February 13, 2015

Build a (more) effective team

For today’s knowledge workers, there’s likely no way to escape working on a team. More and more, companies are organizing people by key projects and priorities to leverage their collective talent and move faster. And, when a team works well together, the results look like magic.

In fact, researchers in Australia have even proven the effectiveness of teams over individuals mathematically. They found that a person working alone has a 59% chance of successfully completing a series of critical tasks. However, the likelihood of success jumps to 99.9% based on a team of three subject matter experts working together—with one person completing tasks and the other two supporting the work along the way.

Build a more effective team for more success

So why isn’t every team a “dream team?”

In practice, the shift to multi-functional, multi-level, multi-timezone teams often feels like the opposite of speed and magic. We spend more time in meetings and sorting through emails—and find very little time during usual “work hours” to advance our part of the work. The project may be making good progress, but on some teams, it certainly feels slower.

Then there’s the dynamic of trying to mash together a group of individuals—with different ideas, different experiences and different personalities. It’s not easy. According to one survey by Salesforce, 96% of executives cite a lack of collaboration or ineffective communications for workplace failures. This would suggest that while we’re organizing into teams, we’re actually collaborating and communicating less! Something’s wrong with that picture.

At Convo, we believe teams are the way to go. But, we also believe there’s a better way to work as a team. We created Convo to make people happier at work—because the work moves faster, communication is easier, and everyone can get more done during the day. This means we can actually have time to recharge when we’re away from work. We want people to get the benefits of working on a team—expertise, differing viewpoints, broader access to solutions, camaraderie—without the all of the headaches.

Survey about teamwork.

It starts with people, structure, and respect

There is mounting research that asserts autonomous teams are able to deliver better outcomes than traditional hierarchical structures. The obvious advantage of a fully autonomous team is focus. A small team of ninja-like experts can devote themselves to developing a new solution for a complex issue.

However, these types of teams can be difficult to pull off in larger organizations. While they can produce amazing solutions with just a few people, they require strong leadership to make sure the project’s needs are balanced against the company’s broad goals.

There are three areas cited most often as characteristics of effective autonomous teams: having the right people, having a clear operating mandate, and fostering a culture of mutual respect.

  1. Have the right people
    There’s no way around this one. If you place a team of elite tennis pros on a basketball court, they’re not going to beat the Dallas Mavericks. Teams need experts for the problem they’ve been tasked to solve, people with the right connections outside of the company to provide new thinking, and a healthy mix of work styles to do both broad and deep thinking about specific aspects of the project. Further, everyone on the team needs to be clear about who is, and is not, on the team. In the book, Senior Leadership Teams, researchers  collected and analyzed data on more than 120 top teams around the world. They found that almost every senior team thought it had set unambiguous boundaries. Yet, when team members were asked to describe their team, fewer than 10% agreed about who was on it!

  1. Be clear about structure
    Effective teams start with a clear purpose—with objectives that were discussed freely until all members could commit to them and see them as meaningful. Next, the team must work together to set clear guidelines about how it will operate—the approach, processes, rules, etc. that everyone agrees to.

  1. Foster a culture of respect
    Collaboration, and new thinking, is harder to achieve in environments where blame, unproductive criticism, and a lack of respect rule. One study by Stanford offered this checklist of characteristics to measure how open and trusting a team is:
    • The atmosphere tends to be informal, comfortable, relaxed.
    • There is a lot of discussion in which virtually everyone participates, but it remains pertinent to the purpose of the group.
    • People are free in expressing their feelings as well as their ideas.
    • There is disagreement and this is viewed as good.
    • Most decisions are made at a point where there is general agreement.
    • Each individual carries his or her own weight.
    • Criticism is frequent, frank and relatively comfortable.
    • The leadership of the group shifts from time to time.

The real magic is making it easier to collaborate

A team that clearly knows who’s on it and why, what they agree to accomplish together, and that respects the opinions and feelings of each member is an amazing start. But the team’s output can be helped or hindered based on the tools they use to work together.

In the 2014 annual survey by Ken Blanchard Companies, 66% of respondents cited ineffective communication as the number one barrier to team success, adding that without effective communication, conflicts went unresolved and information about team accomplishments didn’t filter out to the organization.

This is one of the main tenets behind Convo. We know that the right technology can eliminate those barriers. For example, the quality of a team’s output is highly dependent on the timeliness of feedback they receive—from an executive sponsor, other team members, outside sources and customers. Having a shared platform like Convo allows everyone, both on the team and outside of the team, to see thinking in progress, react immediately, and keep the work moving ahead.

At Convo, all of our work is posted, shared and archived on the Convo platform. We organize our work by project, and for each project, we start a new conversation thread and upload relevant documents, articles, images, test screens, etc. We also create Groups for each project so the entire team can see information as it’s developed in real-time, and we @mention subject matter experts to participate at crucial points in the discussion.

Convo also saves all of our comments, annotations, and chat conversations, so anyone on the team can refer to them later. We find this has a tremendous impact on our communications. Decisions are recorded and threads are continually updated. Best of all, everyone on the team can access the same information at the same time from either a desktop or mobile device. This frees us up from endless meetings and email chains, and gives members of the team more uninterrupted time to think and add relevant content (or comment on work in progress).

It’s changed the way we work—making it easy for each member of the team to contribute, and speeding up the team’s work overall. If you’d like to unleash your team’s ability to collaborate, visit us at Convo.

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