Do you or have you ever had the opportunity to work on a strong team at any point in your professional career? A team where everyone has a collective sense of being part of something bigger than themselves? Everyone had a role on the team that wasn’t defined by a Human Resources job description, but rather, a combination of skill set strengths and work task preferences aligned ultimately with what needed to get accomplished? A team where, as work came in, everyone volunteered to own tasks and everyone else lined up to provide support and assistance? A team where everyone knew the strengths and weaknesses of each team member plus everyone could count on each other to get the job done? If you have, your mind is probably getting flooded with random memories of events and situations of that team environment. Do affirmative answers to these questions actually define what a strong team means to you?
Strong Team = A team where everyone has a collective sense of being part of something bigger than themselves?
According to research by Amy Wrzesniewski, as reported in 12: The Elements of Great Managing (Wagner and Harter, Gallup Press, 2006), people want to work for an organization with a higher purpose or a mission that means something to them. I believe the same holds true for a team within an organization. If a team has each team member working on separate tasks that don’t come back to a common thematic service offering, it is difficult for each team member to get a sense they work for a team with a higher purpose. Without an opportunity to share related successes and failures and generally kvetch or vent about stressful situations that each team member can identify with, the people on the team won’t have a strong sense of team. If common exchanges like below aren’t occurring, there doesn’t exist that sense everyone is working for a higher purpose:
Bob: “Hey, working with Larry in Accounting is really a challenge.”
Sally: “Yah, I know. I dread getting requests from him.”
Bob: “What is his deal anyway?”
Sue: “You guys talking about Larry in Account?”
Bob and Sally: “Yes”
Sue: “Oh, he is easy to work with.”
Bob: “How so?”
Sue: “He just gets very nervous when his PC doesn’t work exactly the same each time. If you move his icons around or patches or updates cause his PC to work just slightly differently, look out, he is going to freak. Just let him know nothing is going to change and fix whatever he needs and you will be fine.”
Bob: “Great, I’ll give that a try!”
Strong Team = Everyone had a role on the team that wasn’t defined by a Human Resources job description, but rather, a combination of skill set strengths, work task preferences aligned ultimately with what needs to get accomplished?
Bob might be interested in how the system works together as a whole, and thus engages on tasks that are architecture in nature or involve major system upgrades. Sally might be a bit intimidated or uncomfortable interacting directly with people outside the team but favors highly detailed technical tasks and thus gravitates towards tasks that fit this description. Joe might be losing his zeal for highly technical tasks and would rather interact with people to establish the more detailed requirements on what needs to be accomplished and thus provide specifications to Sally. Sue might be a bit junior and thus gravitates towards the more mundane, repetitive tasks that increases her confidence in her abilities but everyone else see as low challenge work. Yet, on the HR side, everyone is either a “Systems Engineer I” or “Systems Engineer II”.
Strong Team = A team where, as work came in, everyone volunteered to own tasks and everyone else lined up to provide support and assistance?
Building on that sense of everyone working for something bigger than themselves comes the way incoming work is divvied up amongst the team members. A sure sign of a weak team is when the team lead or manager has to monitor all in coming work requests, specifically assign out tasks with exhaustive granular detail and follow-up with status meetings and the always dreaded status reports. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the strong team were as work comes in, everyone assimilates the work without having to wait for their assignments. Instead of the manager or team leader acting as a task master, instead, they provide guidance as to how to handle competing priorities as well as context behind requests. This team dynamic involves each team member being aware of their implicit role within the team as well as the strengths, weaknesses and interests of all other team members rather than:
Systems Engineer II: “This work should be assigned to a ‘Systems Engineer I’ and I’ll go back to my desk and surf the web till something fitting my job description comes in.”
Junior resources know the typical IT technical hierarchy where “senior” resources became senior resources by having tenure defined by having rolled up sleeves and made things work to the state the system or service is in at present. Junior resources know they have to respect this effort and accept more junior tasks until one can grow into a senior resource. Senior resources know they were once junior at some point and thus are open to assisting fellow teammates. Junior resources know they need senior resource to help them get their work done; yet, they respect senior resources time and workload and thus only engage after trying all avenues on their own first. All these combine into a natural divvying up of in coming work requests favoring each person’s unique skill set and interest yet with everyone mindful all the work has to get done on schedule.
How do you know if you are on a strong team?
Simple … you can cite current and frequent examples from your day to day work that align with the elements above.
How does one go about creating a strong team?
Look for part 2 to share some thoughts on how to go about creating a strong team.
Some find having to go to work every day … day in and day out … to be a drag, but if you have ever worked on a strong team, you know that that drag isn’t so bad because you have peers around you with a sense of team work that has everyone pitching in to do quality work with a strong sense of pride.
Anyone have any other examples they can share that captures the elements of working on a strong team?