Great teamwork isn’t rocket science

Sometimes you might think it’s a lot more complicated though. One of the main reasons why it seems complicated is because it’s supporting a large industry of trainers and facilitators, tools and methods. Everyone is selling something that’s going to turn you into high performing super teams. Why don’t we take a look at what great teamwork might look like in real life?

In high performing teams there are a few common traits. First of all they share information well when the purpose is to get the job done. So there’s a level of competent judgement about what information is important and who needs to know it. Then the next stage is minimum politics of the sort that makes people withhold information. Easier said than done, you might say. One of the problems with the idea of politics within work is that people often think that it is driven by people. In fact it’s a by product of poor leadership. If you keep the tasks straightforward and the culture open then there should be no place for political agendas to hide. Politics is one of the less admirable human qualities but it only thrives where it is allowed to; badly run teams, Westminster Palace and other such places.

So, step one; hire competent people and step two; have a culture of simplicity and openness. In most cases the work you’re doing isn’t rocket science either, so it should be possible to simplify it. This is one of the key business goals for leaders.

In high performing teams the team members cover each others’ back. This means the aforementioned sharing of information but it is also demonstrated by something as simple as answering a colleague’s phone when it’s ringing on their desk. There are a few options here; 1. You ignore it because it’s not your problem and you were on your way to make a cup of tea; 2. You answer it and scribble a note on your colleague’s desk and 3; You answer the phone, find out what the call is about, deal with it if you can and send an email to your colleague covering the conversation. What this means needs no explaining but it’s worth adding that you make an excellent impression on whoever called when you do this.

If your team has historical problems then this will all be greeted with a cynical shrug. Nothing ever changes around here, that will never happen etc. Bad news; if you think that then you’re part of the problem. A good leader will coach a team through the cynical phase and out into the sunshine. That is simple, but it’s very hard and many people don’t have the strength or will to do it. They shouldn’t be leaders.

Many facilitators will take you through courses filled with ideas and ‘technology’ but if a team hasn’t got these simple (but hard) things covered it won’t help. The team, once released from the training room, will very quickly revert back to the old status quo.

The first step is, in some ways, fairly authoritarian. It is essentially creating an open culture where unhelpful behaviour is visible and then saying ‘we don’t tolerate that’. It is important that teams don’t get stuck in a place where that stage is permanent. It needs to move on to a point where it’s accepted and rarely an issue. Some teams don’t move on and it makes for a pretty unpleasant working environment.

The next stage is building trust and friendship between team members. It’s important to note that this is a work based friendship and it’s not necessary for team members to be best mates outside work. Just that they care enough when they are at work. Sometimes this is called camaraderie but that can be a bit off putting. Most people understand what friendship means.

Friendships can be grown through positive shared experiences, for example success at work that everyone feels that they had a hand in. This is, without a doubt, the most powerful source of this feeling. If this isn’t easy (perhaps, for example, because you’re in a tricky part of your business cycle) then you can boost morale and goodwill within a team by using well chosen and professionally organised team building events. Yes, it’s a sales pitch. To be fair you were warned in the first paragraph; everyone is selling something. However, this is something that we believe in and we have many letters from clients confirming it that we would be happy to put forward as evidence.

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