“Team: an attitude held by collaborative high performers who have a common purpose and a mandate to fulfill.” – Gerald A. Fryer
Teams are dynamic systems, each with its own identity and complex interconnections of personality, experiences, and strengths. The performance of a team, then, is based on the system, the environmental conditions, and the culture that exist around it. If we can shift the conditions around the team, and within the team, we can change the team’s dynamics. We can move it forward versus holding it back. With the overarching systems view in mind, there are four foundational principles of team, of what it is, and of what it needs to survive and to thrive.
- Teams only exist to produce a result. If there is no result to be produced, there is no need for a team. We often hear leaders talk about a group of direct reports as a “team.” If that group does not have collective work to achieve, then they are a group, though they may report to the same person. A condition of “team” is that there is a common goal or outcome, and the team exists to achieve this.
- The team is a living system. We hear often, “This team is like a well-oiled machine.” Relating ourselves to mechanical objects is a false premise because we are living beings, and what we create is organic as well. We grow and learn as individuals, and, as members of a team, we grow and learn around the result we are trying to produce, around strengths, and around our interactions with one another.
When something goes wrong with what we are trying to create, does the team go into survival mode and hide? Or does it adopt and adapt to the changing environment? A living team has the means to morph and change. When we do not have the right culture in the team or around the team, it may struggle to survive and wither rather than thrive and grow.
- Team members want to be on a team known for its high performance, and they want to contribute. We want to be successful. It doesn’t matter if it is a fledgling team starting out; they want to post their first win. They want to go into the locker room and say, “I did this. I showed up well and strongly.” There is no worse feeling than not performing, than being the reason the team failed.
This is what it means to be human; we are wired to live in community. That’s how we have thrived throughout our existence, and the drive, the desire to contribute and make a difference lives within each of us.
- The team has it within its own means to excel. As a leader, you brought these people together because of their individual talents and because you knew that, if they could work together and use their collective talents, they would excel. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
What often ends up happening is that we as leaders of teams focus on what is missing. We don’t talk about what’s going right. What we need to do is start with a mindset that says: “This team is creative enough, resourceful enough, and capable enough to succeed. We can create the right positive, encouraging environment for success. Yes, there will be challenges, and no, we are not going to win every game. And that’s all right. The team has everything they need to succeed.” This approach helps shape the environment around the team and within the team, and this will move them forward towards the achievement of their collective result.