Four Tips for Knowing if You’re on a Good Work Team

How do you know if you’re part of a good work team? I’ve been having lots of teamwonderful and intriguing discussions with friends of mine about teams. With my soccer team, about why we like each other enough to hang out when we don’t have to.  With my friend Ann Max, who coaches corporate teams towards productivity. I also chatted at length with my friend Jen Hunter, who works with leadership teams to build on their collective strengths. The question is harder to answer than you might think. For one, sometimes people don’t know that they’re in a team.

I once had a colleague who regularly and without fail tried to ambush his team members.  He saw us as competition. Was he a bright and capable guy?  Absolutely, he is one of the smartest people I’ve worked with. He just couldn’t imagine us as being on a team and so saw us as chasing the same scarce resources, whatever he imagined them to be. Did the rest of us think he was competition?  Nope, we thought we were on a team.  Therefore, we were regularly surprised at his negative response to simple initiatives. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I think surprises at work are terrible things with disastrous results.

Then of course, there was the boss who thought the team was competition for his job.  That was ugly, baffling and frustrating because what the team desired more than anything was better camaraderie and more collective thinking. He didn’t know he was on a team and so it was impossible for him to recognize that he was supposed to be the team captain, never mind being a good cheerleader.

Of course there are those times when a team comes together and does amazing things. This is when there is synergy, energy and humour; it’s impossible not to have outcomes follow. My soccer team does one thing consistently, we laugh. If we don’t laugh, then we’re not playing. When we’re laughing, regardless of the score, we have good games. We also know what roles we play.  I don’t walk onto the field and wonder if I’m going to be the goalkeeper, I know I play defense.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to have some fantastic work teams, those times when a group of individuals transcends their independent parts and produce results well beyond their scope. One of the tricks of success is that we didn’t allow ourselves to get too insular. Not only is navel gazing boring, but it epitomizes counter productivity. I remember sitting in a team retreat where my boss had organized to have a variety of speakers come in and share their subject matter expertise.  I swallowed it up and used that wisdom to fuel projects for the next few years. In fact, I still call on some of that wisdom.  More to the point, we all performed better collectively because of that connected learning.

Good teams also know that communications is central to success.  Good teams have frank conversations, respectful consideration of ideas and the freedom to laugh at each other and ourselves when things get goofy. They are also patient.  Good ideas take time to share and understand and they can’t come to fruition without a team patient enough to listen. If you’re on a good work team you’ll know it because you not only like your colleagues, you respect them.  You certainly won’t be afraid to speak your mind to them.

Lessons Learned

  • Good teams give time, patience and good humour.  The members can respect and can anticipate each other.
  • Good teams happen when you realize that you are collectively better than your individual parts.
  • Good teams are self-aware; everyone knows what their role is and how that role connects to and supports others.
  • Most importantly, good teams communicate.

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