Assembling a team of talented, knowledgeable, ambitious individuals is one thing. Creating a dynamic where they can work together to tackle the organization’s toughest challenges and fully commit to a common direction is another.
Leading teams is tough. Team members come from different disciplines in the company, each with their own priorities and perspectives. Personalities and work styles are different. Workloads vary, and so is the commitment to any single initiative at any given time. Competition for resources, influence, and attention can be an ongoing source of conflict.
Getting the team dynamic right is crucial to the business’s success. According to McKinsey, when a leadership team is effectively working together towards a shared vision, it has 1.9 times increased likelihood of delivering above median financial performance. But when a top team fails to function well, it can paralyze an entire company.
What it takes to build an effective team dynamic is an ongoing source of debate. But there are five factors that consistently top the list: trust, the ability to manage conflict, commitment, a focus on the collective result, and the willingness to hold each other accountable.
Leaders are often so fixated on managing results that they overlook the team dynamic and the role it plays in achieving the goals. In pursuit of performance, leaders may unconsciously behave in ways that disrupt the teamwork they seek to create.
Trust – the fuel that powers high performing teams
Trust lies at the heart of a functioning, cohesive team. There is no quality or characteristic more crucial to building a positive team dynamic. Leaders erode trust when they:
The ability to manage conflict
All great relationships require productive conflict to grow. But conflict is often considered taboo at work, where people may spend inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to avoid the kind of passionate debates that are essential to any great team. Productive conflict is necessary if people are going to openly express their views, tackle tough problems, and pursue the best possible solutions. Leaders stunt their team’s ability to grow when they:
To better understand what creates an optimal team dynamic, McKinsey asked 5000 executives to think about their “peak experience” as a team member and to write down the word or words that described that environment. The number one answer was a shared belief about what the company is striving toward and the role of the team in getting there. As obvious as that may be, leaders chip away at the alignment they seek when they:
Focus on the collective result
Managers are naturally preoccupied with the performance of their individual business divisions. Getting them focused on big-picture issues impacting the company and initiatives with a long-term focus can be challenging. Leaders encourage tunnel vision when they:
A willingness to hold each other accountable
High performing teams set high standards for themselves. They are willing to call their peers on performance or behaviors that hurt the team. This level of honesty can be tough for the best teams. Even team members who are particularly close to one another may hesitate to call one another out because they fear jeopardizing that relationship. Ironically, this only causes relationships to deteriorate and resentments to build. The willingness to hold one another accountable in a constructive way is key to developing cohesiveness and can help a team avoid far more costly and difficult situations later. Leaders undermine accountability when they:
Stay mindful of the team dynamic
Every team has a dynamic, and it is fluid. Nurturing a healthy, productive team dynamic is a continual process. People change, business conditions change and what’s needed from the team changes. If you don't consciously determine the dynamic you want, one will be created for you. While you never have total control, if you define the dynamic you want and consistently act in ways that support it, you’ll be much more likely to achieve the outcome you desire.