Cultural Development of Teams

Collaboration Wins

High performing teams quite simply work together differently to the norm. In sport, cooperation is a prerequisite for competing at the highest levels. Yet this level of collaboration is rarely found in business. The members of most corporate teams are highly competitive, and while this allows for some excellent individual performances, they will usually be at the expense of others and it never produces optimal results. No matter how talented the individuals, if they do not work together they are unlikely to amount to much collectively. In the model below, which we are grateful to reproduce from the book Coaching for Performance by Sir John Whitmore, this internally competitive stage is called "Assertion".

Internally competitive stage | "Assertion"

Because genuine cooperation is very unusual in business, very few teams get above Assertion, which drains their energy and limits their success. In work, it seems very difficult for most people to appreciate and accept that if they put the team first they will all benefit in the long run. Perhaps this is partly because we were conditioned at school to believe that collaboration is bad - there it was called cheating! As a result, internal competition is most people's automatic behaviour, which shows up as people wanting to be seen to have the best ideas, produce the best results, be smarter than everyone else, etc. This always detracts focus from the efforts of the company to become stronger and therefore impacts performance in the marketplace.

It is vital to recognise, however, that unless teams are able to reach the cooperative stage, where creativity can be unleashed, much of their energy will be wasted internally. It is impossible to imagine a sports team doing well other than by this approach. In every high-performing sports team the members know exactly what their job is and they do it, even if it is not the most glamorous or highest profile role. Great individual performances mean little if the team does not win and may even be considered to be negative. Everyone needs to be aligned behind the success of the team.

A Different Way of Thinking

If teams are to develop beyond the competitive level, and move onto the cooperative plane, it is essential that their members begin to view their environment differently. Once here members will be highly supportive of each other and will truly welcome each other's successes. There will be a high level of enthusiasm, commitment, and motivation towards external goals, and because of the supportive and trusting nature of the environment, people are free to be at their most creative. At the same time, to avoid becoming overly comfortable, dynamic tension will be retained by allowing for dissent.

High-quality leadership and well-developed group emotional intelligence are required to allow confrontation to occur while ensuring the ongoing harmony of the team. The development of a coaching approach, using questions in a non-judgmental style, is highly effective for this kind of interaction. The team will then be able to unlock the power of collective decision-making.

There is much more information on this subject in Michael Nicholas' book, Being The Effective Leader.

Making it Happen

Listed below are some specific drivers of team effectiveness that usually provide valuable discussion:

  • The differences in the psychological character types of members of the team and how this will drive different behaviours
  • Tolerance of differences and the value of diversity
  • The way that conflicts are addressed and dealt with
  • Team climate, i.e. the effect of the moods and attitudes of team members
  • Individual self-leadership and the impact on others of weaknesses in this area
  • How the relationships between team members may be managed more effectively
  • Openness of communication and ability of the members of the team to be authentic
  • The importance of feedback
  • Shifting from a competitive to a creative mindset.

The goal is to reach a level of cooperation and collaboration that avoids the wasted energy of internal competition, and instead creates synergy among the members of the team. This must be led from the top; reward structures must be aligned with the new behaviours that are sought, and a climate must be fostered that simulates creativity, is tolerant of mistakes, and in which everyone feels that they are valued. The overall effectiveness of the team will be limited to the degree that any of these elements is not achieved.