The recipe for a high-performing team seems like it should be straightforward; a dash of creativity, a pinch of cooperation, and a cupful of talent. Yet, so many companies struggle with teams that aren’t living up to expectations. If your company’s teams are more dysfunctional than productive, one of the following common problems could be at play. Luckily, there’s a solution for each.
Problem #1: Team meetings are conducted efficiently, but truly innovative ideas aren’t being shared by team members.
Solution: Encourage a little more chaos.
When it comes to team meetings, sticking to the script too strictly can stifle creativity. You may get your team members in and out of the meeting quickly, but those meetings become a waste of time if your team isn’t making any creative breakthroughs for solving problems.
Consider having your team leader let down their guard a little and not be afraid to stray from the meeting agenda. A study by Carnegie Mellon researchers found that some high-performing teams exhibited an unusual characteristic. During meetings, team members interrupted one another, talked over each other, and went on tangents. While this may seem like a highly inefficient way to run a meeting, it actually encouraged all team members to contribute to the discussion, and that’s what made them perform better than other teams. A more informal meeting atmosphere encourages sharing and exploring, and the team leader’s voice was just one among many. When everybody contributes, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Problem #2: Your team is made up of your company’s top talent, but top results aren’t anywhere in sight.
Solution: Focus less on who makes up your teams and focus more on how your teams are run.
A revolutionary study by Google on teams revealed something surprising. Team success is more determined by a team’s group norms—i.e. the (unwritten) rules that govern group behavior—than by who makes up a team. If your teams are struggling to produce the kind of top work that’s expected of them, it may be because the most important team group norm is missing: psychological safety.
Google found that teams were more likely to be a success if all team members felt safe within the group, able to share their ideas without fear of ridicule or dismissal. That’s why a cohesive, warm, and welcoming group of “average” members often come up with more creative ideas than a team full of top performers. In fact, a team made up of entirely high-performers may struggle with instituting psychological safety precisely because they’re high-performers, they’re so used to being right that they may be intentionally or unintentionally dismissive of others’ ideas!
Luckily, the remedy for a lack of psychological safety in a team is pretty simple; encourage team members to get to know each other not just as team members but as people. Build in time for small talk before a meeting, honor team members for accomplishments (both work-related and not) during meetings, and organize a few team happy-hour events. It’s harder to be dismissive of someone you feel a kinship with, and you’re less likely to be intimidated by a high-performing team member if you see that person as someone defined by more than just their work.
Problem #3: Your team is coming up with ideas, but nothing is ever executed.
Solution: Appoint a leader for your team and your team’s subgroups.
Many companies have a major misconception about teams, they’re non-hierarchal in nature, and therefore they don’t need defined leadership. But that misconception spells major disaster for team productivity.
Team leaders keep the team accountable, serve as a team “cheerleader” by encouraging the group, and simplify and streamline the decision-making process. Without a leader to have the “final word,” teams can spend weeks debating how to move forward on a project. Discussion is good, but eventually a decision needs to be made.
Remember, when you have a large team that’s broken up into subgroups, those subgroups each need to have a designated leader as well. In addition to the role of team leader described above, a subgroup leader also acts as a point person to the overall team leader. That way the lines of communication between team and subgroup are always clear, resulting in greater efficiency—and the lack of a need to play “telephone” with important team information.
What other problems have been plaguing your teams lately?