Hiring a team full of all-stars might sound like the best way to boost team performance, but team effectiveness is about more than stacking the deck with talent. In fact, a truly effective team is a lot like a well-oiled machine. It consists of a variety of parts, and when all of them are engaged—each doing its share of the work—the machine works smoothly as one.
While many teams can sufficiently meet goals, it’s a lot harder for teams to exceed expectations. Communication roadblocks, personality clashes, awkward (or nonexistent) processes—these are all common detractors that keep teams from doing their best, most effective work.
Here are some ways leaders can give their teams that extra oomph to boost team effectiveness overall.
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1. Create teams with a compatible mindset
A group that can reach consensus will get a lot further than a bunch of natural leaders competing against each other for stage time. When creating high-performing teams, focus on chemistry first and foremost. Strive for compatible personalities, problem-solving skills and subject-matter expertise.
A recent Google study looked at 180 teams across the company to discern what makes a team effective. Researchers concluded that, “There was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.”
Instead, the study concluded, what matters most is how people work together. Healthy group norms—rules agreed upon by team members about how best to proceed together—were key to building a team’s “collective intelligence,” the basic sum of its knowledge and talents.
2. Observe how your team works together
There are plenty of organizational theories out there to explain how and why teams succeed, fail or simply do mediocre work. But before trying to apply any of these theories at your organization, consider observing your team’s dynamics, as well as the strategic methods that are working and not working.
3. Consolidate and clarify expectations around workloads
Time and again, workers around the world have ranked clear expectations and role definition as two of the most important factors in their ability to work effectively. And in one recent study, over 61% of employees reported that work overload was the biggest killer of their productivity on a day-to-day basis.
Check in with team leaders to make sure that they’re keeping expectations and end goals succinct and measurable for their teams. This will help ensure that teams aren’t being pushed into burnout.
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4. Construct replicable processes
Teams should take any opportunity to normalize pipelines, from meeting agenda formats and regular progress updates to how the group votes on consensus decisions. The more information a team has about when it’s going to need to stop working and check in, the more it can focus on producing creative solutions, without fear of distraction.
5. Don’t micromanage
Once you’ve staked out expectations and when to check in on your team’s progress, it’s time to get out of the way. Multiple studies over the years, ranging from internal company surveys to broad university-led experiments, have shown that the more autonomy workers have, the happier and more effective they are.
Resist the urge to check in too often with team leaders as well, and encourage leaders to do the same with their teams. The more autonomy team members feel, the better the results in both the short and long term.
6. Maintain open communication lines
The easier it is for teams to stay in touch, the more effective they tend to be. In other words, communication is foundational to boosting team effectiveness. Look for any reason an employee might run into unnecessary trouble when communicating with a team member—whether that’s a technological problem or a social one—and make a concerted effort to resolve the issue.
Psychological safety is also key. Ensure that your team leaders are fostering an environment in which team members feel comfortable communicating, including offering up unorthodox ideas or flagging roadblocks and new challenges to each other (and management) sooner rather than later.
7. Acknowledge the significance of your team’s efforts
Field experiments conducted by researchers at UNC Chapel Hill suggest that task significance—the knowledge that the project you’re working on actually matters—is crucial when it comes to motivating teams and boosting productivity. After all, employee engagement is one of the most consequential, and most heavily cited, factors when it comes to team effectiveness. Work on improving employee engagement across the board, and you’ll likely reap the benefit of boosting team effectiveness in the process.
And if your teams are simply meeting the minimum requirements—or worse, falling short of expectations—you might need to better underscore just what ends they’re working toward. That could mean providing employees with more information at the outset, or celebrating a finished project’s success and impact on the rest of the company.
However you do it, establishing a workplace culture that regularly recognizes wins and otherwise shows employees exactly what their hard work is helping to create or achieve is essential to keeping a team’s eyes on the prize.
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