Being a part of a high performing team is a pretty rewarding thing. What few people realise is that it rarely happens overnight, and is incredibly special when it does.
Pulling the weight
I’ll admit it, I never used to like working on teams. A team always meant pulling someone else’s weight and dealing with last minute scrambles to do work that someone else committed to delivering and didn’t. I’ve talked about how everyone wins when everyone contributes here, but sadly this is not always the case.
Over years of working in ineffective teams, it became easier to promise only what I could deliver and so I became an advocate for independent projects. Truth be told, even when I started to manage people I was selective about how I continued to work within the team I was leading. This is a bad habit to get into and only serves to create large groups of people doing tasks in a similar space.
Nothing changes without new inputs
In order to create a new output something has to change or be introduced. Yes, as an individual I was able to get things done. I was able to consistently deliver at a reasonable level, but nothing was pushing me forward.
Working independently doesn’t offer as many chances to grow a skill base or challenge ideas. By working with others, you are able to collaborate and create great ideas and output from what would otherwise be good enough, but not spectacular.
Some people would argue that they are pushed by reading and engaging with new content through independent development efforts and while this is partially true, we cannot always see past a single idea or concept limiting the scope of our ability to grow. A second (or third, or fourth) set of eyes, experiences, and ideas offers us that new perspective to help us develop.
Making things great
Great teams challenge one another through dialogue, brainstorming and more. By introducing new variables, (such as alternate skill-sets and backgrounds), we are able to develop hybrids of our approaches that meet the needs in new ways.
Sometimes this leads to creating something that is entirely new. This magic cannot happen without a collaborative approach to delivery.
With good comes bad
Challenging a person’s ideas is a place for potential growth and has the high potential to create conflict. Having lived through some pretty tense team environments, I can say that this is something that should be addressed early on.
Setting expectations for engagement and conflict resolution early in the effort cam serve to avoid or limit the scope of these issues. I understand that one bad experience can create a bit of fear when it comes to team delivery, I have to say that when it all comes down to the end it is all worth the drama.
My discovery: great teams are strange polygamous relationships.
Each person finds their way to contribute and cares for the team dynamic differently. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great people I might never have met because of team assignments and I am better for them all.
In order to create high functioning teams, tools like charters, communication plans, and expectation management are critical.
There are lots of resources out there that can help, but Lane Sherman, a former team coach of mine recently wrote a book that really steps you through everything you need. You can buy it here. I was lucky enough to help provide feedback on it, and he has done a great job taking some of the mystery out of developing (or fixing) teams.