In modern organisations the ability to work as a team is an exceedingly appreciated skill. To work as a team is more than putting a group of people together and have them work on the same project. Group work may turn out to be parallel work where each member does her/his part. Teamwork is a group actually getting together and creating synergies in joining forces.
In the complex and agile daily life of a workplace team work is a good way to be able to stretch and cover several areas of expertise, thus being able to better cope. A powerful team combines and use different skillsets in an efficient way, giving each participant room and trust to represent their scope and at the same time connecting the different perspectives into one flow of effort.
Building a powerful team is an ongoing process, most intense at the beginning but never really finished until the team splits up. What can we do to support that process? Let me point at some very helpful parts I have identified when coaching teams.
Know your team members skills
Every team is built out of several persons. That is a basic feature of a team – it consists of a group of people. Every person comes with a unique skillset. Knowing the needs of the project and the combinations of the team will make a good start. In some projects we are starting by putting the team together to match the needs of the project, other times we are given the group and the project, the need is to adapt to pros and cons of given circumstances.
When we have he chance to put together the team specifically based on project needs we have a golden opportunity to analyse projects members competence and match with project needs. But often we have a group of people to pick from, an already formed group of staff, a group pulled out of different parts of staff or in other ways a group given. Even when not choosing the people in the team it is essential to figure out the overall strengths and weaknesses of the group. What different skillsets do we bring and how do they combine? Are there areas we don´t cover and are there ones where we are extraordinary strong? In what way may that affect our work? Do we have the skills we need?
To do this work we need to analyse needs of the work/project/task the team is taking on as well as the skillsets of each member. There are different ways of doing it and different tools to be used. Mind is often drawn to personality tests and they can be helpful as starters but the real deal here is to get the members to step up to owning their skillset. Let the group know where you see your strengths and what challenges you in the work ahead.
When working with teambuilding workshops one part is often coaching the team on how the task is perceived. What goal they see and what is needed to get there. That way the team creates a shared image of needs and challenges. If there is trust in the group we can directly move into who is good at what and who can help who. If not then the more personal side of teambuilding needs to be put in play simultaneously, otherwise the room will be filled with masks and no one dares to be vulnerable enough to say “I find it hard to…”
Know the people in your team, learn to trust them
There is a reason most team building activities strive to get people out of their ordinary boxes and into new patterns of thinking. Out of the comfort zone and into displaying themselves vulnerable. This can be done in physical activities like mountain biking, climbing or other forms of adventures but it might just as well be done in the calmness of a conference room by adding playful conversation starters and simple exercises. The goal is to get the team to step into solving a non-prestige task and by reflecting on the process afterwards get a glimpse of their own behaviour. When playing together we become true to ourselves and let our gard down, that is why I like to add the playful elements.
Building a true team is about daring to trust your team members to support you, fill in where you are missing out and to do the same to them. In some teams the biggest challenge lies in trusting each other enough to dare to fail without blame, in other the challenge is to let excellence shine without holding back. Sometimes co-ordinating efforts is the challenge and sometimes informal and unspoken leaders emerge.
Teams can sometimes do this work on their own but having an external teamcoach supporting the process by exposing the team to situations and reflect constructively afterwards often speeds up the process and deepens the result.
Create the climate you need as a team
When creating a working climate in a team it is creating a combination of the needs of the people in it but also of the team as an entity in itself. Each individual may have preferences as of how to organize their work, manage tasks being followed up and challenges met but the climate of the team is something bigger than just the sum of all these different wishes. Creating a team climate is also having the members taking on responsibility for the others and how to act together.
A team climate is put together by shared work on ground rules agreed and a shared vison of how to work together. This part is often agreed on in the beginning and still the ones that continues throughout the life span of the team. As we get to know each other better we tend to deepen the level of understanding of each other and dare to be more direct with each other. The FIRO-model is a simple way of recognizing the different phases.
When it all comes together
Having worked on these three parts makes good foundation for great teamwork. No team gets it all, there is always parts that will emerge as areas of improvement and others that are at times forgotten and then suddenly shows up again. Teams develop as their members do and as skills in task at hand develops. A core trait of a strong team is that it consists of people who are skilled in handling themselves and respectful towards people around them, still daring to be direct and give and take constructive feedback.
A big difference between simple group work and effective teams is the level of stepping into responsibility and working independently but together. On the scale of independence good team workers are usually on the more independent side but not all the way out to independence, to make a powerful team there is also the need to be able to lean in and allow the team to support you, aligning with team goals and working style.
When it all comes together each member brings their best and contributes while spurring the rest to do the same. A powerful team sees the best in each other, supports development and dares to take on challenges trusting each other to help sorting it out. In these cases the team becomes so much more than a group of people working together.