The SECRET to Successful Team Dynamics 

By Jim Dawson

You have just joined a team of specialists who have worked together for six months on a potentially lucrative contract. At your first Monday morning meeting, you sit at the conference table listening to your teammates sort through project details. You ask questions and are politely answered. Even though you have knowledge and experience to offer, no one asks for your input. Some team members are questioning the politics behind certain decisions. Others are complaining about the lack of resources. Your boss enters the room and everyone grows quiet as he explains that the company could lose the contract if this team misses another deadline.

Sound familiar? It doesn’t have to. There are specific reasons why some teams succeed and other teams fail. Is it the quality of leadership, the commitment of team members, or something else entirely? Is there a SECRET to successful team dynamics?

From storefront restaurants to corporate conglomerates, an organization’s success depends on the effectiveness and productivity of its various teams. And team success depends on the cooperation and collective efforts of human beings who may or may not even like each other. Since any weakness within an organization can quickly become a competitive disadvantage, the people within an organization must function effectively as individuals and as team members.

When it comes to teamwork, a person’s ability to build relationships, work with others, and communicate effectively can be more important than his or her technical expertise. According to Daniel Goldman, author of Emotional Intelligence, the brightest people are often not the most effective in a business organization. Rather it is the people with superior intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence that are the most productive. They can create the synergy needed to get things done, things that cannot be accomplished by an individual working alone.

In addition to having members with intrapersonal and interpersonal savvy, what are some of the characteristics of a successful team? What do they have in common?

On a fundamental level, a successful team must have:

  • A clear mission: members know what they are supposed to do and have agreed to meet specific objectives.

  • The right competencies and skills: members know how to do what they are supposed to do.

  • Direct and clear support from leadership: members know their efforts are appreciated and their contributions are essential to the organization’s success.

As described in William G. Dyer’s book Team Building, successful team leaders take time for team calibration and maintenance activities.

Team calibration can be as simple as talking about what’s going well and what the team might do differently. As difficulties arise, talking about past challenges and successes can help team members regain their sense of connection to one another and to their common goals--preventing a downward spiral that can pull people apart.

Team maintenance activities bring the team together in a safe, accepting environment. Developing a team “coat of arms,” or holding a “show and tell” session where members share their hobbies and interests can help team members discover things they have in common. Team maintenance also means encouraging the input of new members, even if they challenge the way things are being done. Conflicting opinions can be stimulating and thought provoking for any team, especially if they are looking for a new approach to solving an old or chronic problem.

On a day-to-day basis, members of a successful team:

  • Know what success looks like and they take the time to celebrate it. They set up benchmarks or checkpoints so they can recognize their accomplishments along the way. It’s the leader’s job to help the team establish them and to validate the people and the process as progress is made toward the larger goals.

  • Are willing to develop the best solution regardless of who comes up with it. They speak candidly and are willing to fight for good ideas, while at the same time maintaining respect for their fellow team members. They do not tolerate defensive posturing and finger pointing.

These are some of the characteristics shared by successful teams. But what steps can your team take to ensure that you are on the road to success and not the road to failure? What is the S.E.C.R.E.T. behind successful team dynamics?

S – Seek and promote acceptance for all team members. You are courting failure if you have any team members who feel unappreciated or left out. All team members must know they are valued by, and are valuable to, the team.

E – Establish interdependent goals. All members must clearly understand and support team goals, and have individual goals that lead to the completion of the overall task. Team members must be willing to support one another and understand that there is no such thing as saying, “Hey, there’s a hole in your side of the boat.”

C – Create history. How you perform together and the challenges you overcome will write the history of your team. It will be the “remember when’s” after the project is complete. History can also be a barrier to success so be willing to start fresh and forgive the past. No one is perfect, including you.

R – Realize goals – accomplish something. One of the greatest moments in the life of the team is when they achieve something together. Even the smallest first step creates a bond between you and your team members. It’s your first taste of “Yes!  We can do it!” and it is sweet. Set goals in stages or in smaller objectives so that the team is constantly achieving something.

E – Encourage external threats. Anytime a team is faced with a threat from outside it will instinctively pull together. You may bicker occasionally among yourselves but an external threat brings the realization that survival lies with your team and you had better pull together.

T – Trust – develop relationships and shared norms. Trust is essential in successful teamwork. You build trust by being trustworthy, by doing what you say you will and taking the risk to trust others to do the same, and by developing relationships with other team members and getting to know them. Agreeing on how you will treat one another is another critical part of developing trust and creating a safe environment in which all team members can work successfully.

A team can have great POWER--however, there is no “I” in POWER--there is only “WE.”  Yet, ultimately, it is up to each individual to be a team member, even if that means keeping his or her personal agenda or “ego” in check.

With the SECRET of team dynamics, the support of your leadership, a clear mission, common goals, recognition of achievements, and the conscious, consistent effort of your team members, you will have an unstoppable force that can accomplish almost anything.

Read other articles and learn more about Jim Dawson.

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