Organizations both large and small have assets of varying value. Whether it’s intellectual property, exclusive sales territories, large customer contracts, proprietary locations, access to financing instruments or any other asset, by definition there’s an inherent value.
However, the asset that supersedes them all is your people.
That’s because every other asset your organization or company possesses has to be managed and utilized by individuals. The wrong people can squander all of those resources. The right people can amplify those assets and use them to convert the organizational vision and strategy into a reality.
Leadership and strategy are all necessary, but they’re not enough without the right team of people. The fact is that superior strategy will never overcome poor execution but superior execution can succeed despite poor strategy. That is only possible by having the right people doing the right jobs at the right time.
People matter. Teams matter. As such, it’s worth considering five attributes of a high-functioning team.
Trust lies at the heart of a functioning, cohesive team. In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni observes that “Without trust — teamwork is all but impossible. The most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first.”
Not only is that vulnerability critical from leaders, there has to be a climate on the team itself that allows the members to feel vulnerable with each other. That will sensitize those individuals to the needs of others and spur them to have each other’s back.
It takes time. There’s no shortcut to trust.
2. Intentional communication
Members of effective teams need to be able to state their opinions clearly, listen actively and provide helpful suggestions to others.
An analogy I frequently use to demonstrate the importance of intentional communication is comparing an organization with a car. Consider the revenue, grants, cash inflows or interest income an organization generates as comparable to the gasoline that moves the vehicle forward. Conversely, intentional communication is comparable to the motor oil that keeps the engine lubricated and functioning. Without that oil the engine will lock up and not run, no matter how much gas is poured into the tank.
The same holds true for the functioning of an organization or team absent intentional communication.
3. Shared purpose and performance
A team’s immediate goals must correlate with its overall purpose. In his book Wisdom of Teams, Jon Katzenbach writes that if your short-term objectives don’t match the organization’s long-term picture, team members will be confused and discouraged.
Teams work best when management gives them a broadly defined job to do and lets them do that job their own way.
4. Ability to handle conflict
Every team faces conflict at some point. Whether it’s an NFL team bound for the Super Bowl or a husband and wife discussing curfews for their 16-year old daughter, conflict is an inescapable part of every team dynamic.
According to Lencioni, teams can engage in productive conflict resolution when they understand the only purpose of conflict is to produce the best possible solution in the shortest period of time.
That’s worth repeating. The purpose of conflict is to reach the best possible solution in the shortest period of time. It’s key that leaders demonstrate restraint when their people engage in conflict and allow resolution to occur naturally among the team, as messy as it can sometimes be.
A leader’s ability to personally model appropriate conflict-resolution behavior is essential.
5. Inspire each other
Lastly, on the best teams the members inspire each other. They raise the performance bar for the individual team members, for the group and for the broader organization.
Ancient history holds a useful illustration with the biblical story of David and Goliath. About 950 years before the birth of Christ, Saul was the king of Israel. At the time, Israel had been fighting on-and-off with a particular tribal group called the Philistines for years.
According to the story, David was a teenage boy during that period in history who tended his father’s sheep while David’s older brothers went to fight in Saul’s army against the Philistines. David’s dad subsequently had the youth take food to the brothers at the frontline.
The story goes that David arrived at the battlefield and heard the giant, Goliath, mouthing off against Israel and God, which provoked the youth to volunteer as Israel’s “champion” in a mano-a-mano, winner-take-all throw down. When David beat Goliath, he took the fallen giant’s sword and cut off his head, inspiring the rest of the army to chase the Philistines and secure an incredible victory for the nation of Israel that day.
The takeaway lesson for the story is that anybody in that army of Israel could have been a giant slayer, but only an interloping teenager took inspiring action. Who on your team can Inspire its members to become giant-slaying problem solvers? If you can’t think of anybody else, then perhaps it’s you.
If your team doesn’t have all these attributes in place right now, work with what you have. If it’s a new team and you don’t know where to begin, driving intentional communication is probably the easiest place to start. But the key is to start somewhere because your team depends on it.