Teams have always been a huge part of working life, but as more and more work becomes knowledge-based, the desire to tap into the expertise of our colleagues has gone viral. Suffice it to say, not all teams function equally. A recent study set out to explore just what distinguishes the best teams from the laggards.
Interestingly, the research didn’t so much find that the best teams do different things than poor teams, but rather that they do these things significantly faster.
The study saw over 3,000 teams measured, with the performance of each team broken down into the behavior of their leader, their line manager, the team members, and the team’s external stakeholders. These constituents were evaluated across 16 factors to explore things such as the mandate of the team and how they went about achieving their goals.
Despite many commonalities between teams, the study found that just 13% of teams are performing at the optimal level, with a further 29% showing considerable potential for improvement (the less said about the remaining 58% the better!).
The study highlighted a number of steps that those teams in the 29% could take to improve their performance:
- Fail faster. The best teams apparently focus more on speed than on perfection, so they conduct fast experiments to find out what works and then scale up. Such teams typically have an excellent learning culture so that each experiment makes the group smarter.
- Learn quickly. The best teams don’t just absorb lessons from their own experiments quickly, but also are adept at assimilating ideas and insights from external sources. They are also not just engaged in academic learning but work hard to apply what they’re learning in their specific context.
- Challenge ideas, yet be respectful. The best groups also had a culture whereby ideas could be challenged in frank yet respectful ways. There’s no groupthink or consensus forming here.
- Rethink assumptions. The fourth interesting trait is a team's willingness to constantly reassess their assumptions. It’s well-known that groups quickly get stuck in "the way things are done here," so a continual process of reassessment is crucial to innovate successfully.
- Be customer focused. Last, but not least, the best teams were found to engage the customer fully in the development of solutions. This co-creation was crucial to ensure a focus and rigor to how solutions were developed.
This isn't an exhaustive list of success factors for your team, and each team will require a unique approach for its unique circumstances. The study suggests, however, that if these things are present, then your team has a decent shot at success.
With teamwork becoming increasingly important to our organizational success, hopefully this list provides you with some food for thought when working in your own teams.