Even if you aren’t into sports, it’s nearly impossible to avoid being part of a team. You’re part of a team at work, in your marriage, and when planning a party. Many of the smallest and most significant moments of our lives are driven by teamwork, including those on the job — which is why we see (and read) so many articles on how to make your team efficient.
It’s hard to keep up with our fast-changing world and to stay competitive, so it’s good to have a team to back you up. Jeff Boss, a Forbes writer who specializes in leadership and team building, has a great way of summing it up.
“Companies — and the people who run them — must adapt to change by finding new ways of working for which there are no blueprints. And they must do so together. Nothing gets accomplished as effectively or as efficiently as it does through a team.”
In the spirit of strong teams, here are the four things to keep in mind when putting together teams, when evaluating your team’s performance, and when participating as a teammate.
1. A great team brings in good ideas and curates the best ones
Good teams are made up of people that don’t always agree. If everyone agrees, you don’t have good teamwork. A team looks at all the different arguments, perspectives, and possibilities. And they don’t choose the ideas that everyone agrees with (nothing would ever get chosen), they pick the best idea and go with that. Those who disagree naturally play the devil’s advocate, and they become the key players in making the idea the best it can be.
Take a teamwork audit
Does your team meet these four points? Remember that creating a team culture of creativity takes living it out at every level.
- During meetings, the team encourages pushback and disagreement
- After the meeting, the team leaves without hard feelings
- The team places good decisions above personal opinion
- The team creates a respectful space where all ideas can be shared
2. Great teams have great leaders
How the team performs highly depends on the leader. The leader should be able to adapt their leadership style to align with both the situation and their people. This means that once they get a feel for the team, they’ll adjust their style of leadership to one that works best in the situation. For example, if there’s a tight turnaround and a large team, they might delegate and establish structured rules and deadlines to keep things moving. If it’s a long-term project and a smaller team, they might step out of the delegation chair, roll up their sleeves, and get to work.
Take a leadership audit
Do your leaders meet these four points? Leadership is not about forcing respect — it’s about earning respect.
- During meetings, the leader listens to the team — not their own opinions
- After the meeting, the leader demonstrates a positive and forward-moving attitude
- The leader uses great communication skills to keep the team organized
- The leader encourages honesty and openness within the team
3. Great teams have someone to keep them focused
This key is all about being aware of team social dynamics. It’s easy to get sidetracked and lose focus — just think about your last team meeting. Most likely, everyone talked about their last vacation, people got offended, six other projects got discussed, and productivity hit a big, fat zero. That’s normal (but not good). To avoid this, it’s important to have individuals (maybe even a third party), who can identify side-track moments and drive the team back to the goal.
4. Great teams specialize in clear communication
Has your significant other ever sent you a short OK, and you spent the rest of the day wondering how you offended them (when they were actually distracted by a cute dog)? The more we use virtual and electronic forms of communication, the more important it is to interpret messages correctly. This sounds like a simple communication exercise: listen to the message, then pass it onto the next person. But it’s an exercise that we fail every day. Often we insert our own opinion into the message (because the message we received wasn’t very clear), or we completely misinterpret what the message says and fail to ask for clarification.
Here are a few ways to help your team’s communication:
- Encourage team member to ask any questions they have. Remind them that there are no dumb questions. (Is the sky blue? Not really — that’s just our current perception.)
- Never shame anyone for asking questions. Always provide validation, such as, “Great question!” or “Thanks for bringing that up.”
- Provide great communication tools such as Slack and Zoom. (Who uses email anymore, anyway?) Slack’s instant back and forth chat, calling ability, and resource sharing helps team members communicate instantly.
- If possible, get a project coordinator to help manage project communication.
Provide an example of great teamwork at every level
The best way to ensure great teamwork? Demonstrate it. Cut out the trash talk and show respect for each other on every level — from CEO to board member, from account manager to project manager, from sales rep to copywriter. Workplace politics often try to infringe on the team, so make a stand for respect. We’re all human, we all mess up, and that’s OK. Share kindness.
This doesn’t mean your team has to agree on everything. In fact, great teams don’t all agree. Great teams agree to disagree (sometimes reluctantly). Different opinions give us powerful and innovative perspectives — individual thought is what makes us unique. The most important key involves balancing our own opinions with an authentic respect for others.
Teams are a collection of individuals working together toward a shared goal. In fact, teamwork is one of the most important things in the workplace. Just remember that teams come both with tough challenges and amazing benefits. Keep these four keys in mind, and build teams that keep winning!