How is it that a football team in the cellar can get a new coach and almost immediately begin winning games?  How is it that an all-star team of baseball players can be shut out by the third-place team in the league? Teams have become both the premise and the promise of a new workplace in which collaboration supersedes command and control as the most effective way to be creative, productive, and responsive.
If the proof is in the pudding, we might conclude that any group of people that gets results must be a team. Yet we have all known or been part of teams where the result was actually the work of one or two team members who could not tolerate a low-quality outcome and reluctantly did it themselves. But others have experienced times of extraordinary collaboration and results that outstripped their wildest expectations.
What Makes The Difference?
In general, groups that function effectively display certain common behaviors:
- Information sharing
- Willingness to listen and consider new information
- Ability to revise mental models when presented with new evidence
An important ingredient in team effectiveness is diversity. Diversity is a double-edged sword, with the possibility of synergy on one side and the potential for conflict on the other. But it is essential if teams are to achieve their maximum potential: failure to disagree is as dangerous to group process as failure to agree.
The Leadership Challenge
While much can be done to encourage participation and openness in others, as leaders we must also accept responsibility for our own participation regardless of the popularity of our opinions. Listening with empathy and seeking to understand others are important. But such policies are mere rhetoric if we do not believe that synergy is born of differences. If we believe that we are more capable as a group we will take steps to ensure that participation remains balanced, we will listen to and honor input from each other, and we will seek out the reasons for minority disagreement.
Chartering the team with a compelling purpose and vision can encourage openness. Individuals who are engaged in a purposeful mission are often willing to subjugate their own needs to the higher purpose. Recognition by team members of behavior type differences can also assist in improving openness. Balancing of extrovert and introvert may require some facilitation, but this does not diminish the value of each participant to the team.
There are several different behavioral assessments available that can help team members understand the potential strengths and weaknesses of different styles in a team environment. Many organizations use such instruments to select team members in order to ensure that a full complement of behavior types is represented.
Synergy is not the adoption of one team member's idea but rather the synthesis of the collective experience, knowledge, and wisdom of the entire group.