As I follow a project management course conducted by Google, I came across a research they conducted on how high-performing teams function at that level. I found it highly relatable to my experience I have so far as a leader and as a follower in different teams. Google has identified these 5 key elements of a well-functioning team after interviewing 200+ high-performing team members, looking for more than 250 different attributes.
I realize that the five traits in the discussion are not alien to any one of us. If you believed that the individuals who are in the team are what matters to a successful functioning organization, get ready to be surprised.
5 Factors that impact a team’s effectiveness.
- Phycological Safety
- Structure and Clarity
Yes, you read that right. None of it is about the individuals within the team. The success of a team is dependent on collective attributes within that team. Let us dig deeper into it.
The ability to take matters into your own hand. An environment where you trust everyone to act in the best interest of the collective team goals. A team where nobody gets judged, discriminated or bullied for making decisions or thinking creatively.
Some leaders interpret this as “Do first and apologize later.” When you are empowered to take decisions without the risks of being frowned upon if it fails. You get motivated to think out of the box and act in the best interest of the team’s goals. A significant fraction of this behavior within an organization must come from the top. First, the leaders need to accept and believe that their team members are not there to screw them. Once that trust is built among the leaders and the followers, it starts to replicate among the team members.
When the leaders believe in the team members, they feel empowered to speak up when needed. And to take immediate actions to mitigate potential risk. It also improves cohesiveness within each other. Next, once they feel like they are not working for themselves but towards a collective goal, internal politics and leg-pulling fade away.
I have been a part of teams that practice this well. And with teams that do not trust their team members to even do the simplest of tasks. This is by far the best thing that could happen to any team.
The next attribute of a trusting team is dependability. Everyone is highly dependable on everyone else. Team members have no doubts about whether others will deliver on time. A team where each one is accountable to everyone else is a team that meets their expectations.
As a leader, however, it is your responsibility to share a clear expectation to work with. You also must create a safe environment to raise concerns whenever they feel like it.
For example, if one of your team members feels like the expectation the team has on her is unrealistic, she should be able to raise that concern intrepidly. When the team is reluctant to raise such concerns to a leader, the members will start to make promises that they know they can not fulfill.
3.Structure and Clarity
This, I believe (don’t quote me on this) is the single most common reason for the failure of many startups. Not having a clear understanding of the expectations that you need to fulfill, is like walking in the dark hoping everything to go right.
As a leader, you have to clearly align the expectations. However, this is not a one-man job. You cannot expect the leader to say what to do all the time. If that is the case, the above two points become obsolete. You need to collectively come to a consensus about the structure, and it has to be very clear to everyone.
The other half of this puzzle is to understand the consequences of your performance. When a team functions effectively, you feel accountable for your conduct. Mainly because it ultimately adds up to the overall performance of the team.
Finding meaning in work itself or on the outcome is another decisive factor to a healthy team. People always want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. As a leader, if you can create that sense of meaning on whatever that is you do, the entire team will start to look at it as a source of satisfaction than just another job.
If you look at the most effective teams that did great things in history, they always had a clear vision for something much bigger than themselves.
This also leads to the final factor of an effective team. The Impact.
After you create meaning in the work you do, you also need to ensure that everyone is a part of it. The team members need to feel that what they do makes sense, and it has a direct impact on the overall goal. When the organizing gets bigger and bigger, the chases of people missing out on the big-picture increase. When someone struggles to distinguish their impact on the overall goal, they have no reason to be motivated even when you see a bigger purpose.
As leaders, it is your responsibility to first make sure that everyone plays an important role. Secondly, to make sure that everyone can easily relate to the overall achievement.
We are so used to drop down the tasks from top to bottom. Where the CEO has the vision and then cascades it down to the granular level. This way, the lowermost teams will not see a picture. They will only see a tiny fraction of a much larger puzzle.
What if, same as you are going from top to bottom, you also work the other way. Where you show how even the most trivial task impacts the larger scheme. This can seriously motivate people to become highly motivated and responsible for their work.
Creating well-functioning teams is crucial for any organizations’ success. No matter how talented your members are, a healthy work culture will determine success. You may be the leader, or you could be a follower. Despite your role, make sure you contribute towards fostering that togetherness within.