Achieving Team Smarts

We recently sent out a survey soliciting input on what individuals believed were the order of priority for 5 critical leadership qualities. The 5 listed were “Passionate curiosity”, “Battle hardened confidence”, “A simple mind-set”, “Team smarts” and “Fearlessness”. The quality that received the highest ranking of the 5 was Team smarts. It received 35.75% of the vote for 1st ranking, 32.1% of the vote for 2nd ranking and 25% of the vote for 3rd ranking. It outranked all 5 overwhelmingly. The results of this survey reflected my experience to date working with and for businesses and organizations. The movement toward matrix organizations and downsizing the number of management positions has resulted in an expectation that individuals must rely on teamwork to get the work accomplished and achieve the vision and mission of the organization. Lack of teamwork can undermine the success of an organization.

The challenge is how to achieve “team smarts” when you might have relied on individual performance, authority and delegation. Having played and continue to play on many different sports teams including soccer, volleyball, softball, basketball and tennis I know firsthand what made the difference between the teams that were high performing and those that were not. I know what allowed me to contribute at my highest level and what teams resulted in my minimum contribution. I also have participated in many work teams with the same results, some that were high performing and others that were not. The common threads for what made the teams high performing were the following:

• Shared vision and mission • Appreciation of each team members strengths • Trust • Open communication • Willingness to work through conflict and differences of opinions • Shared commitment and accountability

Intellectually we all know that is what is required; those qualities are no different than what has been written about in books and articles on team work over the years. So if we all know what is required why it is so hard to deliver? My beliefs, based upon my personal and professional experience, are the two foundational qualities of trust and open communication. We all know we need both but we may be looking for different characteristics that would qualify as trust and demonstrate open communication when we participate on a team.

Absence of trust among team members is a result of team members not willing to be vulnerable, admit to mistakes and to only be concerned about their own personal goals and agenda. Failure to build trust is damaging and interferes with the ability to engage in open, honest communication and dialogue. The answer to being a good team member is each team member’s willingness to take personal responsibility to create trust and continue to work on developing their communication skills; it is a journey not a destination.

So the questions I pose to each of you are the following: • Have you participated on a high performing team? • What type of team was it? • Who selected the team members? • What was it about the team that made it high performing? • What did you do to influence the team’s performance?