Five Elements to a Real Team

If you want to go fast – go alone.  If you want to go far – go together.  This African proverb is a great place to start as you consider building real teams in an attempt to go far.

Not every group that gathers around a conference table to share weekly updates is a team. A real team is made up of a small number of people with complementary skills, committed to a common purpose. They have common performance goals and a common approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Let’s take a closer look at each of the elements, that when they all come together, make a successful team:

Small number: Numbers can vary, but generally, two to twenty-five people constitutes a team. More than twenty-five becomes too unwieldy; people have trouble interacting and agreeing on details. One side note: Even with a smaller number of members, your meetings will still need to be organized and run smoothly. Don’t just tell people to show up. Tell them why they are coming, how they should prepare, and what they should bring. For example, sending out an agenda with action items a few days prior is an effective way to achieve this. People need to see the purpose of a meeting, otherwise it will feel like a chore to them.

Complementary skills: These are really important because it’s how the work gets done—or, in the worst case scenario, how the work doesn’t get done.  A team will, for the most part, need three different types of skills:

  • Technical or functional expertise: Every project has technical requirements that need to be met. Leaders must be able to assess the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to meet those requirements.
  • Problem-solving and decision-making skills: Many times, teams consist of great technical people that struggle solving business issues. If no one can make a decision, whether it is at the task or project level, then nothing gets done:  “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it’s the same problem you had last year.” – John Foster Dulles (1888 – 1959), U.S. Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Interpersonal skills: Teams need people who are willing to help, willing to ask for help, and willing to be understanding and empathetic. The lack of these skills is the most likely cause of teamwork failure.

Common purpose: Organizations need a higher purpose to inspire passion. This is true for teams as well. If the members are there just for a paycheck, then you’ll have to find a common purpose and meaning for the project. This will be the glue that coheres them into a successful team.

Common performance goals: Having these goals are very important. We also need to tie these goals to the project’s purpose and the overall performance of the organization. Being able to see that is motivating; it’ll make people work harder. Goals that lack purpose are hollow and uninspiring.

Common approach: There is no need to reinvent the wheel with every work process. As the leader, you need to establish a common way of working from the outset and making sure your team understands and commits to it. To establish this, ask yourself the following questions;

What are the specific jobs to be done and is there a common way of doing them?  

How are schedules going to be kept? With a master schedule or a specific tool?

How are decisions going to be made? Collaboratively? Dictatorially?

How are people selected for team membership? As a team leader, do you have control of this or are people placed on your team without your input?

How will any modifications be made?

If you don’t instill a common approach for your team, seeds of discontent will be sewn amongst your team members. It will then become more and more difficult to manage and lead them.

Focusing on the elements of real teams give you more than a fighting chance to “go far.”

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