Many of us have worked on teams where an outstanding performer was also horrible to work with behind the scenes. They may have been abrasive, harassing, or downright offensive to other members of the team, yet their transgressions were overlooked by management because they were considered irreplaceable. However, the behavior of one individual single-handedly dragged down the performance of the entire team. People were frustrated, checked out, and angry—despite the “star” qualities assigned to this individual, the disengagement of the team impacted overall performance.
Throughout my career I’ve worked in both very effective, and very ineffective teams. The ineffective teams were largely a result of a lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities, which in turn led to feelings of animosity and mistrust. One hand not knowing what the other hand is doing leads to ineffective workflow at best, and hostility between co-workers at worst.
The very effective teams have been built on respect, trust, and candor (at Actionable, we strictly apply a “no jerks” policy). My colleague recently wrote about what makes working for Actionable so special: we are a collaborative team that both respects individuality, and recognizes that we are all much better together. As a group, we can accomplish much more together than we could as individuals.
Effective teams are almost always made up of highly engaged individuals. Research shows that the most important factors in creating and sustaining employee engagement are the relationships people have with their managers and their peers.
We created the Engaged Employee Pyramid to use in our Actionable Conversations platform. It works like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—you cannot achieve the highest levels of engagement unless you first lay a strong foundation.
In all levels of of the pyramid, trust and respect are essential. If disrespect or a lack of accountability are part of the dynamics of your current team, it will lead to a breakdown in their engagement. If you have successfully laid a foundation of self-management, and role and culture fit, establishing effective team dynamics will be significantly easier.
Team and Communication share a level on the Engaged Employee Pyramid, as there must be respectful communication between team members in order to access the high-level thinking you aspire to.
First, let’s talk about teams.
Team dynamics are inevitably influenced by the individual personalities of each team member, so there are no one-size-fits all solutions for creating great teams. What appears to be effective collaboration to a creative thinker, might be a nightmare for the process/metrics focused members of the team. What feels like good-natured sarcasm to me, might feel like a harsh insult to a colleague. The key is to engage in regular conversations, be open and honest about works best, and to respect the diverse backgrounds, personalities, and work styles of each team member.
Great teams (i.e. effective teams who can achieve results) are built through consistently respectful interactions, accountable team members, and enthusiastic collaboration which leverages the strengths of each individual to produce a sum greater than the team’s parts. By necessity, great teams don’t gloss over difference, or assume that each team member brings the same experience. Exciting insights can come from fresh eyes and diverse perspectives.
Leadership plays an important role in supporting each level of the Engaged Employee Pyramid. While team leaders can contribute by modelling good behavior to their team, in the context of engagement, it is essential for individuals to be empowered to approach their work with a leadership mindset.
In practical terms, this means encouraging peer interaction on both a personal and professional level, cultivating a culture of accountability, and establishing effective channels for collaboration. At Actionable, teams come together for regular conversations that reinforce these values. We chat with each other about our personal lives before digging into ongoing projects. We get aligned on schedules and timeframes, clearly assign ownership of tasks, and check in regularly about progress and challenges. We also come together regularly as an organization, seeking out input and collaboration across departments.
Regular conversations won’t guarantee that your “star performers” won’t still try to drag down the performance of the team, but it will ensure that everyone is able to have their perspective heard, and find new ways of working together effectively. No jerks allowed.