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Faculty Insights

3 Keys to Business Team Success

By Diane Stuart

June 8, 2017

Three people on top of a mountain
Teams are complicated. Different personalities, preferences, work styles, career goals, and communication approaches can create enormous variation and often cause conflict within teams. However, these ever-changing, ever-evolving dynamics are essential to a team’s effectiveness, despite the challenges they pose to the leader and individuals during group collaboration.
How should you maximize your team’s potential? These three key conditions will increase the likelihood of your team’s success, regardless of your personality or management style.

  • Define a vision
  • Align people and their work
  • Promote action and learning
1. Define a vision

Diane Stuart
Diane Stuart, program director, Center for Professional and Executive Development

Setting direction is essential for your team’s success. Compelling direction is not only about telling your team what they are doing and why, but also about sharing how you will lead them. Your direction should convey how they are going to shape the journey you are asking them to undertake. It should also offer choice. By inviting them to join in, you are creating a more powerful “buy-in” which will help the team weather obstacles during any project.
2. Align people and their work  
Engage your team in several foundational conversations:

  • Purpose—Why does the team exist? What makes it unique? What kind of reputation do they want to build?
  • Team Values—What’s important to the individual members of the team and the group as a whole and why?
  • Team Goals—What common and interdependent goals will deliver the results the organization is requiring of them?

Establish and reinforce your team’s priorities. Have them focus on the tasks and behaviors that will foster peak performance. Use rewards, recognition, and meaningful consequences to guide how they should pursue opportunities and address constraints.
Engage the team in expectation conversations and joint goal setting activities. Use internal motivation drivers to enhance an individual’s contribution. Consider each team member’s job and evaluate the role’s task significance, autonomy, and variety of work. Make changes to job descriptions based on that assessment.
Engage the team in key protocol and process discussions:

  • How and what decisions will we make as a team?
  • How will we communicate within the team?
  • How will we build and maintain trust?
  • How will we debate and disagree?
  • How will we ensure we are focused on the critical few priorities?
  • How will we hold each other accountable?
  • How will we stay open to exploring creative options?
  • When will we use meetings to further our work and what is required of each of us?
  • How will we maximize our different approaches to problem-solving when the team faces a critical obstacle?

3. Promote action and learning
The need for speed and agility in today’s workforce is critical. Being action oriented is a strength in many successful teams. As self-help author Napoleon Hill said, “Start where you stand and work with whatever tools you have at your command. Better tools will be found as you go along.”
Effective leaders and teams must monitor and measure not only operational but behavioral metrics as well. The most highly effective teams will also monitor adherence to that team’s behavioral agreements.
One team I worked with measured the level of group participation when debating a procedure change. They achieved an 85 percent participation goal. The team worked hard at monitoring and encouraging everyone to express a viewpoint.  Another team reported the number of times they interrupted each other during their team meetings, then focused on building their listening skills, which significantly improved the group’s problem-solving capability.
You must also develop the team’s ability to learn—to study, analyze, develop, and utilize new strategies. It will equip your team with the ability to address increasingly complex problems. Teams who do this well will continually shed skills, perspectives, and ideas no longer relevant and seek out ones that are.  Teams that challenge the status quo and experiment with unique ways of doing things build their ability to learn. Leaders who help the team handle the stress of ambiguity by developing the group’s observation and listening skills will see an increase in the team’s self-awareness. This continuous cycle of learning builds confidence, compounding the teams’ success.
By using these three tried and true leadership conditions, you will enable your team to chart their course to success!
Learn more about the Managing Teams Effectively short course at the Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional and Executive Development.