Cultivating productive teams is a goal for most businesses. You work hard to hire the best people for the job and then hope those people form a cohesive unit when they need to work together closely. It’s like assembling corporate Xmen.
You’re probably familiar with the Xmen. A group of people with extraordinary individual powers who achieve marvelous results when working as a team.
Whether you’re a company of 20 or 10,000, building great teams can be a challenge. For a free lesson, let’s look to Google, a corporation known for investing in individual talent development. We’ll see what they got right, and what they got wrong.
Is There an Algorithm for That?
When Google’s People Operations department set out to improve team productivity, they looked at solving the problem by creating a formula for what an effective team needs: a magical mix of gender, personality types, and location distribution.
Google spends considerable time developing their individual employees, and dozens of studies point to diversity in organizations as a key to innovation and productivity. It must have seemed like they were on the right track.
Google’s People Operations department studied 180 teams in their engineering and sales organizations. They conducted hundreds of interviews. And what they found was the diversity of the team members— while welcome and expected in the modern workplace—was not the defining factor in team performance.
What was important? Team dynamics.
When you form teams you want a selection of differing skillsets, personality types and backgrounds. But no matter how diverse or talented your team is, you are bound to hit some bumps in the road.
You may have brilliant individuals who are hesitant to share their ideas or voice their concerns in group situations. Or the opposite, team members who won’t yield the floor to others, and are slow to compromise when it comes time to get down to business.
Not surprisingly, creating successful teams requires developing the team as a whole.
“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other, and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.”
– Steve Jobs
A Team is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
You already value the pieces individually, but when you put people together on projects, it pays to look at the group as an organism all its own. How can you get your Xmen to unite?
We’ve scoured the internet and assembled a list of five things you can do to develop more productive teams.
If you’ve watched Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability, then the most influential contributor to team productivity from Google’s surveys won’t surprise you. (If you haven’t watched it, we highly encourage you to check it out when you are done reading this post.)
Google discovered that the most productive teams foster a sense of psychological safety among their members. This means a sense of security around sharing ideas and openly participating with the team, understanding that disagreements and conflicting ideas can be respectfully dealt with, and those discussions can lead to unexpectedly innovative solutions.
Take note psychological safety was number one on Google’s list. If someone is sharing ideas with one or two individuals outside of team meetings, but not speaking up during the meetings, ask yourself why. Do they not feel valued or secure in their position? Is there another co-worker or a more senior team member who comes across as intimidating?
If your team members don’t feel psychologically safe, they won’t live up to their full potential, and the whole team will suffer.
Unsure of how to deal with sharing your ideas or embracing your imperfections in the workplace? Check out our previous posts.
Dependability is an important factor in developing productive teams. If you have co-workers who constantly miss deadlines or fail to follow through on their obligations to the group, this can have a huge impact on everyone else. It may create resentment if others have to pick up the slack, or it may make the rest of the team doubt the importance of their personal contributions, and take their own obligations less seriously.
One bad apple really can spoil the barrel. When assembling your teams, keep the bad apples out. If you can’t, make sure everyone knows the value of their contributions and the importance of the deadlines. If your team doesn’t meet frequently, a weekly group email with a progress report is a simple way to show who is responsible for what, and when it is due. It serves as both a reminder and as a little healthy peer pressure to ensure everyone stays on time and on task.
Clarity of Expectation
Another problem teams often combat is repetitive projects. If you are in a specific industry, like travel or healthcare, you likely work on several projects per year that are all very similar in scope. This can lead to a sense of complacency toward new work. While it’s often an asset to have experience and resources from previous pitches, it’s a good idea to treat each project––no matter how similar––like a new and unique experience.
A great method for tackling this is to write a unique mission statement for each individual project at the outset.
One of Chainsaw’s most deeply held beliefs is “start with why.” Giving each project an individualized mission statement will help the team focus on that specific client’s needs. You may be providing the same service to different companies, but the reasons they need your service likely differ.
Don’t fall into a trap of rehashing what you did before. Dig in to discover the client’s needs, and ensure your previous knowledge comes across as expertise, not indifference.
The world and the workplace are both in a constant state of change. Continued education and development of your teams instills members with a sense of value in themselves and in their work. Their employer is investing in them, giving them the tools to succeed, and helping them stay current and competitive.
When recruiting, the promise of continued training helps to attract top-tier talent. Training also leads to retention, and retention leads to experience.
The Huffington Post reports that “according to HR Magazine, companies investing $1,500 or more per employee, per year, on training average 24 percent higher profit margins than companies with lower yearly training investments.”
Pair training with a well-executed clarity of expectation, and you will have a rock star team of highly-skilled experts retaining clients and winning new business.
Eradicate ‘Project Savior Syndrome’
This one can be tough. It is often senior members of the team who suffer from this condition. You know the types. They are invited to each meeting, but rarely attend until the last minute when they forcefully contribute their two-cents and completely redirect the project in the 11th hour. Not only does this diminish the work the team has likely spent months churning out, but it contributes to last-minute changes that leave a well-practiced team suddenly unprepared. Keep project saviors in the loop and aware of firm timelines.
If you are an executive that wants to have input, make it a point to be involved. You may be great at what you do, but if you are not great at when you do it, you’re doing more harm than good.
Team productivity can be a complex issue, but by keeping these key points in mind your team can distinguish itself from the competition, and become a well-oiled and harmonious machine.
It’s time to assemble your Xmen.