While it can seem so obvious that it sounds like a platitude, we all rely on others to accomplish major endeavors, whether it’s parenting, performing, or publishing. And while it is true that some of our work requires solitude, focus, and our own individual capabilities, we’ve learned that much of the world is over-rotated to burden the individual with Herculean efforts, rather than understand how a team of people can work toward an outcome.
Our culture tends to value the one Hero or Heroine. And while there are always opportunities to give kudos to a team, it’s hard to make the idea of “the team” the thing that’s front and center, as if pointing out the people behind The Hero diminishes the importance of the accomplishment.
In reality, though, it’s rarely one person who is able to achieve something all on his or her own. Or if he or she does, it’s at great expense, and it takes a long time, with many personal sacrifices. Teamwork is the way things actually happen. Most Radical Outcomes are the mark of a group putting their personal goals aside and working to achieve something great.
Most people want the opportunity to work together as a team. Unfortunately, though, barriers have been created that negatively impact team building. These barriers are based on the way our businesses used to work. Old ways of working were great at automating repeatable processes. But today if people spend too much time working in isolation, they start to make assumptions that can be myopic and negative: “I’ll never get funded for that” or “We don’t do things like that here.” On the other hand, when teams address these assumptions as a group, they can work towards shared solutions and goals. They can break the barriers that have grown inside an organization that block successful outcomes.
Building an Ensemble, Not Just a Team
As its description suggests, there’s something about extraordinary teams that helps them perform at a high level. It’s as if they aren’t just a team—they’re an ensemble. We use this term because it makes us think of improvisation, jazz, and other creative arts that happen in the moment, or on the fly. And in organizations today, the pace of change has become so rapid that teams have to have a mindset that is similar to the jazz ensemble. Unless a group of people is able to find a cohesive way of driving progress together, it becomes almost impossible to achieve a Radical Outcome.
Ensembles Need Role Clarity
Imagine a baseball team with three pitchers on the field. Or a jazz ensemble with four drummers and one sax player. Those configurations don’t help to spread out the work that needs to be done. It’s the same in an organization. Teams need clarity about who does what and how the various roles fit together. What does the project manager do? Who makes decisions on designs?
Who creates the content? How do they work together?
Not only do people need to know what’s expected of them, but they also must be able to shift in and out of different roles on occasion to meet the outcome. In a dynamic environment, people may have to cover for one another. Just as the shortstop might need to tag second base, or the piano player needs to take over the rhythm while the drummer picks up the stick he dropped, sometimes ensemble members will play another role.
To have the flexibility needed to accommodate the unpredictable, we advocate having a structure in place that clearly delineates and identifies different types of roles. This is important, because when you want to step out of that role, you can declare it: “I realize I am the project manager on this work, but I have a thought about the design of that graphic, do you want me to give that feedback?”
Developing an Interpersonal Code of Conduct
Role clarity is just one part of building a team. Another key is developing an interpersonal code of conduct that clarifies how people will work together. How will they act? How will they NOT act? Establishing a specific interpersonal code of conduct is critical and requires specificity, or people simply won’t understand what it means.
Here are several other keys to building super effective teams.
Ability to say “I don’t know”
It’s important to create an atmosphere in which people can say “I don’t know.” Not having all of the answers, and articulating it, makes team members powerful in their ability to collaborate and brainstorm together to achieve an outcome. When someone says, “I don’t know the answer to this, here are some of my thoughts,” it allows others to chime in, and the team usually comes up with something that no one may have thought about before.
Being authentic means recognizing that everyone on the team has strengths and weaknesses. When people feel comfortable acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses, it frees them to work together more effectively: no one needs to pretend to be good at something. When all team members understand this, they tend to help each other out, as well as ask for help when they need it.
Being transparent can lighten the complexities of juggling work and life. The reality is, people work, and people also have a life outside of work. This is not “work-life balance” as much as it is “work-life integration,” in which some of the things that have to happen in one’s life are communicated up front so that others can cover and accommodate. For example, someone on the team might need to take a family member to an appointment. When the team is aware of this, they can work around it instead of that person carrying the burden of working during that time slot. When managers know what is going on, it’s not to judge or tell someone they can’t do something. It’s to be able to plan coverage or set expectations on timing for a client. This is much easier to do up front than right before a deadline or after a missed goal.
Asking for help
A rule of thumb to consider: don’t spend more than 15-30 minutes thinking about something before reaching out to a teammate and saying “I am stuck; will you talk this through with me?” Amazingly, that one small activity usually results in the person figuring out the path forward in far less time than if they had tried to figure it out on their own.
In our culture’s tendency to celebrate the singular hero, we are taught that proof of intelligence or capability rests in one’s ability to do something or figure something out alone. At Oxygen, we don’t believe that is true, at all. We believe that the combined wisdom of a team is WAY more powerful than that of one individual. Embracing that belief allows people to ask for help, make shifts, and advance to the outcome much more rapidly than when people choose to go it alone. In other words, building a highly effective team is the ultimate secret to creating radical outcomes.