How to Create a High Performance Team

Whether on a long-term team or one pulled together for a short-term project, almost everyone in today’s workplaces spends time working in a group. And most of us have a story about people in a team who hindered the work of the group. Here are just a few examples of characters you may have met on one or another of your teams:


·      The one who derails the group from its planned agenda into a focus on their less-urgent pet issue.

·      The person who continually interrupts and talks over everyone else.

·      Those who have key content knowledge but are so shy that they are unable to share what they know even when it could be most helpful.

·      Those who commit to completing a crucial task, then don’t do anything about that task - and don’t tell anyone until just before the task completion is due.

·      Team leaders who are poor at handling people with these problems.


In the face of these dysfunctional types, what can a leader or team member do?


And if you realize that you are one of these characters, how can you improve your ability to work well in groups?


Emotional Intelligence and Teams


Each of these are examples of people lacking in some aspect of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence matters greatly at work, especially in team settings. Many of the Twelve Emotional Intelligence Competencies I identified as vital for workplace effectiveness with my colleague, Richard Boyatzis of Case Western Reserve University, make people more high performing as team members. For example, people who are adept at the emotional self-awareness, emotional self-control, empathy, and conflict management competencies help a team work well together, whether they are team leaders or team members. One of the competencies, Teamwork, specifically addresses skillful team behavior.


Teamwork is the ability to work with others toward a group’s goal, participating actively, sharing responsibility and rewards, and contributing to the capability of the team. You empathize and create an atmosphere of respect, helpfulness, and cooperation. You can draw others into active commitment to the team's effort. Leaders skilled at teamwork build spirit, positive relationships, and a pride of identity on the team. Emotionally intelligent team leaders know when it’s time to focus the team’s attention, and when to relinquish control and listen. And it's not just teams. This competency holds the key to collaboration of any kind, personal or professional.


How Do You Function in Group Situations?


What does it take to improve your skill at the Teamwork Competency? First, you need a realistic sense of your behavior in group settings. In the new Teamwork Primer I wrote along with several colleagues and researchers, Richard Boyatzis describes research done at Case Western Reserve’s school of management with MBA grad students put into teams. The teams were videotaped as they worked toward an assigned goal.


At first the videos were coded by trained professionals to identify functional and dysfunctional team behavior. But the researchers quickly realized the best way to help the students understand their impacts on the team was to show them the videos. Sometimes cringing when they watched themselves in action, the students could quickly see when their behavior impacted the team for the worse. They recognized when they hogged the air time in group discussions, ignored the quiet members of the team, or were themselves quiet and unassertive. The videos showed that early in the students’ time in the MBA program, they approached team situations as a setting in which to compete with other students, assuming that competing for air time was the best approach. Later in the program, the students understood the value of working together more cooperatively.


If you can’t get that kind of direct “watch yourself on video” feedback, or even if you can, ask others you trust for their impressions of how you act in group settings. Ask them what you do that helps the team move forward toward its goals, and which of your behaviors are not helpful for the group. That kind of feedback is invaluable.


Build Your Teamwork Skills


After you have a sense of where you need to improve your teamwork skills, take time to try out different behavior. If you’re someone who normally takes up a lot of the group’s airtime, try a “Stop, Look, Listen” experiment. In a team meeting, intentionally step back from your typically active role. Notice who speaks and who doesn’t speak. Pay attention to the direction of the conversation. Consider whether it would help for someone to reflect on where the discussion is going and how that does or doesn’t relate to the goal of the meeting. What do you notice in your observations of the group? Talk with a trusted colleague about what you saw and how you might change your own behavior or try to influence the behavior of others. Effective teams depend on skillful participation from everyone, not just the person who happens to be the team leader.

(This blog was originally published on LinkedIn. It has been re-posted here with prior permission from Daniel Goleman.)

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Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman is the Co-Director of Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations....

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