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  • Writer's pictureSara Broadhurst

Wanna play on a winning team?

Business team collaborating
Winning team

TL:DR Four factors (based on research) that make a difference:

  1. Not all situations require teamwork and when they do, keep the team numbers five or under

  2. Use teams principally for quality idea generation and genuine innovation, rather than the day-to-day stuff

  3. Construct your team with diverse strengths, shared goals and quality leadership

  4. Actively work to grow the social skills of the group - particularly social sensitivity and conversational turn-taking But, hey, read the rest - there are practical and research backed ideas you can take back to your team to enable you all to perform at your best.

In our work with high-performing teams, one of the things we have noticed here at Fortis Street is that the energy is entirely different.  If you think back across the various teams you’ve worked in, we’re sure you will notice the same.  But what are the ingredients that make up that great energy? What makes a team high-performing? Check out these four factors:

First of all, a team is not necessary for every situation. No-one is a success by themselves at work anymore.  Research has shown that collaboration and consultation are critical to getting great outcomes – just not all the time. Individuals can actually be less productive when working in a group, but you knew that already right?  Think about that meeting that you were in yesterday which could have been an email, the weekly team meeting where everyone just talks about what they are working on, the team building workshop you were in six months ago that no-one has ever spoken of again.  In the famous Lego experiment by Bradley Staats, Katherine Milkman, and Craig Fox, when comparing between teams of two people and four people, they found productivity per person can drop 40% even on a small team. This happens largely because of the cost of link management, otherwise known as keeping everyone in the loop and organised – email chains, outlook invites, rescheduling meetings, prepping presentations, time spent briefing and getting others up to speed.  So the trick seems to be to keep the team small, ideally five or fewer people, and pick and choose when you need to bring the team together.

Which brings us to our second factor: Teams have a big impact on quality idea generation and genuine innovation.  Dirk Diechmann and Michael Jensen found that working in teams enables access to diverse expertise and knowledge and creates leverage to overcome initial resistance to new ideas.  However, they also found that employees really only want to do this when the idea is truly innovative and are much more inclined to prefer to work alone on process-improvement type ideas.  Winning teams provide for employee preference and trust their people to know when best to work individually and when to work collaboratively, rather than forcing everyone into a scrum for the more prosaic work we all have to do. The point is that high-performing teams focus their team time on the high-impact stuff, truly innovative work and ideas generation.

Thirdly, how you construct the team really, really matters!  This construction is made up of three aspects - diverse strengths, shared goals and leadership.  Winning teams actively recruit people who have the skills for the position they are playing in and then they weave those strengths together – just like every successful, high-performing sports team you’ve ever seen. Everyone is super-clear about their role in the team and they don’t play out of position unless it is specifically agreed. High-performing teams also have very clear goals for the season and they constantly test whether a particular action gets them closer to the goal or further away. This helps teams to avoid random ideas, busy work and provides direction, motivation, and a sense of purpose. When everyone understands and aligns with the bigger picture, individual efforts coalesce into a powerful force. The other key component of a high-performing team is effective coaching and leadership. Using the team analogy again, this might come from the team coach, but it almost certainly also comes from other experts who are regularly brought into the team to build skills, refocus attention and provide new sources of motivation. The team leaders who are most confident in their own skills are also the ones who most frequently bring in the expertise their team needs. They are focussed on delivering the resources it takes to help their team members be superstars.

Finally, the team collectively need to have good social skills.  And by that, we don’t mean going to drinks together.  Anita Williams Woolley and other researchers found evidence of a ‘general collective intelligence factor’ that explains a group's performance.  This isn’t intelligence as in IQ but fundamentally how well the team work with others.  In their study, they found that the average and maximum intelligence of individuals in the group was not predictive of the team performance. Similarly, the amorphous things we traditionally think are drivers of team performance - such as group cohesion, motivation, and satisfaction— was not correlated with the group performance. Rather it was social skills as made up of two very specific factors. These are the average social sensitivity of group members, put simply understanding and appreciating others’ spoken and unspoken messages, and the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, that is, everyone speaks and no-one hogs the time. These are skills that can be developed and measured in a group and seem to be critical inputs to achieving high-performance. 

Building a high-performing team is an ongoing journey, not a one-time destination. By focusing on these four key factors, businesses can unlock the collective power of their workforce and achieve remarkable things.

Take Action: Have a chat to us about how a Fortis Street Culture Audit can help your team to shine!


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