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What has changed in today's business world is the perception of teams as more self-guided nucleuses. Communication and interaction is at the core of such a team based working culture.

We at EI4Q identify 3 main principles to help you to build a better team.

Building A Better Team.

3 Principles to Harness the Power of "Together".

Author: Matthias Maucher

Building a Better Team Requires People Centric Leadership.

A team is at the core of any organization. Each team is unique in its design and its composition. Yet, all teams have in common that people share information to produce a desired outcome. 

We at EI4Q were asked what the specific traits of highly interacting and performing teams are. 

To identify those traits, we analyze how the team members of a 5-person a cappella music group interact. Then, we transfer the results to a classic business situation. David is a manager taking on a new responsibility. He is facing a new team and increasing output goals. To help him perform, we identify three key principles which are relevant in building an efficient business team. What stands at the core of those principles is the quality of human interaction. In fact, that well rooted management knowledge is now statistically confirmed by Google's Aristotel research project: the better the team members interact and help each other, the better the performance in terms of innovation and exceeding set goals is. 

To create such a working environment, leadership requires more than focusing on output responsibilities. People-centric leaders fulfill multiple tasks. They consciously develop and demand an efficient behavior which includes information sharing, conflict management , creative problem solving, supporting each other and representing collective standpoints toward stakeholders outside the team. 

Indeed, leadership development itself is a contextual issue depending on the specific business traits, circumstances and leadership styles. Yet, focusing on team building, our experience is that building efficient teams can be approached with basic principles which are equally true for a variety of situations. 

The Case: Remembering Your First Perfectly Interacting Team

You might be familiar with self-guided teams, perfectly interacting and balancing conflicts in private situations, such as family members preparing dinner or friends organizing a barbecue together. 

We at EI4Q define efficient teams according to six categories: self-guidance, innovation, output quality, role modeling, personal development and conflict management. Our perfectly interacting team, the music group, receives high scores in each of these categories. 

The team's history is such that the musicians start at the age of sixteen and successfully perform and develop together for a period of more than seven years. Their very first performance is with two simple songs and without any technical support. Over the years, they arrange their own songs and they learn to employ modern music technology. Concerts are sold out within ten days of announced ticket sales. 

Principle 1: Visualizing the Goal 

The first principle is rooted in the power of shared goals. 

Asked what the main purpose of the music group is, the team agrees that it is to make music together. Yet, when we go more into detail and want to know what brought them together and what lies at the core of their interaction, they define making people happy and having fun together as their main common goal. 

The self-guided team's experience tells us: 

  • It is not evident that team members understand a communicated goal in the same way. 

  • To define a goal which each team member can share, it requires more than simply defining a specific output. It is about an activity that people can value. 

Translated into team building, people-centric leaders, such as Pep Guardiola, offer great examples for definition and focus on a vision for the teams' interaction. Apart from that, we suggest that David uses Michael D. Watkin's well-structured approach, which encompasses the following four questions: 

1) What do we want to achieve? One defines this by being clear about the mission, goals, and performance metrics. 

2) Why should each person agree to the mission and goals? Here, one can look at assessment of tasks, know-how and personalities, and combine it with individual incentives like development suggestions. 

3) How do we reach our goal? One defines a team strategy and implements a project plan including specific activities and milestones which are consistent with the business strategy. 

4) Who does what? One assures that each team member is aware of its activities and responsibilities necessary to reach the common goal. 

To ensure that every team member adapts its actions adequately, it is key to get consensus on those four basic questions. 

Principle 2: Implementing Transparent Rules 

The second principal is rooted in the understanding of informal rules and the implementation of formal rules. 

We are curious to understand why the roster of singers is so stable over the years. The team was open to several potential new group members within the timespan observed. Yet, none of them stays for more than two months. Asked why the new members leave the group after such a short time, we hear statements like: "The way new songs were chosen does not follow a clear style and is not transparent" ,"Key tasks and processes are already covered by the current team members, as such it is difficult to join as a new team member with an unique and accepted role" ,"A clear goal, concept and leader, like in a choir for instance, is missing". To sum it up: the self-guided team has developed strong internal rules of interaction including task sharing and decision making. As those rules are closely intertwined to the team members' personalities, they are not transparent to potential new group members. 

The self-guided team tells us: 

  • Informal rules strongly impact how teams interact and perform. It is crucial to be aware of those rules. 

  • Defining formal rules of interaction and identifying the most stable and performing team structures is not a one shot game, but requires a constant assessment of different settings and team constellations. 

If we apply these points to David's case and based on his assessment of people's interaction, know-how and performance, we recommend that he implements transparent rules of interaction and actively asks team members to adapt to those rules if necessary. Also, we would show him possibilities on how to guide people's interaction, while considering the following: 

  • A powerful tool to make an impact on people's interaction is the adaptation of the core team's composition and the implementation of sub teams. There are plenty of ways to structure work processes. Experimenting with different approaches and team constellations requires time but helps to identify the most natural and performing group structure. 

  • A team-driven environment does not require each team member to strongly interact at a high frequency. There are tasks and personalities which demand less interaction. Identifying them and defining clear links to the team's roles can positively impact the team's development. 

It is a classic leadership task to motivate team members in their business roles. If related rules are misunderstood, we recommend that David addresses that instantly or shortly thereafter in a 1:1 meeting with the team member. 

Principle 3: Fostering a Climate of Mutual Respect 

The third principle is rooted in the power of openness and valuing each team member. 

As mentioned above, the music group's analysis shows that the team has developed efficiently, but that its' self-guidance is based on intransparent rules of interaction. At the same time, our analysis reveals that the team members' personalities are highly heterogeneous. Therefore, our assumption is that conflict management is crucial to balance the individual characters' interests. 

To get more insight on that issue, we ask the team members what helps them to develop into a highly interacting and performing team. Interestingly enough, the first feedback turns out to be closely related to the above-mentioned goal. The team members name the success and the satisfaction received after a music performance as the main driver which holds them together. Asked how strongly they would define the link between each other, they unanimously define their relationship to be the strongest of all, besides family. We follow that path of discussion further, being curious to understand how this impacts decisions related to the creation of a new concert concept, including song arrangements, story-line, lighting, sound design and marketing. It turns out that the team's decision process is similar to the one which can be observed by bees and is also visible when watching politicians in a debate. To assess the best way forward, team members assess the quality of each individuals' suggestion, identify the most crucial factors and develop the final outcome through a constant interaction which is focused on reaching consensus. This process of creative interaction continues until each team member agrees. Although occasional disagreements occur, the conflicting points of view are discussed openly. Asked how the conflicts impact the group's performance, they reflect that although conflicts might approach a personal level, the conflicting partners should always respect each other. In addition, the non-conflicting parties should and do build a stable platform of consensus which allows the conflicting partners to return to the group discussion and adding productive input. 

The analysis around the self-guided team confirms: 

  • Highly-interacting teams are well aware of conflicts, but the conflicts are solved quickly. Non-conflicting team partners remain neutral, focusing on productivity and maintaining an element of fun. 

  • The stability and focus of the non-conflicting parties is a crucial link which balances the conflicting parties and prevents other team members from entering the conflict. 

Translated into building a better team, we help David to promote a culture of mutual respect, as it is a strong foundation and necessary prerequisite for both: performance and dealing with conflicting situations or time of heavy workload. In stress situations, a trustful team interaction helps to separate the conflict issue such that it does not impact the team's ability to interact. In addition, this way forward allows for the following: 

  • Openness and a culture of mutual respect allows team members to quickly resolve conflicts. In order to do so, it is crucial to communicate disconnects openly and at the time they occur. 

  • A trustful team culture supports David in assuring that the teams's goals and development remain consistent with the overall business strategy and culture, besides using tools such as goal setting discussions. 

Openness and mutual respect are very powerful tools and at the core of people's interaction. The power of those rules of interaction is best described by a context not directly related to team management, such as Facebooks's LIKE button. By using it, the LIKE confirmation creates a sense of mutual respect from interacting community members, even though the setting is highly abstract compared to real live team interaction. 

The Way Forward: From Principles to Plan and Execution 

The team building principles described above helps our manager David to transform his team. 

Besides the advice  given, we at EI4Q recommend that he structures such a plan according to the research of Michael D. Watkins, a leading expert in accelerating transformations. It suggests focussing on four main team building steps: 

  1. Team Structure: balancing tasks, know-how and personalities

  2. Vision: defining and implementing a common goal

  3. Functionality: defining, living and implementing team rules

  4. Integration: assuring adherence to expectations and rules of interaction 

David is aware of how important a sound assessment of the team members is to build an efficient team, as well. To improve his systemic understanding of people's personalities, we suggest he solidifies his managerial competence with personal coaching.


References and recommended reading:

1) Michael D. Watkins: The First 90 Days.

2) J. Richard Hackman: Collaborative Intelligence.

3) Thomas D. Seeley: Honeybee Democracy.

To read more about self organized systems, see: Inventing A New Organizational Design (coming soon in April 2017). 


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