And now… My XYZ of Teams

XYZLast year I published a blog entitled “My ABC of Teams”. That piece captured some of the qualities I see as integral to a high-performing team, whether it be a sporting or an organisational team. Attitude, balance, collaboration were some of the elements I touched on. But in the interests of time and space (or was it lack of industry and imagination?), I took a break at “l” for “learning”. So taking up where I left off, now to my xyz of teams:

Maturity: Tuckman’s model of the stages groups go through (forming, norming, storming, performing) is one that still holds much appeal. Certainly groups are dynamic organisms which develop and change over time. Team maturity is not about the demographic or longevity or experience level, but about the disposition the members bring to their work and to each other.

Norms: Whether they recognise it or not, teams develop patterns of behaviour. In some instances these can be default behaviours which ultimately become institutionalised as “the way we do things around here”. A high-performing team will be more likely to have known and agreed norms which guide behaviour and are both people and task-related.

Organisation: There is no questioning the importance of relationships to the effectiveness of team performance but important too are the plans, systems and processes which guide the work of the team. At a personal and a group level, sound organisation is essential to the achievement of outcomes.

Purpose: A high-performing team has a deep understanding of and belief in its purpose.  Why it has been formed is a fundamental question and “because it has ever been thus” is not sufficient. Writers such as Sergiovanni refer not to purpose in a pragmatic sense but to the higher moral purpose. How the team achieves its own purpose and that of the wider organisation becomes the further question.

Quality: Setting high expectations and maintaining high standards at the individual and team level are hallmarks of a high-performing team. There is a shared understanding of what quality looks like and how it is achieved and it exists at both the input and output stage.

Respect: Relationships are key in high-performing teams and those relationships will be founded on abiding and mutual respect – leaders and team members for each other; among team members; the team for its work; for the organisation it represents, and self-respect and for the contribution one makes.

Synergy: There is a point at which teams become something more than groups of people working together. This is the point of synergy where ABC meet XYZ; where all of the factors which speak to performance are in evidence. Team members understand their purpose; they are well-organised and efficient in their work; relationships are healthy and productive; the team is well-supported organisationally.

Trust: The concept of trust is twofold, incorporating being both trusting and trustworthy. On the one hand, team members put their trust in each other and in the team, as those outside the team will place trust in the group. Team members and the team as a whole must also be worthy of the trust others may place in them.

Unity: In my initial ‘ABC of teams’ I advocated diversity as an important and healthy ingredient. This is not, however, to suggest a team will be a disparate bunch, lacking a sense of shared direction. A strong team will be united – around their purpose, through their shared language, in pursuit of their goals.

Vision: In a previous blog, “Blurred Visioning”, I wrote of the power and importance of organisations and their leaders having and articulating their vision, and no less for teams. High-performing teams build a future founded on understanding the past and creating the ongoing narrative.

Work ethic: A strong work ethic, at the individual and team level, is integral to a highly functioning team. While the other elements are all necessary, there is no substitute for hard work and a collective attitude of getting the job done well; indeed, there is also great satisfaction to be gained.

Xenophilia: I use this term not only because I need an x-word (!), but to signal the need for a team to be open to the world and to learning about different cultures and approaches. Over time, teams can become inward-looking and self-satisfied, so it is salutary to look beyond the team and to be exposed to different thinking and practice.

Yes: The best teams I’ve worked with have been those accepting of challenges and willing to “have a go”, to try new ideas and to do things differently. They have had a predisposition to say yes and to look positively and optimistically to what might be achieved. While not blind to possible problems, they’re excited rather than daunted by them.

Zeal: There is no intention to suggest team members become “zealots” in the sense of being fanatical and uncompromising; rather, zeal is about the enthusiasm, energy and dedication high-performing teams bring in pursuit of their goals.

Being part of a team or leading teams, these can be wonderfully satisfying experiences. Presumably, we have all been part of a team at some stage and in some context. I trust your experiences have been as rewarding as the great majority of mine.


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