Organizations often assume that a smart, driven, cross-functional group of leaders will naturally come together and form an effective team – but it doesn’t usually happen that way.

More often, teams struggle with inadequate trust, weak conflict management, ineffective communication, and lack of clear roles and accountability. One or more of these challenges can handicap a team from being optimally effective.

Why is teaming so hard?

Often teams wonder why they aren’t being effective. Members of the team may think, “we are all smart and committed people… why isn’t this working?” There are two reasons.

First, leadership teams are made up of a group of domain experts. Their expertise is why they were hired. It’s a big part of their identity and it defines the value they believe they bring to an organization. Effective teaming is challenging for experts because leadership and collaboration are very different skills, and require very different roles, from simply applying technical expertise.

Second, team members come with their own styles, preferences, skill sets, and ways of approaching problems. This diversity helps teams to accomplish more and do so creatively – but it also makes it hard for them to “synch” together. Team effectiveness requires that team members value, adapt to, and leverage diversity in order to create synergy – where the sum is truly greater than the parts.

What do teams need to be effective?

For a team to be effective, team members need to be able to do the following well:

  • Understand their purpose

  • Have a clear understanding of roles and rules of engagement

  • Trust one another

  • Communicate productively

  • Embrace and manage conflict

  • Make good and timely decisions

One of the most common obstacles to team performance is lack of trust. What does this look like? In high-trust teams, positive intent is assumed, team members actively listen to each other, relationships are healthy, and diversity of opinions is valued. In lower-trust teams, negative intent is sometimes assumed, over-advocacy is the norm, some relationship breakdowns have occurred, and different perspectives often lead to unresolved conflict.

Trust comes from believing in the competence and character of another person. Competence and character together generate the behaviors that drive the perception of trustworthiness. The good news? The behaviors associated with trustworthiness can be learned – and these include listening, acknowledgment, acceptance, and inquiry.

How we work with teams

The teams we work with learn how to operate more effectively to achieve their most important shared outcomes. Our work doesn’t happen in a classroom or other controlled environment where all conditions are “perfect”. We work with teams in the trenches, as they wrestle with real-world challenges, by providing coaching, support, and guidance. Our work creates sustainable conditions by teaching just-in-time skills that will carry the team forward. We emphasize learning, exploration and practice – not lecturing on content. And most importantly, we emphasize sustainability by helping teams to develop the culture to make change stick.

We work with individual leaders, groups of leaders, and intact teams ranging from functional teams to executive leadership teams. Our engagements:

  • Deliver assessments to help teams get clear on their current state

  • Create clarity and focus on what’s most important to work on going forward

  • Surface obstacles to help teams see the issues they share

  • Cultivate an optimal learning environment so teams can discuss obstacles in an open and safe forum, identify and work through elephants in the room, and develop shared commitment and accountability.

If ineffective teaming is getting in the way of your most important outcomes, let’s talk!