Form Small High Performing Teams
A small, empowered, high-performing team is often able to deliver focused impact more quickly than larger teams or organizations made up of multiple teams. One of the primary reasons large teams or organizations don’t move quickly is the amount of formal coordination required before decisions can be made and actions taken. In a small team, members often work nearby and conduct regular brief check-ins to ensure each member is aware of the others’ efforts and challenges. This compact design enables the team to accomplish its purpose quickly and efficiently.
As illustrated below, the number of communication lines between individuals multiplies when the team gets bigger, making it increasingly difficult to coordinate activities and sustain a high tempo. To facilitate control, large teams are broken into multiple smaller teams, and required coordination between them further increases. Over time, a greater proportion of the team’s resources are diverted to meetings, reports, emails, and other administrative activities to maintain alignment and coordination between the components. Thus, keep the team small to move fast.
Each of the lines in the diagram below represents a relationship between two nodes in a network – for each new node added, there is a factorial increase in the number of relationships that must be maintained to coordinate information throughout the network.
Assembling a team of high-performers fosters an environment where each member builds on the passion, strengths, and expertise of other teammates. Small high-performance teams value a greater measure of diversity in the skills and experience of team members, and leverage that diversity to improve their analysis of alternatives, decision making, and execution, leading to improved outcomes. Having been successful in past positions, they know what it takes to create purpose, a sense of urgency, and priorities, and they can efficiently share their insights and skills with the other members of the team.
A common application of the Pareto Principle is managers will spend 80% of their time on 20% of their staff. An executive who can assemble a team of the ‘best and brightest’ employees can recover significant time and energy that can be re-invested in accomplishing the purpose of the team, rather than in dealing with performance and behavioral issues. Conversely, 20% of an organization’s employees generate 80% of the value creation, so assembling and empowering a team from those 20% fuels the acceleration of innovative solutions.
Michael Henman of Venture Team Building cites Five Habits of High Performing Teams:
- Set and review goals regularly When reviewing goals, here are some questions to reflect on: What factors contributed to attaining your goals? What big obstacles or impediments do you or your team members face in achieving your team goals? How can team members better support each other? Think of goal-setting as steering a ship: set a direction, and as the weather and wind changes, be prepared to make adjustments to your route so that you reach your destination safely (and in good time!) If you don’t set or review goals, your team is akin to a ship cruising to nowhere.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate! The best teams are the ones that communicate often, clearly and constructively. A high frequency of communication ensures that each member is aware of new developments and changes, as well as the progress of the project. It is not enough just to check in at the start and completion of a project — in a high-performing team, there is a constant flow of information and discussion that connects everyone to the project.
- Have a problem-solving mindset A key quality of a high-performing team is their ability to overcome obstacles. In a workplace, nothing is ever smooth-sailing. Problems come in many forms; it could be a delay from a supplier, technical breakdowns or an idea that didn’t translate in the real world. Regardless of the nature of a problem, a team with a problem-solving mindset is one that is best equipped to deal with obstacles. A team with a problem-solving mindset does not allow obstacles to set them back permanently — instead, they focus on solutions, improvements and coming up with new ways to attack the problem.
- Share resources and information As the saying goes, there’s no “I” in “team.” The best work is not achieved in isolation. In today’s corporate world, collaboration and synergy are crucial to optimize your team’s performance. You can utilize your regular team meetings as a forum to keep everyone updated on new developments, information or changes that will affect the team’s output. Encourage each person in the team to share their progress as well as any challenges they are facing — and also give room for others to offer help, resources or expertise to resolve those issues.
- Develop trust So one important way to develop trust between teammates is to develop a genuine relationship with each person that goes beyond just workplace matters. Find opportunities to connect with each other as individuals and not just as colleagues. Scheduling short icebreakers before every meeting is a simple method of getting to know your team. Through these games, you can discover commonalities such as hobbies, travel experiences or similar family backgrounds. Such information can provide a starting point for further conversation and connection. Building strong habits in a team takes time and requires concerted effort on a daily basis. So even after your team has gone through some team building activities to bring out these qualities, it’s important to reinforce them in the workplace. Little things such as putting up team goals up on a wall to remind everyone of what they’re working towards, or organizing regular after-work get-togethers to bond with your colleagues can go a long way towards building these five habits for strong teamwork.
Google studied 180 of their teams to find the Five Key Traits to a Successful Google Team. Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions. Five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google are:
- Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
- Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
- Structure and clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
- Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
- Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
Actions You Can Take
- Limit the number of core team members. Connect with outside experts as needed, but keep the core team small for day-to-day operations.
- Remove some lower performing members, divide the team into sub-teams with focused responsibilities, or create a new small team.
- Work with leadership and resource managers to prioritize quality over quantity of personnel.
- Recruit high performers who embrace the values outlined above. Leverage special hiring authorities for unique highly qualified experts.
- Focus energy on fostering the team’s culture, trust, and communication.
- Collaboratively identify the team’s priority outcomes, everyone’s role, and shared responsibilities in achieving the outcomes.
- Once the team is established, remember the adage, “Take care of the team, and the team will take care of the work.” For the leader, this means setting the tone for the culture (especially trust and psychological safety). See Accelerate Culture for additional information.