Three Characteristics of Effective Teams – Part One

by Phuel Australia | May 15, 2017

By Linton Chalmers

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There is so much to say here, so I have broken this article up in to a three part series focused on the three pivotal characteristics of the most effective and best teams I’ve worked with.  

A highlight of my job is working with leadership teams to increase their performance, help them drive organisational strategy, and develop clarity around values and purpose. Having consulted with teams in almost every sector and industry, it has been interesting to observe the common difficulties all teams seem to experience. While every organisation has its own unique environment and challenges, from what I can see, teams that thrive do things different from everyone else.  

The three characteristics of the most effective teams I have worked with include:

1. Comfort with Conflict.
2. A Unified Purpose
3. Accountability for behaviours, not just tasks.

Comfort with conflict

We all like to be liked. This probably goes back to caveman days where if you weren’t liked, you were going to get kicked out of the cave and eaten. Nothing wrong with being likeable, but the need to be liked creates problems in teams. People don’t like having their views and belief systems challenged, and so, because we want people to like us, we have a tendency to tell them what they want to hear.

We need people to disagree with us. Frankly, sometimes our ideas and judgement are terrible. I couldn’t tell you how often I have been emotionally invested in an idea, convinced I was right, only to look back in hindsight and realise it was ridiculous. The frustration is that upon admitting an idea was poor, others then acknowledge they knew it all along, just said nothing. Ever ended a relationship with someone only to have your friends all tell you they didn’t like that person anyway? Yeah, same thing. Agreeing for the sake of agreement is inefficient, and counter to working together well.

Billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreesen knows the value of productive disagreement. At his firm if one of their team tables a potential venture for investment, all others on the team play devil’s advocate on principle. If, at the end of the meeting the person who suggested the idea still likes it, then it’s passed the test and everyone in the room backs it too. Andreesen talks about the importance of having ‘strong opinions, loosely held’.

Disagreement leads to improvement. It creates an environment where assumptions are challenged and proposed solutions are given the robust analysis they need. If no one is disagreeing, either your team is too homogenous, or people aren't speaking their mind. In fact, if there isn’t anything worth debating, why are you having a meeting? Conflict creates value.

John Wooden, arguably the best sports coach in history famously said: “Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with people who will argue with you”

The caveat with this point is that conflict needs to be done in the right way.

  • Productive conflict must be built on the foundation of trust. Build this first.
  • Debate ideas, not the value of the people with the ideas
  • Have an opinion, but be being willing to let it go

In the next article, I will be looking at teams who have a unified purpose. Come with me!