There are few better real-life illustrations of the old expression “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” than in the workplace, where individuals — each with unique experiences, skills, and talents — come together to drive common goals.
According to a study published in the European Journal of Business, Economics and Accountancy, effective teamwork is associated with a 70.5 percent increase in organizational productivity.
But merely holding positions within the same company or department is not enough to transform a group of individuals into a team. So, what does make a team? Trust, shared goals, and accountability are three vital ingredients to creating a high-functioning team — and to accelerating your team’s productivity.
1. Build a High Level of Trust
Trust is defined as the firm belief in someone’s reliability, integrity, or ability. And, according to organizational expert Stephen R. Covey, trust is “the key leadership competency of the new global economy.”
High levels of trust can pay off in the form of greater collaboration and innovation; when trust between team members is weak, the result can be disengagement and low morale, poisonous office politics, and high employee turnover.
So how can a team promote a sense of trust among members? It’s important to remember that people aren’t mind readers — which means they can’t see intentions. As such, outward behavior is the best people have to go on to determine trustworthiness.
In his book The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, Covey described 13 different behaviors that promote this quality among teammates. These include talking straight and without hidden agendas, treating team members respectfully, showing loyalty by giving credit where it’s due, and keeping your commitments.
2. Have Clear Vision and Direction
Another key aspect of functioning well as a team? Ensuring that every member has a clear and aligned understanding of your team’s goals and how you plan to achieve them.
Think of your team’s vision as your destination and your strategy for achieving them as your journey plan. If, for example, you were trying to reach your destination by boat, everyone must first have a clear understanding where it is you are trying to get to so that you can all paddle towards that point.
But merely knowing the destination is unlikely to get you there — if everyone paddles in different directions, you’re unlikely to get anywhere at all. This is where having a team strategy comes into play.
From navigating to steering to supplying the power, each member of the team will play a different and important role in reaching your destination. To get there, each person must understand how their role and tasks contribute to the shared objective.
The first step to creating this alignment is to take some time to define shared goals:
What are you trying to achieve together — and why?
What is the expected outcome if the team’s goals are achieved?
Next, determine your plan of action:
What needs to be done to achieve your goals?
Who is responsible for each part of the plan?
What obstacles might you encounter along the way and how will you deal with them?
How will you know when you’ve achieved success?
Giving team members an opportunity to contribute to this planning is an important step to obtaining buy-in and participation within teams.
3. Push Each Other to Do Your Best Work
When is peer pressure a good thing? When that group influence drives each member to do their best work, stretching beyond their individual capabilities to do great things as a team. Teams can leverage the positivity of the herd mentality by not only setting basic team objectives, but also establishing stretch goals.
Determine what fulfilling your basic commitments will look like, and then take it a step further and define what it would mean to hit it out of the park. By providing each other with feedback and encouragement, high-functioning teams can build the momentum that will allow them to surpass expectations, delivering great results more efficiently.
There is tremendous power in teamwork that can far surpass the capabilities of any single individual. Promoting trust, ensuring team alignment, and holding each team member to their best performance is a roadmap to harnessing the incredible potential that exists within teams.