In the following article, consultant John Gregoire takes us through the common characteristics he identified in his work developing high functioning teams.

Delivering my “Communication” team development series over the years has identified common themes on high functioning teams. The following are some of the most important common characteristics of high functioning teams.

High functioning teams regularly and freely share information

Individual members give direct and helpful feedback in the moment with no intent other than to improve the product outcome.  Team members do not hide what they are doing from the rest of the group in fear of an idea or process being stolen and due credit being denied. In short, team members open up  – this includes their ability to deliver messages and to receive messages from others. Openness welcomes peer to peer coaching, free exchange of best practices, and creates accelerated process improvement. The following are some indicators that your team is regularly and freely sharing information.

  1. Team members give and receive direct coaching in common work areas without increased conflict or leadership intervention. It just happens.
  2. Feedback is free of blame, culpability, or expectation and is simply feedback aimed to improve process.
  3. You don’t need to call your HR generalist to ensure everyone is on the same page every time you plan to give someone tough feedback.

When you see team members delivering and receiving messages freely, take note. These individuals are excellent candidates for leadership, are modeling behavior for your team, and have a large impact on the positive outcomes you are seeing.

High functioning teams have trust – they laugh and are willing to share mistakes

high functioning teamsThis seems simple, and it is. Granted when I am working through a team building exercise with a group, laughter comes easily as we are usually chucking marshmallows across the room or running through a sequence of numbers for no good reason; we are not performing intricate dentistry or commuter bridge construction. In any of these instances, however, the teams are the same in this way: the groups have identifiable, repeatable social behavior traits. Put people together, have them work on a problem, and you begin to see the same behaviors emerge. You know them because you have seen them.  And one is a key indicator of a high functioning team – laughter.  Laughter is a key indicator for this reason – we are only willing to laugh at ourselves when we have trust. When we have the kind of trust we need to laugh at ourselves we are willing to also behave in a way that typically results in producing excellent work – the kind of work no one individual could ever achieve alone.

Also important to note, trust doesn’t mean I will tell you my deepest darkest secret. Trust here means that I know my role on this team and the tasks associated. I know my team is committed to a successful result. That’s all it takes.

What are the performance enhancing behaviors that you typically find around teams and laughter:

  1. Team members are willing to take risks and make mistakes. Even more importantly they take those risks where others can see them and provide feedback.
  2. People are willing to share failure and laugh about it. Sometimes cry too, but usually laugh. When you share failure you fix problems and grow professionals. When you hide failure you end up with catastrophic messes.
  3. Teams that laugh course correct quickly and identify unique solutions. They move fluidly through the group creative process, reaching unexpected outcomes.

If you hear your team recalling stories, “corporate legends”, about big mistakes they made – laughing and joking about how it was resolved, who did what, where they were when they found out, how they reacted, etc. take note. They aren’t afraid to talk about failure because they know they have the support to course correct and grow professionally. The leader responsible for that team is building a cohesive unit. Find out what they are doing and replicate it.

High functioning teams have clear roles

The simpler the task, the easier it should be to ensure this is happening. Team members want to know what they can do to get to a positive outcome. The easier it is for them to find the proper task and execute it, the better for the entire team. Here you have one of the more tricky challenges: people. Your team is likely to be made of a wide range of personalities, skills, and dependable strengths. A leader’s job is to get each person into a role that is both fulfilling and sustaining for the necessary time to complete the project. Some notes on clear team roles:

  1. During a typical learning event I will stop a participant and pull them away from their team to ask them what their role is on the team – specifically what are you doing for your team right now? When they can’t answer that question the team is typically struggling or generating a solution without them (i.e. there is redundancy on the team). You can apply this concept to your team by flipping the typical management model of “manager delivers expectations to subordinate” make it “manager asks subordinate what their role is on the team” leave it open and give them enough time to tell you. Be willing to learn from your team – it may just blow your mind.
  2. The role given to the person needs to be the correct fit for the tasks they are needed to complete. This is not about whether or not an employee is the right fit for a team or company. This is specific to finite task completion. Are members of the team engaged in activity that allows them to do the best possible thing to promote the team’s success? Of course the more complicated the challenge the more intricate this question becomes.

Engage your team

It’s easy to spot the disengaged person. Too often leaders are busy moving simple tasks forward (or doing them themselves). Spend your time looking for disengaged people and assign them to tasks that fit. Also, explode productivity by putting energy into identifying “engagers”.  Engagers are the people always looking for ways to work with their team, share tasks, and collaborate. Engagers give your team energy and build them up during stressful times. Engagers will narrow down the tasks with the big picture in mind. Harness their collaborative energy and utilize it to get your team motivated. These people will help you move your team forward if you empower them to do so.

Are you working to build a high functioning team? Look for the three indicators above within your group and make a commitment to build the right environment for the task at hand. Engage your team, and when you see an indicator missing, look for ways to develop it within your group. Working with and leading a team can be daunting. However you can make it simple by focusing on these three areas:

  1. Foster trust and make it safe for people to make mistakes and share them with the group
  2. Encourage peer to peer coaching and information exchange by teaching your team communication techniques, rewarding them when they model excellence, and building experiences that will reinforce the desired behavior.
  3. Find the engagers and be sure your team is equipped with clear measures for success.

These three simple traits can help any team produce excellent results. Getting your team there starts by letting them experience what it feels like to function this way.  Simple, safe, challenging team building events can awaken team awareness and begin establishing functional group norms that will promote your organizational goals.

To learn more or get some tips to try with your team, contact John Gregoire.