Most leaders and managers want to work with team players — and create effective teams — but have no clear idea of how to achieve that.
That’s from Patrick Lencioni, author of “The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues.”
Wharton School fellow Mario Moussa, who with Derek Newberry, a Wharton lecturer and senior consultant, wrote a paper titled “The 5 Biggest Teamwork Ills,” says similarly, “we all love teams, but the unfortunate truth is that most never live up to their potential. There is a process for getting the most out of groups, but it requires the hard work of continuous reflection and adjustment.”
Tips on how to best team up:
Cultivate humility. The ultimate foundation of being a team player is a person “being willing and able to put the group’s interests above their own,” Lencioni said.
Get smart. This trait has nothing to do with intelligence, “but is all about social awareness and interpersonal common sense,” Lencioni said. “It’s the ability to understand colleagues and work with them effectively.” Lencioni is also president of the Table Group, a consulting firm specializing in team development.
His pointers for increasing smarts:
- Work on becoming a better listener.
- Ask questions instead of making statements.
- Work on empathizing with others.
Stay hungry. Fan the flames of the desire to work hard, make a difference and get things done, Lencioni says.
To increase this kind of workplace appetite, “look for ways to contribute outside of your area of responsibility,” he said, “and find ways to identify with and become engaged in the mission of the team.”
Bring on team players. While it’s not a perfect science, Lencioni points out, “by interviewing thoroughly and checking references with an eye toward a candidate’s reputation and behavior, a manager can hire people with a high degree of confidence” that they will fit in.
He adds that all leaders can certainly do their best to hire people who are humble, hungry and smart.
Connect the dots. The irony, according to Moussa, is that if members don’t understand the “what’s in it for me” equation, “it can be hard for them to fully commit to working towards team goals.”
While an inspiring vision is essential and pays dividends, Moussa said, it’s when leaders overestimate the importance of one in setting team objectives that “they risk not paying enough attention to aligning personal priorities with those bigger goals.”
Aligning those drives performance, he adds.
Consistently re-evaluate. Too often companies and teams reserve formal reflection for annual retreats or quarterly reviews, Newberry said, “when in reality it needs to be taking place with much more frequency.”
His perspective: “Remember that check-ins need not always be huge affairs reserved for daylong retreats — they can be as simple as a weekly standup meeting.”
Streamline parameters. Humans are rule-making machines, Moussa says.
“Often the tendency in teams is to try to over-plan for every possible situation and create rules for all potential contingencies,” he said. “Not only is this time-consuming, but it is ineffective.”
What is effective, he offers, is to “focus on the few rules that are likely to have the biggest impact on your team’s culture and performance: information-sharing, decision-making and conflict resolution.”
Clarify roles. Many teams think that merely getting the right talent in play is all that it takes to be successful, Newberry said. Research has shown, however, that “you need clear structure and well-defined interdependent roles in order to best leverage the strengths of those on your team.”
Moussa and Newberry note the contrast between the disappointing performance of the 2004 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball “Dream Team” and that of the 2015 NBA champion Golden State Warriors, with its expert management of team roles.
“Well-structured teams generally outperform those with more raw talent — strength, skill or IQ,” Moussa said. “Take time to find the roles and structure that make sense for your team.”