Does a workplace in flux leave you wondering how to work effectively in a team? Here's what I've learned from 15 years of working with teams.
How to work effectively in a team
Organizations rely on teams to get work done. But we don't always end up on a team that collaborates well and produces exciting results. If you're in this situation, you might be wondering how to work effectively in a team.
Recently, someone asked me to share what I learned from fifteen years of working with teams. So in this blog, I'm sharing the highlights from that conversation.
What I learned from fifteen years working with teams
Much of what I’ve learned has been shaped by what I call the realities of the team landscape. These realities show up time and again. Maybe you’ve seen them show up in your organization.
First, while all organizations want innovative solutions to their challenges, few teams know how to foster the collaborative effort to make it happen genuinely.
Second, diversity leads to inclusion when you know how to leverage it. Otherwise, it creates conflict and frustration in teams.
And third, many teams work in dynamic circumstances, but change never happens across a predictable or set timeline. It occurs through the productive and creative engagement of people.
These realities created the backdrop to much of my work. They inspired me to develop my ThinkUP Framework™, and after sharing it with hundreds of teams here's what I've learned.
Four ways to work effectively in a team
- Set the stage for collaboration
- Find deeper connections with people and the work you do
- Help each other talk through challenges
- Change from the inside out
1. Set the stage for collaboration
Think for a moment about your team - how do you work together?
How do you manage conflict?
We form teams to solve problems so they can advance their goals.
But in the process of forming teams, we tend to focus more on what we'll do, not on how we'll work together. Bundled in "how" are three things that can make or break how your team comes together and how they excel.
First is the process you'll use to solve problems, make decisions and create the psychological, learning and contribution safety that will empower your team to have the confidence and chutzpah to challenge status quo when innovation is an outcome.
Second is how you will manage the tension and conflict that inevitably will come up on the team and across the organization as you do your work.
Teams focused on doing the collaborative and creative work that results in innovation need a way to manage themselves, each other, and their relationships to know how to address conflict head-on.
You can't avoid conflict – it's a natural part of collaborative work. So when conflict arises, are you able to act with psychological insight, control your impulses, manage your emotions, and work with others? To me, awareness around how to manage conflict is one of the things that separates so-so teams from highly functioning ones.
The third is about how you onboard new members to your team. Extending from "what we're doing here" and "how we'll do it", is "why we do it." It's the difference that makes the difference in forming an effective and cohesive team.
Teams who don't understand their shared purpose have difficulty focusing on the bigger picture - connecting the dots and creating opportunities for collaboration. They tend to work in silos.
When you're onboarding new team members, you need to cover the gamut of what, how and why, as well as opportunities to connect on tangible work tasks so that the new kid on the block has a context to work from and clarity on how they can contribute. You need to create opportunities for them to build relationships and become a trusted member of the team.
Bottom line, your team needs norms for behaviour, so they can form a social contract – all to establish trust. Ideally, these norms are integral to the process you'll use to collaborate and solve problems together and how you'll behave to support each other in your collective effort to get good work done. The best process I've found is creative problem solving from FourSight. We integrate it into all our work with teams.
2. Find deeper connections with people and the work you do
Let’s talk about connectivity. It isn’t only about the tech you use – it’s also about the degree to which you use networks of people to share information and enhance ideas.
Think for a moment about how your team relates to each other? How do you connect to the broader purpose of what you do together? And, is it all business or do you find ways to truly see, hear and include each other as human beings with a life outside work?
When someone has an opinion, idea, or thinking novel to you, can you listen with curiosity, openness, and acceptance? Are you able to go beyond your differences and find common ground?
3. Help each other talk through challenges
How do you reach across your team or across functions in your organization to engage others.?
Do you ask for the help you need to enhance your thinking and achieve your goals?
It’s funny, but so many individuals on teams find it difficult to reach across the cubicle (or their virtual reality) to ask for help.
I’ve had many leaders lament – “why won’t they help each other?” But I also see leaders making the same mistake and not taking the opportunity to leverage team members to talk through challenges.
When we’ve got a problem to solve, our natural response is to figure it out for ourselves.
But when collaboration is critical to doing our work, we need to make collaboration happen. It doesn’t happen by chance.
Which means we need to be willing to make ourselves vulnerable. And, when you’ve got a process for problem-solving and a structure for collaboration, this becomes much easier.
The truth is, we aren’t supposed to know how to do it all – so we shouldn’t be trying to do it all by ourselves. If we were, we wouldn’t be working on a team.
Many of the challenges teams face today need complex problem-solving, multiple perspectives, and creative thinking – something that is better when you purposefully engage others in the process.
The opportunity here isn’t to bounce things off anyone willy-nilly. The opportunity is to ask for help by thoughtfully framing up what you need help with and asking for feedback on your approach. Having a shared process and language for problem-solving on the team allows you to get help more efficiently – you can share what you’ve done, where you are and how you need help to move forward.
One of the practical approaches we use in our leadership development programs to help build safety around reaching out to team members is to have everyone adopt a sounding board partner. The role of a sounding board partner is to be compassionate when you are vulnerable and noodle through an issue that requires help. In a short time, because we've set up psychological, learning and contribution safety on the team, team members learn to feel comfortable reaching out to others on the team too.
4. Change from the inside out
When I work with a team, other people in the organization notice.
It usually shows up through a side-bar conversation with the team’s leader when another leader asks “Hey, what did you do to your team? They’re a delight to work with!”
Why does this happen?
Our ThinkUP Framework™ starts with you as an individual and provides a structure for collaboration that helps you as a team member. Both the leader and the team are empowered to crack the toughest problems with ease and enthusiasm to deliver outstanding results. Here's how I do it.
I show you how to collaborate confidently, even when you're working in uncharted waters. I show you how to create the conditions that make it safe for others to contribute; I give you a process and tools to guide the conversation. I show you how to balance the process, context, and the needs of the people in the mix. With this approach, everyone has clarity around how they will work together, what they aim to accomplish, and why.
As a result, as individuals and as a team, you learn how to operate as transparent, responsive problem solvers who are mindfully aware of the context for their work. You learn how to build collaborative working relationships and find innovative solutions.
I call it making a change from the inside out. When you're willing to change how you work as an individual contributor and how your team works together, you can significantly impact your organization.
And that is how you work effectively in a team.
Need help with your team?
We offer a framework, practical toolkit and high calibre coaching that gives you the structure, skills and support needed to build an effective team.
Let's get your team working together.