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Successful Teams with Highly Talented Team Members


31Mar 2010

Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to work closely with business teams comprised of highly talented and successful professionals. Some of these high-powered teams work together well and achieve amazing results, while some of the teams are struggling a bit in working together effectively. And one of the teams had to reorganize because the team members couldn’t figure out how to work together.

I’ve made some observations as well as pulled some information from other sources, about what needs to happen for a team of All Stars to be successful as a team.

    Characteristics of Successful Individuals

First, let’s look at some of the characteristics of highly successful individuals. Successful people:

*Know how to accomplish tasks. They get things done. And typically, they have found ways of doing things that work for them. (With a team, they may have a hard time approaching a task differently from their personal strategy.)

*Are confident in their abilities. Since they have had success, they have developed confidence in their abilities and their approach. They believe their way works (and sometimes believe that their way will work for everyone.)

*Are proactive. They take initiative, develop action plans, and act on the plans made. (In a team context, they sometimes can act before coordinating with other team members.)

*Persevere. Persevering, stick-to-it-tiveness is generally a positive personality characteristic. (But perseverance can translate into stubbornness, if the individual is unwilling to accept and adapt to reality-based feedback — that this strategy just isn’t working in this context.)

*Have high energy. Most successful individuals have a lot of energy — mental, emotional and physical. They often run at a fast pace. (But in the context of working with others, they can have difficulty waiting, and sometimes can act before they should.

    Characteristics of Successful Teams with Highly Talented Individuals

Although working with a team of very talented, capable and successful professionals can be challenging, there are ways that these “All Star” teams can become incredibly impactful. There are many areas of life from which examples can be taken: music groups, sports teams, legal and political teams, strategic business partnerships. (And unfortunately, there are probably more examples of “Super Teams” that failed.) What seems to be necessary?

*Team members voluntarily submit to a selected leader. There has to be a clear, designated leader. And the team members must consistently follow their leadership, even when they disagree with the leader (and they will).

*Individuals hold back in fully using all of their talents and focus their efforts on what is needed for team success. In a team setting, individual stars don’t shine and do everything they do as individual stars. They have to pull back and figure out how to mesh with the other team members.

*Team members value and appreciate the role and contributions of other team members. Not only do team members constrain their performance, they also truly value the strengths of others and the strengths their teammates bring to the team effort. There is usually a genuine mutual respect among the teammates.

*The approach or strategies used by the team to reach success may be different than previous successful strategies used by the individual team members. Certain strategies work well for individual tasks, but frequently different approaches are needed for cooperative ventures. Deference to the team leader and accepting their approach for the team is critical in this area for the team to be successful.

*There is a disciplined, strategic approach to reach the team goal that the team members are willing to submit to. This may seem redundant, but the issue is that many times “All Star” teams are put together for a specific project or limited time. Otherwise, most successful professionals would not be willing to participate in a cooperative project  because it would interfere with their personal career and requires them to perform in ways they are not typically used to.

    Lessons from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

(by Patrick Lencioni).

Finally, let’s look at lessons shared by Patrick Lencioni in his best-selling book. These principals dovetail nicely with the observations described above.

Issues That Lead to Problems on a Team

*Absence of Trust (resulting from a lack of vulnerability among team members)

*Fear of Conflict (which can lead to artificial harmony). Team members need to be able to engage in passionate debate about ideas.

*Lack of Commitment (by keeping goals and plans ambiguous). Lack of true buy in by all team members leads to poor execution and implementation.

*Avoidance of Accountability (which keeps performance at low standards of acceptability). Team members must be willing to confront off-task or counterproductive actions and behaviors of other team members.

*Inattention to Results (stemming from a focus on individual needs such as status, ego and recognition). It is critical for team members to agree on the categories of results to be tracked to assess success for the team as a whole.

Five Aspects of Functional Teams

1. They trust one another. (The confidence that their team members intentions are good.)

2. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.

3. They commit to decisions and plans of actions.

4. They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.

5. They focus on the achievement of collective results.

So take a look at yourself and the teams on which you are functioning. See which of these issues are strengths and areas which need to be strengthened. It is pretty fun to be on a successful team, especially when the other team members are really talented!

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