Effective teams are more than the sum of their talented parts. But reaching the full potential of work team effectiveness requires workplace teamwork skills, skills that are different and are applied differently than what individuals use in other settings.
Highly effective individual contributors may struggle in an office team for this sole reason: Without developing workplace teamwork skills, they never had a shot at skillfully working on a professiona team.
It's unusual, though, to see teamwork skills listed as an acknowledged need for the team as it takes shape. More often, it's time for an intervention before team building and work to help the team become cohesive is offered. By then, damage control gets the focus, and it can be very challenging to get a team back on track.
For some, the opportunity to develop and extend teamwork skills in the workplace is a magnet that draws them into a project. (After all, an incentive isn't a bad idea when they're signing up for extra work!)
Team Effectiveness Skill #1: Communication
In any work team, communication must be clear and consistent. Members of the team need to remain open to and actively seek diverse points of view to avoid falling into group think. It's vital that each individual use his or her voice and be heard.
Because we all have different preferences in how we give and receive information, this can be challenging. Finding the right balance of cooperativeness and assertiveness is a skill, one that is applied differently in teams than it is in one-to-one interactions. Teams that are new or have been assembled for a specific project may need to accelerate the process of establishing clear communication. They may not have time to get acquainted and to work out style differences.
Being adaptable in your own communication style and able to understand others' styles is a unique skill, one that can be enhanced with tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
Team Effectiveness Skill #2: Collaboration
Collaboration is a nuanced skill. It requires time, planning and trust -- three variables newly-formed teams may not have in abundance.
To truly collaborate, team members need skills in problem-solving, negotiating and emotional intelligence. Unlike compromise (where all parties give up something), collaboration expands to be sure every party's interests are fully met. As team members represent various interests, they may enter into the team with an agenda and, if so, will need willingness and ability to set it aside long enough to build to something bigger.
Team Effectiveness Skill #3: Conflict Resolution
As a team skill, this one has two distinct parts. The first involves an ability to mine for conflict and engage in healthy debate to bring more ideas and opinions into the discussion. The second is the ability to curtail unhealthy conflict and redirect those energies into a genuine collaboration.
Neither of these skills is honed fully in routine settings. Working as a member of a team demands these skills, especially when the team is project-based and comprised of cross-functional representatives.
Team Effectiveness Skill #4: Cross-Functional Understanding
The old maxim "seek first to understand and then to be understood" applies here. It's much easier though to judge and blame "the sales department" or "those engineers" or "penny pinchers in accounting." Developing a broader business acumen helps the team, especially if they are united around a common purpose for the team. Business acumen is also useful for any employee in any role -- that's why being a part of a cross-functional team is such a great opportunity.
Beyond this, there's more to learn for team effectiveness. Team members benefit when they understand how each team member is evaluated and rewarded, what the ebbs and flows of work are in each functional department, what challenges have been prioritized in each area, and what impacts productivity in each business unit. This information allows better understanding of team members' priorities and focus. It helps explain what otherwise seems mysterious, unpredictable or illogical. Broadening the perspective of each team member strengthens the work product the team delivers, too.
Team Effectiveness Skill #5: Creativity & Innovation
Most teams are formed to solve something or to create something. Either way, team members will need to learn how to stretch beyond the status quo. In most roles, though, creativity and innovation are not part of the day-to-day job. That's why these are considered to be qualities more often than they are thought of as skills.
To be fully effective, a team needs to develop skills in innovating and creating. Even basic brainstorming has technique to it, but this is not widely known or used.
Team Effectiveness Skill #6: Change Management
Teams will likely be charged with implementing what they've devised. They will need to inspire others to get on board with the changes, and they'll need skills for overcoming resistance (the natural response to change). Since appointed team members are unlikely to be the direct supervisors of everyone involved in a change initiative, they'll also need skills of influence (vs. authority).
These are all teachable skills, but teams seldom get the backing they need to be trained in these skills. When their change doesn't take hold, it appears the team failed to produce a good solution. Sadly, the hard work put in and good solution developed simply didn't stand a chance because they were not rolled out effectively.
Team Effectiveness Skill #7: Coaching
Influencing others, resolving conflict, stretching to become more creative, leading change, adapting one's own communication style and collaborating cross-functionally... that's a tall order for a team. Perhaps the complexity of these first 6 C's is what prevents "the powers that be" from fully equipping teams. After all, it's much easier to simply assign the project and leave the team to its own devices. Easier, yes. Fair, no.
The first 6 C's can all be acquired and practiced with team training. The seventh C is where these skills are mastered. When team members hold each other accountable for using these skills as they work together, coaching one another for continued development, that's where the magic happens. Think back to any successful team you worked with and this C -- Coaching among peers -- will be apparent. But it, too, is a skill and with a little training, team members can become much more effective.
The 7 C's for team effectiveness skills are simultaneously essential for team success and attractive for team recruiting and retention. Who wouldn't want to work on a team like this?
For more about Team Effectiveness, check out the People First Leadership Academy!