How to WOW at teamwork
Working in a team can be enjoyable and rewarding - or the experience can feel like hell on earth. Why do some teams function well, and others implode? The difference is a shared understanding of the Ways of Working that enable people to do their best work.
Simply put a team is a group of people who are mutually dependent on one another to achieve a common goal. Working in teams can be fantastic – if team members work well together. However, if people are pulling in different directions, the experience can be awful. What is worse is that, without sufficient guidance, teams can focus on the wrong objectives or squander valuable resources. Eventually, badly structured and poorly managed organisations can be torn apart by avoidable infighting, and ultimately can fail to deliver. But it does not have to be this way.
High performing teams establish for themselves a definite WOW or Ways of Working. Teaming can mean different things to different people, so this is vital. Perhaps the best analogy is to consider the teams in which you are involved outside of your work. Most people will be familiar with a sporting team. For example, a football team has players, each of whom has a different role, with the common goal to win the game or play the game to their best possible ability. It is an assumption that the members of the team function well together and will demonstrate this by respecting and leveraging each other's strengths and skills.
Teamwork is, therefore, an essential component of successful team functioning. A lack of clarity can lead to poor collaboration and wasteful trade-offs, for example, on how to resolve conflict constructively, or how to prioritise opportunities. The most effective teams take time to create and share their WOW, and this helps set expectations, provides support, aids development as well as allow people to have quality conversations and be at their best in the workplace. So how do you go about this?
Here is a process that can help you and your team uncover the Ways of Working that will enable you to successfully work together, pursue opportunities and deal effectively with challenging situations and issues.
Step 1. Gain agreement from others to focus on developing your team WOW. Explain the purpose of the exercise is to develop a shared understanding of what sort of team you want to be and establish how you will work together to achieve this.
Step 2. Dedicate sufficient time and effort. You can do this exercise in several bite-sized chunks of dedicated time. I have worked with teams who concentrate on creating their WOW in one sitting, then hone and share the results by an agreed time frame. You can also set some prework so that each person comes prepared to discuss what they consider to be necessary. Doing so is a useful way of gaining engagement and can help make the most of the time the team spend together.
Step 3. Next focus the first part of the discussion on the following question (this may be via video call or in-person):
- What are the desired outcomes and enabling behaviours we need to display as a team to be successful?
Create two columns then list the result of the discussion - see example below:
|Desired Outcomes||Enabling Behaviour|
|e.g. We thoroughly listen to the views of others||e.g. We do not talk over each other|
Step 4. Now consider the following questions:
- What will start doing more to live our WOW?
- What will we stop doing to live our WOW?
- How will we hold ourselves accountable for living our WOW?
What else might you ask to explore the issues fully? Add these questions and consider the implications of each before capturing the result of the discussion.
Step 5. Review the results of the team discussion, then complete this sentence to create a working statement of intent:
- "When we live our WOW, we are the sort of team that …"
It is likely to take several attempts to hone your team's WOW and working statement of intent, so be patient and stick with it. This process can help you and your team to create a shared view of what sort of team you want to be. Then enable you to formulate standards which will allow practice living the agreed Ways of Working.
Finally, and arguably the essential point, is to agree on the practicalities integrating the preferred approach into the everyday team working experience. For example, at the start of a new project, the team members may review the WOW and agree on how it will apply. The vital spark that brings the Ways of Working document to life is to use it in real situations and to discuss and review the result openly - this is how good teams become great ones.