Why are teams crucial to organizational success? Because they are the basic unit of performance.
If you’re like most managers I’ve met, you struggle with teams.
You know from experience that all the projects, growth initiatives, sales strategies, product launches, or deals that your organization, business unit, or department works on are handled by teams.
But most of the coaching, leading, performance reviewing and managing you do focuses on individuals. Employee management, recruiting and retaining – the HR function – is based on individuals.
This means teams largely fly under the radar in most organizations, even though their performance and chemistry are the biggest drivers of organizational success.
An old African proverb says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I personally learned that the hard way.
My organization was threatened with defeat during two different crises. If we didn’t work differently, I knew we would fail. Out of desperation, we focused on the task at hand and came together as a team.
This approach cascaded throughout the entire organization. General Stanley McChrystal, author of Team of Teams says,
Today’s rapidly changing world, marked by increased speed and dense interdependencies means that organizations everywhere are now facing dizzying challenges: from global terrorism, to health epidemics, to supply chain disruption, to game-changing technologies. These issues can be solved only by creating sustained organizational adaptability through the establishment of the team of teams.
Don’t wait for a crisis to start working on the direction for your team’s development. I’ve synthesized my lessons about managing teams into the 8 rules for seamless teams below.
Rule #1. Know where you’re going.
To come together around a purpose, your team needs a direction and a why. This has to be the real deal. Nothing fake.
The truth. They will know if it’s not the truth.
Rule #2. Pick right.
A team needs to be greater than the sum of its parts. That means it needs the right parts. Adhere the right knowledge, capability, personality, diversity, and expertise.
Every individual is there for a reason. If you have time, test the team’s compatibility like the chef samples his creation with a small spoon before serving to the guests.
A minor crisis is the best stress test.
Rule #3. Trust is essential.
The team needs to believe you have their back. If something fails, it’s your failure. Not the teams.
You’re not there to scrutinize and punish. You are there to support and encourage. When people feel safe, they perform far beyond expectations.
Rule #4. Schedule tent time.
On the Arctic expeditions, famous explorer teams came together because of the time they spent in the tents sharing stories and giving feedback.
Make sure your team gets time to vent and bond. Collaboration is enhanced by simple things, like morning coffee, story time and group exercises.
If you don’t like tent time – I do personally – you can call it “social time.”
Rule #5. Simplify everything.
Organizations love rules, procedures, and formalities. Cut it all out.
Make processes ridiculously simple. Make meetings, information sharing and decision-making ridiculously simple. Remove all the barriers and obliterate hierarchy.
Simplicity is the art of removal. It’s not easy, but it makes a huge difference. Simplification is like playing Jenga, a well-known game with wooden blocks. You remove and remove, up to the point that taking out the very one block when the entire structure collapses.
Stop just a step before.
Rule #6. Peers teach best.
The leader is used to being the source of all wisdom, education and training. On a seamless team, that kind of insight comes from everyone on the team.
It’s about peers helping peers. It’s called peer mentoring. Checkout my episode, Speed Up Learning with Peer Mentoring to learn how to implement this into your organization.
Peer mentoring is more helpful and timely than formal coaching or rigid performance appraisals.
Rule #7. Play time is important.
Creativity, problem solving, and innovation don’t happen in cubicles or from 9-5. To think laterally and generate new ideas and solutions, your team needs time to let loose and have fun like kids. They need to laugh and try out new things.
Rule #8. Know when to party.
The work you’re doing is hard. It’s easy to take success for granted by quickly turning to the next challenge. I fell into this trap many times.
Don’t do it. Pause. Take time to celebrate wins, both big and small wins. Your team needs it to recharge, build collective memories, friendships, and culture.
If you lose, re-study the game and learn what went wrong. Do not blame anyone. Your distilled learnings will be the basis for your next win.
Talented people thrive when they are given a goal and have the right group support, resources and encouragement. You can listen to my episode, 7 Rules to Keep Top Talent to learn more on this topic.
We’re used to leaders being at the top and running the team like a general. In reality, the leader is more like a player-coach who contributes, makes mistakes and learns like everyone else.
How can you recognize those qualities?
Seamless teams communicate to each other just using their eyes. They know each other so well. They truly master their play, and they don’t need a lot of explicit communication.
Think about it. For years, we talked about leadership at all levels and flattened hierarchies. That time has arrived. Rigid budgets, formal approvals, synchronous work formats, physically long meetings, and top-down processes are dinosaurs in a world that is this complex, fast moving, digital and crisis-ridden.
Once you learn how to establish a seamless team, you’ll see its power in their performance. You’ll want to spread that model throughout your organization to get great things done.
Or, you can also purchase your copy of The Gift of Crisis: How Leaders Use Purpose to Renew their Lives, Change their Organizations, and Save the World.
Don’t climb this mountain alone. Let me show you the route towards business success.