By Sean M. Gallagher and Chuck Leddy
We live in an era of collaboration, one where work teams are the primary creators of business value. For C-suite leaders, managers, and organizations to succeed, their teams must succeed. The good news? After decades of data-driven research and practice, we know how to build successful work teams, whether they’re senior leadership teams, cross-functional teams, or any other kind of kind.
Team Failure is the Rule, Not the Exception
While everyone seems to recognize the crucial connection between effective teams and organizational success, and while evidence-based research and practice has given us actionable insights to build successful teams, today’s work teams are failing at alarming rates. Too often, the value teams create is far less than the sum of their individual parts: 2 + 2 is far too often less than four, and oftentimes far less than four.
For instance, research shows that 80 percent of senior leadership teams perform at a level that’s either “poor” (42 percent) or “mediocre” (37 percent). That’s a failure rate of about 80 percent. When we look at cross-functional teams, it’s a similarly sad story — three out of four of those critically-important teams fail.
The costs organizations pay for dysfunctional teams are massive, not just in failed projects and lost revenues but also in terms of disengaged talent and damaged organizational cultures.
The Six Conditions for Team Success
You don’t need to pay the heavy costs of failed teams, because we know what conditions create team success. Those conditions are . . .
- A Real Team: Any real work team needs four basic elements: (1) a task; (2) clear boundaries; (3) clearly specified authority to manage its own work processes; and (4) membership stability over time.
- A Compelling Team Direction: Defining a direction that is both clear and compelling helps you in several ways. It is the beginning of a map for collective success, and enables teams to make a detailed plan for the journey ahead. Just as importantly, it gives you a vital tool to motivate team members.
- The Right People: You’ll need to select team members who have the “hard” and “soft” skills and experience required to do the work the team will be performing. You should also look for value-adding diversity and team members who exemplify the kinds of behaviors that lead to team success — for instance, listening ability, open-mindedness and curiosity, and empathy for others.
- A Sound Team Structure: To ensure solid communication and social cohesion, the team shouldn’t be too big. Every team will structure itself around behavioral norms regarding punctuality, communication, and dispute resolution, which serve as ground rules for collective behavior. These norms offer team members the psychological safety/comfort to move forward instead of constantly renegotiating the rules of the road.
- A Supportive Organizational Context. Teams nurture themselves but will also require nurturing from the larger organization. Recognition for team success is one place where the larger organization can give support. Three other areas are the following: (1) rewards, (2) information, and (3) education/training. When these three organizational support functions are aligned with the goals of the team, you create a rich soil that will yield high-performing teams.
- Team Coaching: Coaching can come from someone inside the team or someone outside the team, and can focus on motivation, skills, and interpersonal behaviors. Coaches not only share best practices, but also communicate why those practices work. They are thus critically-important supporters of individual and team development.
The six conditions listed above present an evidence-based, practical, measurable framework for building effective teams. We can diagnose specific teams, utilizing a Team Diagnostic Survey (TDS) and one-on-one interviews, to identify their strengths and weaknesses. We can measure and benchmark results, and then develop and implement an action plan for team improvement. As a leader, you want to create the conditions for team success. We know what those conditions are, and we can help you and your teams succeed.