How To Make A High Performance Team?

In his book, “The 5 dysfunctions of a team”, noted author Patrick Lencioni makes a very pertinent observation, “”Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare”.

An increasing number of corporates is slowly arriving upon the same conclusion. In an environment, where competition is tough, stakes are high & change is a constant, being equipped with teams that can fight against all odds and then go the extra mile is increasingly being seen as a key differentiator. While stories of “Dream Teams” abound in sports – similar stories in the corporate world are few and far between. We have documented a few such teams in our earlier posts where we talked about the team behind skunkworks, Edison’s famous Muckers & the Blue Angels from the U.S Navy.

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Clearly, it isn’t easy to make a ‘Dream Team’ (Probably that is why it is called a Dream Team). So, what are the magic ingredients that these teams have, that others struggle to discover?

Here are five such ingredients, in our opinion:

  1. Unequivocal Trust
    The foundation of every great team is built on this elusive element. Why is it that we find it so difficult to “give trust”?  Why is it that we expect others to “earn it” first? Maybe it’s a self-defense mechanism, maybe it’s our hyper-competitiveness that gets in the way?When we refer to trust here, it is trust that is based on sharing our vulnerabilities with each other. In essence it means a team member being able to share this strengths, weaknesses, fears and hopes – without worrying too much about being judged. It usually happens only in families – we have heard being said – but it does happen in the dream teams too.   What this does really is to make people in a team feel comfortable in their own skin – but as in families, so in teams – trust does not develop overnight. As Steven Covey mentions in his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’“Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people. But it takes time and patience…”A team that attains a deeper level of trust, can clearly experience a happy ambience where team members feel much more appreciated & valued. This helps the team to feel safe while sharing real feedback to improve the efficiency of the team. Here fear of conflicts will not bother any of the members, as there is enough of an emotional bank balance to take care of the skirmishes.This truly is the first step in the journey to becoming a ‘Dream Team’
  1. A Burning Passion
    What differentiates a dream team from a fairly good one, is its burning passion to not just do a good job, but to excel and outperform. Think of the Australian cricket team under Steve Waugh or the Windies team under Clive Lloyd – those were teams that not just wanted to win, they wanted to dominate.Its rightly said that “Good enough is the enemy of the best”. When we settle for “good enough”, we deny ourselves the opportunity to go for and achieve “the best”. But how many of us in our corporate lives, can put our hand on our heart and say. “We are truly passionate about the work we do?” Unfortunately, “passion” is a word that we reserve for the work we do “outside of work”. Like saying, “I am passionate about cars”, or dirt biking or cricket. But passionate about “the work I do every day?”, well let’s just say – that’s a rarity.Passion at work is all about being so possessed about doing a fantastic job, that anything lesser seems unacceptable. The best thing about passion though is that it is contagious. A few passionate team members can often light up a whole team.
  1. A Shared Vision
    Building a level of trust and lighting the passion of the members makes for a heady mix. But a bursting stream of water, needs to be channelized in a clear direction for it to be useful – else it risks dissipating all its energy very soon. So also in teams, where different team members bring in their own unique expertise & experiences. Without a clear direction such a team risks running in multiple directions and soon dissipate itself. What unifies such a team is a clear shared vision or a common goal for the future.A shared vision often helps teams to rise above petty silos and truly collaborate towards achieving a larger than life goal. John F Kennedys vision of “Putting  a man on the moon and returning him safely, by the end of the decade”, galvanized a whole nation. This bigger picture leads teams to develop a shared belief which propels it towards immense growth.A shared destiny spawns collaboration in dream teams that go on to minimize individuals’ weaknesses & maximize the Team’s strengths. It truly helps make one plus one equal three.
  1. Communicate, Communicate & Communicate some more
    The biggest derailer for team work is often a very simple thing – “communication” or rather the lack of it. A team that communicates less is often prone to misunderstandings that can quickly deteriorate to spats that lead up to an unhealthy atmosphere.The important thing about good communication in a dream team is that:
  • It is two way – which means it’s a “conversation” or “debate” and never a diktat
  • It makes clear the norms within the team. What are the team’s – “Must always do’s” and “Must never do’s”
  • It cuts out surprises for everyone in the team, so everyone knows what to expect from everyone else within the team at all timesCommunication has the power to improve both the formal & the informal relationships within teams. It also helps members to minimize mistakes, confusions & repetitions of work.  In addition, cheering on one another lifts the morale of teams in the toughest of times.
  1. A Bias for Fun
    Whenever I think about any successful team, I remember one famous quote: Teams that laugh together, Stay together. Look at any team that seems to be doing really well – a striking thing you will notice is how easily the conversations and the laughs flow between the members. However, it is easier said than done. Fun and laughter cannot be forced. It happens only when there is a fair amount of trust within team members. It happens when team members feel the security & freedom to let their hair down.A team that has fun together, builds a healthy bank of memories that helps create a strong bond that often helps team mates through tough times. It also builds a positive atmosphere in the team where people lower their guards, are more open to feedbacks & to criticisms too. Such an atmosphere creates a magnetic effect for new ideas and approaches that breeds further freshness within the team.
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Dream teams don’t just happen naturally – or as a matter of chance. It surely takes a lot of effort, time & dedication to build one. However, the good news is that “Dream teams” are not born that way either. It takes positive intent and awareness for a team to metamorphise into a “Dream Team”.

How many of these ingredients does your team have? Do you think your team can become a ‘Dream Team’? Do share your thoughts with us.

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