I received a lot of positive feedback on my recent discussion of ways to Make Your Team Better. Naturally, I also got some questions and some requests for more on the same topic.
I’m reluctant to say too much about teams and teamwork because my focus here is primarily on productivity and success, which need not require a team. But most people do work in teams, at least some of the time, so it’s worth touching on the topic now and again.
With that in mind, here are some further ideas on how to improve a team’s productivity and success:
Agree on Basics
We’re talking about a team, so it should be no surprise that everyone on the team should buy into the same basics, including what the team is trying to accomplish, as well as each person’s contributions and responsibilities.
It’s also helpful if the team sets up a mechanism for communicating, coordinating, and asking each other for help.
With these agreements in place, everyone on the team is more likely to start out on the same page as everyone else, with fewer errors resulting from working at cross-purposes, failing to support each other’s work, or perhaps even undoing or undermining what others on the team are trying to accomplish.
Although the process of agreeing on basics tends to get a team moving in the right direction, few teams remain in perfect alignment under the onslaught of reality: unanticipated problems, adverse conditions, uncooperative outsiders, and so forth.
For this reason, teams make steadier progress and produce better results when they re-visit their internal alignment at regular intervals.
This may seem unnecessary, because if team members fail to coordinate or inadvertently work at cross-purposes, they will almost immediately notice the problem and try to correct it.
But even when the team seems to be working together smoothly, it’s helpful to take a few moments at least three or four times enroute toward the team’s goal to revisit those original agreements and identify any adjustments that seem helpful or warranted.
Re-Calibrate the Team Process
This revisit will nearly always highlight opportunities for the team to work together better. Rather than a vague promise to try and improve, here is where the best teams accelerate their productivity and success: they make a point of adjusting their interactions in order to eliminate or at least reduce the existing discrepancies they’ve noted in their alignment, and catching any future ones which may yet develop.
As an illustration of this, imagine you are trying to draw a straight line over a very long distance. Part way along, you notice your line has drifted slightly off the desired direction. At that point, it’s not enough merely to notice the drift, because if you simply continue drawing, your results will drift farther and farther away from your originally intended straight line.
Instead, you’ll need to make an immediate adjustment back to where the line is supposed to be, and then to continue onward from that point with even greater attention to both drawing the line straight and also identifying any future errors as soon as they creep in.
Re-Think Each Person’s Contribution
Just as the team process may need adjustment based on how well it’s working under the onslaught of reality, each team member’s contribution and role within the team may also need to change in response to demonstrated team dynamics, progress toward the goal, and upcoming challenges.
One reason is that the team’s project may have influenced each team member’s ability to contribute: their recent experiences, knowledge, and upgraded abilities may allow them to contribute in different, more useful ways than they could before.
For example, the team may now recognize the one or more members have working styles that allow them to mesh their efforts more smoothly than originally anticipated. Some people may have gained a greater aptitude for a particular responsibility or role within the team. Sometimes, individuals emerge as someone new the team can lean on. Other times, an expected superstar reveals a need for greater support from others.
Over time, successful teams make use of such developments as opportunities to improve their output and results.
Another reason to make adjustments is that the team’s original agreement on basics may now warrant updating or revisions. There’s a common tendency for tasks, projects, and goals to become more complicated. But in some cases, it makes sense to allow anticipated complications to fall away and focus more tightly on relatively simple targets.
The main point here is that teams work better not only when they start out on the same page, but also when they make efforts to remain on the same page as they work together toward their goal.
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