Ingredients for Successful Teamwork
by Steven M. Smith
I have had the good fortune to be a member of many successful teams during my career: But my career hasn’t been all bliss — I have also been a member of unsuccessful teams. In my experience, the recipe for the most successful and satisfying team experiences contained ingredients that were ignored by the unsuccessful teams. What ingredients fostered both teamwork and success?
- Listening to teammates personal desires
- Encouraging teammates to ask for help
- Processing the team experience
At the beginning of a project, explore the desires of the members by using the focus questions: "What would you like to have happen for you during this project? Why?" It’s a question designed to put the desires of team members on the table for consideration. For instance, a teammate may answer the focus question, "I would like to participate in the architecture work. I’m thinking about becoming an architect."
People who haven’t experienced explicitly sharing their personal desires with others may have difficulty answering the questions. They may not trust the process. You can’t force them to share their desires so don’t try to. But you can lead by example by putting your desires squarely on the table to show them it’s okay to share.
The obligation for a teammate is to listen to the desires of another teammate. The team isn’t obligated to satisfy a member’s desires. I am regularly amazed, though, by the power an individual gains by articulating what they desire. And how much more helpful I and other teammates can be in helping satisfy those desires when they are visible rather than invisible.
During the project, encourage your teammates to ask for help. Teammates learn it’s okay to ask for help by being asked for help, so ask them for help. For instance, when I had a family emergency, I asked a teammate to complete one of my tasks. I have found that the following words are particularly powerful, "I need your help" and "I need a favor".
If there is anything that is certain in a project, it’s that the members of a team will need help from time to time. Asking for help fosters a healthy interdependence between teammates. And make no mistake about it — the members of successful teams are interdependent. If they aren’t, it’s not much of a team.
At set intervals, process the team’s experience using a retrospective. I am astonished by how few teams actually process their experience. If all your team is concerned about is the product, you are abandoning one-half of your team’s potential value. Your team’s process is also a product.
If you constantly improve the process, its value to your company will continue to grow. After all, the process used on this project will be the default process for producing the next product. Nurture rather than neglect your process.
When the members of a team can ask for what they want, can ask for help, and can process their shared experience, the team’s recipe contains key ingredients for success.