High performance teams go beyond expertise - by Charlotte Murray

Team stages of development.JPG

Think about the best team you were ever a part of, or are still a part of. Was it an existing team or a newly formed one? What was it like joining the team? How did you feel when you joined the team, and how did it progress? What’s unique about this one team?

I believe that most teams - which I define as any group with more than one person - go through Tuckman’s stages of group development: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. This was a theory shared by Bruce Tuckman in the 1960’s and has become the basis for many group theories since then. The stages of group development look at how group behaviours change and develop as the members of the group get acquainted with each other. It’s about everyone finding their place in the group (forming, storming, norming), and where each member  adds unique value to the group in working towards a common goal (performing).

Now, with this group development theory in mind, let’s go through the simple exercise that we started at the beginning of the blog and delve a little deeper. Think of your best team. How did your team go through the group development stages? Did your team move through all of the stages and deliver high performance? What did you learn? What happened when a new team member joined, or someone in the team left? Did the group go through another cycle of group development?

It’s more than expertise

Teams are brought together because each individual brings a certain expertise, and through the team, the individual expertise is shared and compiled together to achieve a common goal. Ideally, for every team, the  “whole is greater than the sum of their parts”. Today, more often than not, teams are not located in the same geographical location, instead they work as virtual teams spread across the globe.  I have worked and continue to work on projects with people in different parts of the world, some of whom I have never met. Wherever we are located – be it Europe, North America, Asia and beyond, there is a feeling of a team working towards a shared goal.

What is it then, that enables a team to develop and progress through the stages of development to high performance - be it virtually or face-to-face? I would argue that this is not purely based on functional expertise. An individual is normally selected and brought into a team because of their certain expertise or capability. However, one cannot ignore that each individual team member is more than an expert in a field - they are also a person. And this is what can make or break a team, influencing whether it will move through all the group development stages to performance (or not). The individual wants, needs, motivations and communication style all contribute to a chemistry which influences the interaction and performance of the team as a whole.

Here are the key behaviours that are essential in creating that chemistry for a high performing team:

-          Mutual Trust and Respect – these are underlying factors that come before everything else. Trust and respect are intrinsic in any strong relationship, and even more so within a team because there are many moving parts. My experience is that trust and mutual respect in high performing teams are a given from the start (compared to other situations where it is expected to be earned) How do you display trust and respect in your team? What comes first in your team – trust or respect? What type of framework or process might your team use to facilitate and nurture mutual trust and respect?

-          Appreciation of Strengths – each team member has key strengths, be it functional or behavioral, or a combination of both, appreciating the individual’s different strengths is key.  While some strengths might overlap with other team members, others might be unique to one individual member. Getting this balance right is the secret to a strong team. Teams are often brought together for functional expertise over anything else, however the teams I have been a part of that also seek to understand (and leverage) each other’s behavioral strengths perform better. What are your team’s key strengths and how might you leverage them even more?

-          Learner mindset – being curious and open to learning transforms the dynamic in a team immediately. When there are questions, challenges, discussions within a team with a shared learner mindset it leads to meaningful and innovative ideas and actions that further fuel the team’s momentum. It encourages the shared motivation to make constant improvements all geared towards reaching the team’s goal(s) . What have you learned from your team? What is your team’s approach to capturing those learning-rich moments?

-          Open Communication – Combined with the other behaviours above, open communication makes supporting and challenging ideas an inclusive and positive means of reaching a common goal. It aids development and growth towards higher performance and beyond, not only for each individual but the team as a whole. Open communication is vital, especially when working with virtual teams where the written or spoken word is what I need to rely on for building a team, compared to other cues such as body language that are prevalent face-to-face. Often, learning and embracing different communication styles is a key part of the group development process. What different ways has your team kept open communication channels between its members?