tap into the expertise of each member – both job-related and innate skills each person brings to the team, such as organization, creative, or team-building skills. Clearly defined roles help team members understand why they are on a team. When the members experience conflict, it may be related to their roles. Team members often can manage this conflict by identifying, clarifying, and agreeing on their individual responsibilities so that they all gain a clear understanding of how they will accomplish the team’s goals. Once team members are comfortable with their primary roles on the team, they can identify the roles they play during team meetings. There are two kinds of roles that are essential in team meetings.
Open and clear communication
The importance of open and clear communication cannot be stressed enough. This is probably the most important characteristic for high-performance teams. Many different problems that arise on projects can often be can be traced back to poor communication or lack of communication skills, such as listening well or providing constructive feedback. Enough books have been written about communication to fill a library. And I’ve personally written several articles on this subject alone for this site over the past few months.
Excellent communication is the key to keeping a team informed, focused, and moving forward. Team members must feel free to express their thoughts and opinions at any time. Yet, even as they are expressing themselves, they must make certain they are doing so in a clear and concise manner. Unfortunately, most of us are not very good listeners. Most of us could improve our communication if we just started to listen better—to listen with an open mind, to hear the entire message before forming conclusions, and to work toward a mutual understanding with the speaker.
Effective decision making
Decision making is effective when the team is aware of and uses many methods to arrive at decisions. A consensus is often touted as the best way to make decisions—and it is an excellent method and probably not used often enough. But the team should also use majority rule, expert decision, authority rule with discussion, and other methods. The team members should discuss the method they want to use and should use tools to assist them, such as force-field analysis, pair-wise ranking matrices, or some of the multi-voting techniques.
Effective decision making is essential to a team’s progress; ideally, teams that are asked to solve problems should also have the power and authority to implement solutions. They must have a grasp of various decision-making methods, their advantages and disadvantages, and when and how to use each. Teams that choose the right decision-making methods at the right time will not only save time, but they will also most often make the best decisions. This completes the four basic foundation characteristics: clear goals, defined roles, open and clear communication, and effective decision making.
If communication is the most important team characteristic, participation is the second most important. Without participation, you don’t have a team; you have a group of bodies. Balanced participation ensures that everyone on the team is fully involved. It does not mean that if you have five people each is speaking 20 percent of the time. Talking is not necessarily a measure of participation. We all know people who talk a lot and say nothing. It does mean that each individual is contributing when it’s appropriate. The more a team involves all of its members in its activities, the more likely that team is to experience a high level of commitment and synergy.
A leader’s behavior comes as much from attitude as from anything. Leaders who are effective in obtaining participation see their roles as being a coach and mentor, not the expert in the situation. Leaders will get more participation from team members if they can admit to needing help, not power. Leaders should also specify the kind of participation they want right from the start.
Participants must volunteer information willingly rather than force someone to drag it out of them. They should encourage others’ participation as well by asking a question of others, especially those who have been quiet for a while.
Participants can assist the leader by suggesting techniques that encourage everyone to speak, for example, a round robin. To conduct a round robin, someone directs all members to state their opinions or ideas about the topic under discussion. Members go around the group, in order, and one person at a time says what’s on his or her mind. During this time, no one else in the group can disagree, ask questions, or discuss how the idea might work or not work, be good or not good.
Only after everyone has had an opportunity to hear others and to be heard him- or herself, a discussion occurs. This discussion may focus on pros and cons, on clarifying, on similarities and differences, or on trying to reach consensus.
Valued diversity is at the heart of building a team. Thus, the box is at the center of the model. It means, put simply, that team members are valued for the unique contributions that they bring to the team.
Diversity goes far beyond gender and race. It also includes how people think, what experience they bring, and their styles. The diversity of thinking, ideas, methods, experiences, and opinions helps to create a high-performing team.
Conflict is essential to a team’s creativity and productivity. Because most people dislike conflict, they often assume that effective teams do not have it. In fact, both effective and ineffective teams experience conflict. The difference is that effective teams manage it constructively. In fact, effective teams see conflict as positive.
Managed conflict ensures that problems are not swept under the rug. It means that the team has discussed members’ points of view about an issue and has come to see well-managed conflict as a healthy way to bring out new ideas and to solve whatever seems to be unsolvable. Here are some benefits of healthy conflict:
- Conflict forces a team to find productive ways to communicate differences, seek common goals, and gain consensus;
- Conflict encourages a team to look at all points of view, then adopt the best ideas from each;
- Conflict increases creativity by forcing the team to look beyond current assumptions and parameters.
Positive team atmosphere
To be truly successful, a team must have a climate of trust and openness, that is, a positive atmosphere. A positive atmosphere indicates that members of the team are committed and involved. It means that people are comfortable enough with one another to be creative, take risks, and make mistakes. It also means that you may hear plenty of laughter, and research shows that people who are enjoying themselves are more productive than those who dislike what they are doing.
Directly related to having a positive atmosphere are cooperative relationships. Team members know that they need one another’s skills, knowledge, and expertise to produce something together that they could not do as well alone. There is a sense of belonging and a willingness to make things work for the good of the whole team. The atmosphere is informal, comfortable, and relaxed. Team members are allowed to be themselves. They are involved and interested.
Cooperative relationships are the hallmark of top-performing teams. These top teams demonstrate not only cooperative relationships between team members but also cooperative working relationships elsewhere in the organization.
The participative leadership block is not at the top of the model because it is the most important.
It is at the top because it is the only block that can be removed without disturbing the rest.
Participative leadership means that leaders share the responsibility and the glory, are supportive and fair, create a climate of trust and openness, and are good coaches and teachers.
In general, it means that leaders are good role models and that the leadership shifts at various times.
In the most productive teams, it is difficult to identify a leader during a casual observation.
In conclusion, a high-performing team can accomplish more together than all the individuals can apart.