One of the most challenging work transitions comes when you face the prospect of leading a new team for the first time. Getting people to work together is not easy, and many team leaders rush over the basics in order to start achieving goals. But the first weeks and months are critical for starting a team off on the right foot. What actions should you take to set the team up for success? How will you get the team working well together, manage conflict, and create an environment where everyone feels safe, valued and motivated to contribute?
When putting together a team, conventional wisdom dictates that you strive for a mix of personalities and do whatever it takes to build equality within the group. Inequality of status - where it's pretty clear how everyone ranks compared to their peers - discourages people from sharing ideas and can lead to people feeling undervalued or disrespected. These hot human emotions distract teammates from their tasks and can disrupt even the most focused performers.
Or so the theory goes.
There's something rotten in the state of recruiting. When a candidate looks at a job ad, they would be forgiven for thinking that all employers are looking for people with a specific list of skills - 10 years' experience within an S&P 500 company/advanced understanding of technology platforms/specific industry certifications/proven track record of managing large teams.
Time and again, strong levels of trust in teams have been shown to build employee engagement, enhance customer loyalty, and drive profit growth. When team members have a high level of trust in leaders and each other, the group becomes notably better at achieving business goals.
What is the secret of productive teams? For the longest time, Google believed that the best teams consisted of the smartest people who got on with each other. But an observation of 180 of its internal teams provided a surprising result: the "who" didn't actually matter. There was nothing showing that a mix of skills, backgrounds or specific personality types made any difference.
Differing opinions, divergent viewpoints, and conflicting ideas are healthy and central to progress. They broaden our perspectives, stretch our minds, and help us to arrive at the best possible strategy and practices. Research suggests that constructive disagreement is enormously important to the success of a team. It increases participation in decision making, encourages collaboration, reduces anxiety, and results in better choices and more creative thinking. If you want the best to come out of your teams, it pays to establish a conflict culture.
When it comes to harnessing the strengths of teams while avoiding the weaknesses, team leaders have a tough job. Not only must they capture the full diversity of knowledge contributed by team members, they must also provide the right motivators such that individuals feel enabled and engaged with their job. Get the balance wrong, even slightly, and the result can be ruinous.
In dynamic and competitive markets, it's almost universally understood that the old ways of working don't work any more. Every company has to think outside the box if it is to achieve higher levels of performance. Creativity is the tool that allows teams to work faster, and smarter, and quickly find their way to workable solutions to unique problems.
Anyone who has worked in business has, at some point or another, smelt the stench of stale teams. Teams that started out as a success story, wowing clients and higher ups with their creativity, commitment and enthusiasm, can quickly grow complacent. The fact is, it's a hard slog to sustain a high-performing team. Serious graft is required to keep team members rowing in the same direction week after week, year after year.
Though we often think about dialogue as a simple conversation between two or more people, it is better defined as the medium through which people with different viewpoints may voice and share possibilities. It requires a number of skills beyond talking: setting aside ego, listening without judgment, creativity, and problem-solving. The idea is that people with alternative perspectives work together so that everyone may attain a deeper collective understanding of the issues. It's a pretty tough ask.