Pop open the hood on any successful business to see the inner workings and you will come face to face with the engine that drives success — a network of effective and inspired teams.
Teams are often not the first things people talk about when they talk about company success. They are typically way down a list that leads with leadership, management, innovation and other business buzz terms.
But teams are the core of a company. How employees operate in these small groups, what makes them successful and how they can be replicated and strengthened should be constantly on the mind of every company leader.
There is a lot of human psychology that determines what makes great teams, as well as a lot of practical elements. Here are three things to think about when you are building, reconstituting or strengthening teams within your organization.
Human dynamics rule
As much as we want to think that our work selves are unique from our personal lives, the same dynamics reach across both. We are humans after all. Trust, commitment, ego, conflict — all these basic human drivers determine how we function in life and at work. I’ve learned a lot about this aspect of teams from author Patrick Lencioni. His books The Ideal Team Player and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team are thorough examinations of the characteristics and personality traits that make great teams. Trust and commitment are key, but so is accountability. According to Lencioni, the best team players are humble, hungry and smart. When you are building your team around skills and functions, don’t underestimate the human qualities like humility, drive and the ability to gain trust that are vital for teams to function correctly both in terms of their internal workings and their client-facing relationships.
Balance is critical
Teams often need to perform a variety of functions, even if their most apparent task falls into one category — an engineering, technological or accounting project. This requires a balanced team, one with the right mix of personalities, skill sets and aptitudes to make the team function at the highest level. This sum-is-greater-than-its-parts approach to building teams brings together not only varying skills, but also varying attitudes and aptitudes — mixing visionaries with detail-oriented organizers, executors with communicators and even optimists with pessimists. Where an imbalanced team might excel in one part of the project but struggle in others, balance will bring together a group where tasks are naturally divided according to the individuals’ strengths. An organization can use a tool like StrengthsFinder from Gallup to understand their employees’ natural strengths and weaknesses and use those insights to build well balanced teams that match complimenting team members.
When some people think of teams they think of hierarchy — a team leader with a group of team members who execute the leader’s directions. But Stanford professor Lindred Greer notes in her research on teams that having flexible dynamics within a team — what Greer calls “hierarchical agility” — is best. This allows the team to operate in a “flat” structure without hierarchy at times, which unlocks honesty and creativity. But the team can also quickly transform into a leader-driven group when structure is needed and deadlines are approaching.
Rethinking how a team is organized is a powerful way to ensure that the best ideas are heard and the decision-making and idea-generation doesn’t just get stuck with manager-level employees.
John Solari is the managing partner of J.A. Solari & Partners. He has 25 years of accounting experience and is also a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Nevada Society of Certified Public Accountants.