How To Turn Smart People Into A Smart Team

“I hired the best people, but they don’t get along. Nearly all their delays and mistakes could have been avoided if they just communicated or coordinated better. I don’t know if they’re just stubborn or if they really don’t like each other. Either way, it’s frustrating! Since they can’t work well together, I have to constantly troubleshoot and act like a bridge. I have more important things to do!”

Does this sound familiar? If your team can’t manage themselves, you’re going to have to micromanage them. You waste time in meetings, you waste energy diffusing their conflict, you waste the opportunity to work on executive tasks that have a bigger impact on revenue and business direction.

But how do you get teams to work well together?

Google asked the same question in 2011, when it studied 180 of its teams to find out why some of them worked so well together, and others fell apart.  Here are some of the most interesting findings.

Good teamwork has nothing to do with personality

Contrary to what people say in job interviews, nobody is a “natural team player” just because they’re friendly or eager to get along. Nor can you get “natural team dynamics” by pairing similar people.

“We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference,” said Abeer Dubey, a manager for Google’s People Analytics division, told the New York Times.  ‘‘The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’

5 Factors of Team Success

Google discovered that the best teams had five qualities that made it easier for them to collaborate, communicate and coordinate. These were:

  • Psychological safety. They are able to share ideas, ask questions or admit to a mistake without fear of being judged or embarrassed.

  • Dependability. They can be trusted to give quality work on time.

  • Structure and clarity. There are clear job expectations, work processes, and rewards and consequences. They are also given individual and group goals, which are attainable and measurable.

  • Meaning. They get personal fulfillment from their work, even if that fulfillment can mean different things for them: financial stability, self-expression, affirmation and respect from peers.

  • Impact. They know and feel appreciated for their contribution to the team and the company.

What managers can do to build effective teams

So you know what teams need to be and do, but how can you operationalize and systematize that kind of team culture?

Change the Language of Blame to the Language of Curiosity

Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google, said that team trust is a management priority. “In Google’s fast-paced, highly demanding environment, our success hinges on the ability to take risks and be vulnerable in front of peers,” he said in The Harvard Business Review.

You can encourage people to be more open by the way you tackle (and talk about) problems at the workplace. Let’s say your IT team has been missing their deadlines, and the client is furious.

Use neutral language and state facts and consequences: “We’re behind deadlines by 4 weeks, and the client will pull out if we don’t complete it by the end of the months.” Then, engage them in a productive discussion where everyone solves the problem together. “I imagine there are multiple factors. What do you think contributed to the delay? What can we do now? How can I support you?”  

Compare this to simply saying, “We’re going to lose this account. What happened? I want an update by this afternoon.”

Create structure and transparency

Many companies expect employees to go beyond their job description and do whatever it takes to meet the goal. We call it flexibility and commitment to excellence, and most employees will rise to the occasion.

But flexibility shouldn’t breed ambiguity. People still need clear roles, goals and processes. Unfortunately, teams don’t always have this kind of structure. They can report to several people or be working on different projects at the same time, which can lead to two problems:  

  • Role conflict: individuals face inconsistent and incompatible demands

  • Role ambiguity: individuals are uncertain about the tasks and responsibilities for each role

When there’s role conflict, there’s task conflict, which leads to team conflict. “Is this my job or yours? Why are you telling me what to do? Why didn’t you do this or that? Who is supposed to have the final say?”

Structure and clarity are also huge factors in two other factors of team success: dependability (how can people deliver on a task they don’t understand?) and impact (if they don’t know what to do, how they can they know they did it well?).

Teach team skills and team awareness

People want to do well. They want to be in a happy work environment. They want to gain the respect and trust of their team members. They just don’t know how.

Team skills are not intuitive, which is why Fortune 500 companies invest heavily in team and culture building programs and platforms. They have training and development programs. But are they truly always accessible and affordable? More importantly, are they impactful and sustainable?

With Grow, companies can provide their teams with core tools to help them work better together and developing themselves and each other.

Your employees can access the online Grow platform every day, any time. It is convenient, and it is constant. Through Grow, team building or development isn’t just a one-off event or a day of games and sessions. It is regular and readily available, and it is where they are constantly learning more about themselves and their teammates.

“In Grow, development is not an activity, it becomes part of the culture,” states Rudi Ramin, Grow CEO and Co-Founder. “Leadership - a key characteristic of top team performance - is made available to everyone, and not just the high-potential employees. Grow democratizes leadership and makes developing it practical and sustainable.”

Grow’s proven methodology has been used effectively by senior teams around the globe to achieve stronger team dynamics.  To find out more, contact us by clicking the link below.