7 signs your new team will make it

First published on psnews.com.au (8th Dec 2015)

Relationships drive results—especially in a new team. When new team members form bonds quickly, their results accelerate; when they don’t, their results stall. Building strong relationships that fast track performance is about supporting the ongoing conversations between people when work gets tough, ideas get tested and people get confronted.

The sum of the parts … and all that stuff

Individual contributions are maximised or minimised by the strength of the relationship between team members. It’s a fallacy that smart individuals make smart teams [1] and it’s naïve to think that if people know how to work independently, they’ll know how to work collectively. Just as the magic of an orchestra’s symphony is not defined by the talent of the individual musicians, but rather the way they play together, building a high-performance team is less about individual capability and more about how people work together to support and leverage each other’s unique talents and strengths.

The 7 signs of success

The ability to read team dynamics and fast track high performance comes down to seven essential behaviours:

1. Know when to push and when to pause

The ability to read the moods, intentions and needs of your team members is the ultimate foundation for team performance, [2] and one of the most crucial skills required to create a champion team from a team of champions. What do others need right now? How can you support them? How far can you push them? Are they having a bad day or is something else going on?

2. Challenge the message not the messenger

When you put smart, capable people together they develop wide-ranging ideas—some complementary, some contradictory. The ability to debate ideas passionately without personally attacking others (or feeling attacked by others) is a fine art and one that must be mastered in order for great ideas to get even better.

3. Clear the air, early and often

When people sit on assumptions, judgements and conclusions that don't support healthy team functioning, they become stones in a shoe—at first, mildly irritating and if left unchecked, damaging and debilitating. If someone feels slighted, misheard or misunderstood, it’s important to clear the air as early and often as possible.

4. Turn difference into diversity

Diversity makes for better teams but only if the differences are understood, respected and leveraged. Without understanding the value behind the difference, people are quick to judge others as outsiders to the group, diluting their potential value. They’ll show less empathy, tolerance and appreciation for the different perspective available, shortchanging the individual and the whole team, of value.

5. Be likable

This is not about being popular or changing who you are; it’s about knowing how to put your best foot forward when forming relationships, making it easy for people to get to know you. Strangers are labeled as ‘foes’ before ‘friends’ until some form of similarity or connection has been established. People trust and want to work with accessible personalities. Being liked changes the way others value your contribution. [3] They are also more forgiving, more understanding, and more accommodating.

6. Watch your positive to negative comment ratios

High-performing teams provide positive and constructive (sometimes negative) feedback to each other. The ratio of positive to negative comments for happy marriages is 5:1 [4]—similar to that for healthy teams. [5] People don't want criticism and complaints without a healthy dose of support and validation to balance it out.

7. Know your own hot buttons

As humans we come with baggage. There are behaviours, words and actions that set off our hot buttons and make us respond less than rationally. This is normal, yet not ideal, when working closely with others. The more awareness we have of our trigger points, the more we can keep our own behaviours in check and avoid unnecessary escalation or upset.

Can you read the signs?

Newly formed teams will sink or swim by the degree to which individuals work well together. In the long run, social connections will trump individual contributions because the relationships between team members exert an invisible yet undeniable force in shaping the team’s ability to get real results. To ignore this force is to jeopardise team performance.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/opinion/sunday/why-some-teams-are-smarter-than-others.html 

[2] http://ideas.ted.com/the-secret-ingredient-that-makes-some-teams-better-than-others/

[3] Trunk, P. (2006, July 18) [Online blog post quoting private conversation with the author of the HBR article mentioned here]. Retrieved from http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/07/18/social-skills-matter-more-than-ever-so-heres-how-to-get-them/. Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks," Harvard Business Review, Vol. 83, No. 6, June 2005.

[4] http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/building-a-feedback-rich-culture/

[5] https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism