My experience with teams leads me to conclude that a group of people tackling a task is much more likely to have a successful outcome than if I was working on the task alone.
Groups of people—a team—collaborating together generate energy and creativity which are far beyond what I might do as an individual. Synergy describes the coming together of different entities who cooperate advantageously for a final outcome. In a nutshell it means that teamwork will produce an overall better result than if each person was working toward the same goal individually.
Teamwork takes time and energy. How might the leader measure the success of his or her teaming ventures? Here are three criteria.
Purpose: A necessity for team success
Whenever any group of people comes together as a team, my first question is, what is our purpose? People who study team dynamics often refer to the team purpose as the glue that holds the team together.
When a team flounders or loses steam, one of the first things I recommend is that it revisit its purpose statement. It may be that the purpose needs updating or that the members need a reminder about why they are spending time together as a team.
A thoughtful purpose statement which is understood and owned by all of the team members is the foundation on which good team outcomes are formed.
A purpose statement simply answers the question, why do we exist? A great exercise for a new team is to suggest potential answers to this question. Fill up an entire whiteboard or wall with diverse and creative responses. Then, as a group, refine or narrow the scope. What are the most important things that happen as a result of our being a team, spending time in meetings together?
Sometimes after the larger group of team members has brainstormed on the “Why do we exist?” question, a wordsmith team member can craft the final purpose statement on behalf of the team.
No team succeeds unless its purpose is clear and compelling.
Goals: How purpose is accomplished
Once a team has placed its fingerprints on its collective purpose statement, the fun begins. Goals are established.
There are multiple approaches to goal setting. One that is simple and straightforward involves framing the goal in terms of an acronym: SMART.
S = specific
M = measurable
A = achievable
R = relevant
T = timebound
A team has one purpose, but multiple goals. Each goal grows out of the purpose. If the team creatively thinks up a goal which has virtually nothing to do with the team purpose, then an alert team member is wise to ask the question, why are we planning to . . .?
I like the SMART approach because it compels the team to include a metric, or how we will measure whether we have performed the action. Saying “My goal is to be a good Christian team member” is a lovely thought. But there’s nothing to tell me how I’ll know I’ve been a good Christian team member.
In my book TeamsWork (New Hope Publishers, 2008) I cover the basics of team goal setting. There’s a logical and predictable process to planning for team success. In the chapter on goals, I highlight two warnings about goal setting:
1. The worst goals are those which are never set.
2. Having too many goals is the same as having no goals.
It’s unlikely that a team without goals will accomplish very much.
Team Failure: A Time to Learn
I have many fond recollections of teams on which I have served or led which accomplished their purpose. We celebrated the hard work we accomplished collaboratively.
I have led teams—or served on teams—which fell short of their potential. Even these experiences have value for the astute team leader. In cases in which I have been the leader of a team that failed to accomplish what we set out to do, I often do a postmortem on the experience.
How could we have done our team work differently that would have resulted in a different outcome?
What did we learn through this experience?
There is not as much to celebrate when the team falls short of its purpose. But identifying the potholes we discovered and behaviors which didn’t work are valuable too.