To meet the challenges of today’s complex working environment, more organizations are employing teams, not solo practitioners, to get the job done. Why? Because, as I’ve often said: “No one of us is as smart as all of us.”
A Harvard Business Review study found that from 1996 to 2016, the time spent by people in collaborative activities increased by 50 percent or more.
So how are all these teams doing? Research conducted by Training magazine and The Ken Blanchard Cos. found that while people spend more than half of their time working in teams, only 27 percent feel their teams are high performing. In other words, fewer than 1 in 3 teams are functioning at a high level. And only 1 in 4 people think their organization does a good job of team leader training.
These dismal statistics provide an opportunity to review the state of teams in their organizations and take steps to strengthen them. And training is the key.
In the past, training has typically focused on individual managers or contributors. But given the increasing role collaboration plays in today’s workplace, learning officers need to expand their focus from how people are performing to how people are performing together.
The key to higher performance is team training. Our recent survey found that training doubled the likelihood that a team would be high performing.
Building a high-performance team is a journey from a collection of different individuals to a cohesive, highly productive group. Research during the past 70 years has consistently demonstrated that teams, like individuals, go through predictable stages of development as they grow. Understanding these stages — and the team’s characteristics and needs at each stage — is essential to building a high-performance team.
Team stage 1 — orientation: Above all else, teams need clarity. Does the team share a strong sense of purpose and a common set of values? If not, establish those first. Next, determine roles and goals. As with individuals, good team performance starts with clear goals. What is expected from team members? Clarify behavioral norms from the outset.
Teams at T1 need to align for results by creating a team charter that will set them up for success right from the start.
Team stage 2 — dissatisfaction: As the team encounters difficulty, morale may dip when people experience a gap between their initial expectations and reality. Conflict is natural at T2. Apple founder Steve Jobs used to compare this stage to a rock tumbler.
“It’s through the team,” Jobs said, “through that group of incredibly talented people bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise — and by working together, they polish each other, and they polish the ideas, and what comes out are these really beautiful stones.”
Teams at T2 need to communicate during conflict. During this stage, team members should be encouraged to participate with candor, listen with curiosity and value the diversity of the team.
Team stage 3 — integration: As issues are addressed and resolved, team members at the integration stage begin to see the team as a whole and start thinking in terms of “we” rather than “I.” While that’s a good thing, people need to watch for a tendency to agree in order to avoid conflict.
To build team cohesion, teams at T3 need to work collaboratively. They must trust and support one another and at the same time hold each other accountable on commitments and behaviors.
Project Aristotle — a major study of teams conducted by Google — found that “psychological safety” — i.e., trust — was a primary element of high-performance teams. A well-trained team leader will foster trust by creating an environment where people feel they can take risks and share opinions and feelings without fear.
Team stage 4 — production: At T4, both productivity and morale are high. Communication is open, and leadership is shared. It’s important to note that you will never have an empowered, self-directed team unless the leader is willing to share control. In order to sustain high performance, a team at T4 needs to maintain synergy and strive for ongoing improvement through new challenges and continued growth.
Teams will continue to be a major strategy for getting work done as organizational leaders realize what the Navy SEALS have known for decades: “Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds.”