The dust has now settled on Euro 2020. The winning team has shown that although they do not have the likes of Ronaldo or Pogba in their ranks, they still managed to win based on great teamwork, which resulted in a very high-performance team that managed to achieve something that many thought would be impossible.
The value of a high-performing team has long been recognised. Building a team remains as tough as ever. However, research shows that there is a 1.9 times increased likelihood of having above average financial performance when the top business leadership team is working together towards a common vision. Furthermore, with the advent of the pandemic, as digital technology reshapes the notion of the workplace and how work gets done, teamwork and the leadership needed to have high performing teams, has become increasingly demanding as more work is conducted remotely, traditional company boundaries become more porous and partnerships more necessary.
So below are some ideas around what is needed to develop a group of people into a high performing team.
Team composition is the starting point. The team needs to be kept small—but not too small—and it’s important that the structure of the organisation doesn’t dictate the team’s membership. A small top team—fewer than six, say—is likely to result in poorer decisions because of a lack of diversity, and slower decision making because of a lack of bandwidth. A small team also hampers succession planning, as there are fewer people to choose from and arguably more internal competition. On the other hand, research also suggests that the team’s effectiveness starts to diminish if there are more than ten people on it. Sub-teams start to form, encouraging divisive behaviour. Beyond team size, one should consider what complementary skills and attitudes each team member brings to the table. Do they recognise the improvement opportunities? Do they feel accountable for the entire company’s success, not just their own business area? Do they have the energy to persevere if the going gets tough? When team leaders ask these questions, they often realise how they’ve allowed themselves to be held hostage by individual stars who aren’t team players, how they’ve become overly inclusive to avoid conflict, or how they’ve been saddled with team members who once were good enough but now don’t make the grade.
It’s one thing to get the right team composition, however only when people start working together does the character of the team itself begin to be revealed, shaped by team dynamics that enable it to achieve either great things or, more commonly, mediocrity. So what is it that makes the difference between a team of all stars and an all-star team? Various research results indicate that team members feel they perform at their best within a team and achieve results that are remarkably consistent based on great teamwork, when:
- There is alignment on direction, where there is a shared belief about what the company is striving toward and the role of the team in getting there.
- There is high-quality interaction, characterised by trust, open communication and a willingness to embrace conflict.
- There is is a strong sense of renewal, meaning an environment in which team members are energised because they feel they can take risks, innovate, learn from outside ideas and achieve something that matters—often against the odds.
So the obvious question is: how can one re-create these same conditions in every team? The starting point is to gauge where the team stands on these three dimensions, typically through a combination of surveys and interviews with the team, those who report to it and other relevant stakeholders. Such objectivity is critical because team members often fail to recognise the role they themselves might be playing in a dysfunctional team. Many teams benefit from having an impartial observer in their initial sessions to help identify and improve team dynamics. An observer can, for example, point out when discussion in the working session strays into low-value territory.
Hard as one might try at the outset to compose the best team with the right mix of skills and attitudes and creating an environment in which the team can excel will likely mean changes in composition as the dynamics of the team develop. Team leaders may find that some of those they felt were sure bets at the beginning are those who have to go. Other less certain candidates might blossom during the journey.
There is no avoiding the time and energy required to build a high-performing team. Yet research suggests that people are five times more productive when working in a high-performing team than they are in an average team. Hence, the business case for building a dream team is strong and the techniques for building one are proven. That’s why Italy’s national team went home with the cup.