Teams are a puzzle to me.  Individuals with unequal talent, different experiences and education, and sharing only a commitment to a common goal come together in ways that pull them together or push them apart.  The elements that make them succeed or fail have certain characteristics that repeat over time; and even replicating those that are successful is no guarantee of success the second time around.

There are, however, certain characteristics and patterns that consistently lead to successful outcomes and results. 

Here are some of the pieces that I consider most important in designing team collaboration.

  1. The “Goldilocks” Effect.  Teams have a “just right” size.  In most cases, team dynamics have their greatest pull when the team includes five to nine members.  Outside that parameter, the dynamics get strange and teams either don’t come together or they fall apart.

  2. Competence.   The team must have a threshold level of ability to meet the challenges they were formed to face.  No matter how well intentioned, a team of incompetents is still incompetent and cannot be successful.

  3. Shared Mission.  Relationships are important to how the team functions, but the task is more important than the relationships.  Team members are not obligated to like each other; but they must have mutual respect, tolerance, and trust.

  4. A place to play.  The team members must have a form of shared space.  It could be a webinar; it could be a flipchart.  The playground is where they interact and exchange ideas.

  5. Ability to disagree.  Disagreement among team members is healthy.  It usually leads to an increased number of ideas and/or options for possible solutions.  In a classic example of “group think”, or the absence of disagreement, the Kennedy Administration launched the “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba in 1961.  It was a failure brought on in part by the total agreement of all the team members involved.

  6. Continuous Communication.  Effective teams communicate with each other early and often, but not constantly.  Great teams develop their own communications rhythm and pattern, usually one that maximizes both flexibility and spontaneity.

  7. Diversity.  Effective teams have a balance of unilateral decisions makers, inspirational visionaries, practical planners, and systems and process people.  They may or may not be a diverse group in terms of political correctness; but they will definitely be diverse in their psychological composition.

These characteristics rarely occur by accident.  So, as the leader of the group, it’s your responsibility to put all the right pieces into play.  If you do, you will probably witness an awesome display of power and human initiative.

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