How to craft a high-functioning team

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Date published
January 23, 2020

So you’ve been assigned to a team that you’ve never worked with before. You’re excited and nervous all at the same time because you don’t know how you’ll fit. What do you do?

Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet or template that you can follow to ensure a high powered optimized team. That’s because the most unknown variable you’re working with is Humans. We’re unpredictable with unique personalities and quirks that can only be discovered over time through observations and questioning.

However, through my experience working with teams, there are some successful patterns that I’d like to share. These 7 tips are just a few things to look out for that can get you a step closer to having your dream team. Let’s get started!

Communicate early and often

The key to having a team that works great together is strong communication. Encourage each team member to ask questions and be open to feedback from one another. With so many unknowns when you first join a team, don’t be afraid to over-communicate. It’s better to ask more questions in order to remove assumptions. In the long run, this will lead to better decision making. The other side of communication is active listening, this means making a conscious effort to hear not only the words spoken by teammates but the complete message being communicated. This will build trust and create a comfortable atmosphere for your team to express how they feel.

Don’t come in with preconceived plans

Often times when we join a team, we’re excited to help and want to be the champion that improves the team’s efficiency. Unfortunately, more often than not, we end up frustrated. Coming in with no prior knowledge of the team dynamic, it can be hard to understand current challenges the team is facing. Trying to improve something that may not need improvement likely won’t be received well by your team. What’s more, is that it may even brand you as a disruptor to the team and that can lead to friction. To avoid such a situation or at least reduce it, try to observe and be a “fly on the wall” in meetings and discussions. Make sure the team understands your motives and why you’re trying to make these changes. This will create mutual respect and trust with your team members and ultimately reveal what the current challenges are that the team is facing.

Get to know your team members on a personal level

One easy way to understand different perspectives on a situation is by getting to know who’s involved in what, and trying to understand things from their viewpoint. In order to not only be an effective team member but potential leader - just talk to them. I’ve found that having 1-on-1 conversations with each team member creates a sort of psychological safety that helps everyone to open up. This is because 1-on-1s allow honesty and a perspective you may not have known about regarding team challenges. It can put a different lens on the situation and will help open your mind to different views.

Keep a “Doors open” mindset

Whenever you join a new team, it’s always important to set the expectation that your “door is always open”. Lead by example, ask how you can help and follow-up on it. This will build trust and rapport with your fellow team members.

Never shy away or brush off anything (or anyone) when a team member is trying to approach you for assistance or even just wanting to bounce ideas off of you. It’s imperative to establish a  bond early, as it can be quite difficult at a later stage. Having that bond with your team will create an environment that is easy and approachable regardless of the challenges, no matter how difficult they may be.

Remember to show gratitude

When dealing with high-pressure delivery objectives, we sometimes forget as leaders or servant leaders to show gratitude and celebrate the success of team members. In my experience, when people feel appreciated for their efforts and hard work it has made positive strides in team morale. Everyone that receives even a simple “thank you” from their leader feels much better about themselves and the leaders they work with. Just remember not to go overboard with thanking everyone for everything. You want to make sure the gratitude is genuine, and comes across that way - quality over quantity.

Early wins - Demonstrate that you’re a team player too

Often we find ourselves so focused on trying to improve on the #1 challenge, that we sometimes forget the small things that have a huge impact on the team. Trying to find these small improvements, whether it’s an outdated process or a repeated frustration can be huge in winning your team’s goodwill. By showing your team that you will take action demonstrates your willingness to connect and learn with them on their level. This flat hierarchy will help in gaining trust early on - which you’ll need if and when things get rough!

It’s okay to be unpopular

After observing and gaining clarity on your team’s challenges, be aware that you may not get full buy-in when bringing forward your informed improvements - and that's okay. Ensuring you clearly explain your motivations behind these decisions and the positive impact they’ll make to the team is critical. This will provide a full circle of the decisions being made and why they are being made.

Guidelines to remember

Do

  • Start out by over-communicating with your team, and ensuring that you are practicing active listening to better observe all of the challenges
  • Keep an open mind and try to get different perspectives by having 1-on-1 conversations with team members
  • Don’t forget to thank your team - a little bit of gratitude goes a long way
  • Be a “do-er”, take action to show goodwill and demonstrate that you’re a team player
  • Remember to explain your motivations and the reason behind your decisions to avoid questioning, being isolated or even ignored.

Don’t

  • Go in with premeditated plans to change certain things without knowing first-hand what you’re dealing with
  • Assume your team knows how you work or think. Make sure you explain what you’re trying to achieve and how you’re achieving it so they can better understand your holistic vision
  • Shy away from regularly communicating with your team. Create a safe space for your team to remain open and honest with you

Getting your dream team is no small feat, but following or at least being aware of these tips will get you headed in the right direction. I hope this will lay a solid foundation for you to work with and help you achieve the high powered team you want. And as always, If you have any other tips or tricks that you’ve experienced, please share!

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