Fred decided he was fed up working with his team members. If he just did it himself, he wouldn’t have had to go back and make so many corrections. He liked the other guys—honestly, he did—but after all these weeks, they were just starting to annoy him. Teams are just not very effective sometimes, he thought as he finished fixing the last lines of code. If only he could duplicate himself, then the project would complete on time and be done right the first time. Tomorrow was going to be a really awkward day; the team would see all the changes he made. They’re not going to like this, he thought, predicting their response.
Having a highly effective team is the dream of any manager, and being part of that team is the best feeling as an engineer. The need for high performing teams span every field and discipline, from our local community organizations, to the top Fortune 500 companies.
It’s well-known that effective teams outperform individuals and in fact, individuals are able to perform at a much higher level when they are part of such a team. So, the question really is, why aren’t all teams highly effective? Why do we get stuck on teams that feel deflated or overly reactive? Why is it that our teams feel so lopsided, with some members carrying more burden, responsibility, or even decision-making?
Fred didn’t know that there were small things that were necessary to have a team that performed at their peak potential. That’s essentially why he thought teams were ineffective. You and I know that he’s being extreme, but chances are we’ve all been on teams that made us feel something similar. So, let’s just jump right in now on ways to change this dynamic and transform our working environment into place we enjoy being a part of every day.
5 disciplines of a Highly Effective Team
- Small Size
- Mutual Accountability
- Productive Team Norms
- Capable and Complementary Members
- Shared Purpose and Performance Objectives
1. Keep the Size Small
Keep your teams small, as they grow too big it’s easy for people to become marginalized and sub-groups to be formed. Large teams cause low performers to simply coast, while top performers eventually feel burnt out due to taking on extra load. If your team is too big, consider breaking into two smaller teams with a lead on each to help manage the day-to-day developments. My own rule of thumb: if your core team is getting past the 6 person mark, it’s time to start considering a break-up.
2. Keeping Everyone Accountable
Accountability is the foundation of trust within a team. Knowing that team members take their work seriously and feel accountable for their responsibilities allows other members to focus on their own tasks. From the manager’s perspective, it’s important to set the tone here by holding individuals accountable for missed deadlines or broken promises. A good manager will coach his reports, helping them to get better at keeping up with their commitments.
3. Creating Productive Team Norms
Team norms is just a fancy way of saying how things are done around here. It’s also synonymous with behavioral norms or code of conduct. Making sure that these norms are productive is critical to the success of the team. Examples of good norms may include the freedom to give input, being able to critique each others’ work, and never taking suggestions personally. You’re not going to write your norms on the wall, they materialize based off of the countless hours a team spends together, but if you notice norms that don’t seem productive, it’s worth talking about them with the team.
4. Have the Right Mix of Complementary Skills
Capable and complementary members simple means that you want to make sure you have a good mix of talent. If your team is focusing on web applications, for example, having a team full of designers and only one front-end developer may not be the right structure. Take a look at your team and make sure you have all the areas of expertise that you require covered, and if not, consider swapping members with other teams. If you approach it the right way, it can be a win-win for everyone.
5. Established a Shared Purpose and Objective
Establishing a shared purpose is really the responsibility of an effective manager, because without this leadership, the team will not understand how their work impacts the broader organization. The team should also understand how high the bar is set for them in terms of their performance. Without establishing clear objectives, members will have a very difficult time knowing if they are performing well or lagging behind.
Moving Forward with Your Team
Fred walked back into work the next day ready for the fight of his life. Maybe I went too far this time, he wondered. I wish I could just fix my team instead of having to fix all these problems every time. He knew his team had fallen into a trap, but he was determined to get things working again, somehow.
It may take a long time to change a team that’s dysfunctional, or simply low performing, and make it truly amazing. Talking through the issues, bringing them up and into the open, is the first step though. Having an effective manager helps too, but in lieu of that, members of the team have to step up to implement changes for themselves.
If you’re like Fred, take some time and think about the 5 disciplines we went over and see where your team stands. Chances are you’re off track with some of them—or even all of them—but now that you know, there’s so much you can do to make things better. We’ll talk more on that topic in the future, but for now, I wish you the best!
References that I used to help in this post:
Baldwin, Timothy T., William Bommer, and Robert S. Rubin. Managing organizational behavior : what great managers know and do. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2013.
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