• Neela Ahmed

Improving team effectiveness

Do you have ambitious goals for your team? Are you concerned that these goals may be a little too stretching or even out of reach? Will your individual development plans for team members be enough to bring the whole team up to where they need to be?

If you can relate to these inquiries, then Aristotle’s wisdom that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” may ring true for you. So what, besides working on each person’s growth individually, can be done to bring about a collective growth and performance uplift in your team?


The 'Offsite'

The go-to solution for enhancing team effectiveness is the classic ‘Offsite’ event. Typically no expense is spared on these events; a swanky location, an expensive external facilitator, travel and accommodation and so on. There are some obvious benefits, including refreshed motivation and direction for the team, but the effect tends to be short-lived. Teams who wait for their offsite meetings to do the necessary work of team growth, risk their long-term growth and potential.


The Water Cooler Fantasy

What about providing the proverbial water cooler (or team social) to encourage team members to spontaneously gather, deepening their bonds and sharing information? If only it were that easy! The idea that providing opportunities for people to merely gather together informally is the magic ingredient needed to produce team effectiveness is tempting, but simplistic.

So what does work?

What is the missing piece of the puzzle? According to the research, it turns out that those teams who schedule regular and deliberate reflective time consistently improve upon their team performance. Why is this so? Partly it is because teams are complex systems, they have different moving parts, team members all have different needs and aspirations. To coordinate and harness the best parts of a team, and to manage the other parts takes sustained effort! The growth observed in these team’s performance and effectiveness is brought about by their consistent, disciplined and focused team practices. When teams habitually get together to reflect on their previous actions, learn lessons and plan future actions based on their learning, their levels of team cohesion increase and they start to act in more synchronous ways. If they were dancers, their ‘dance’ would become better choreographed, if you like. This enhanced team cohesion in turn drives up team performance.


However there is a caveat to this; the team must really commit to openly addressing and learning from their recent mistakes and then apply that learning to improve their approach. It seems then that a particular type of team ‘debrief’ or ‘retrospective’, if done regularly, is something that could offer a powerful ‘secret sauce’ for teams.


‘Secret Sauce’ Recipe

  • Hold regular brief meetings centred solely on team development e.g. an hour a fortnight

  • Build a climate of high trust within which to conduct these meetings so that mistakes and failures can be discussed without fear of blame or silencing

  • Be patient; these meetings take time to get the hang of and become skilled at

  • Do not de-prioritise them when the pace, complexity or uncertainty facing the team increases - this is when they are most needed

Key learnings

In conclusion, developing a talented team is not particularly different to the honing and nurturing of a talented individual in that it takes time, attention and deliberate, focused effort. But because of the added complexity inherent within teams the potential for confusion and chaos is heightened, doubling down on a team’s growth efforts is therefore crucial to navigate these challenging forces. However when there is commitment to these practices and disciplines, what emerges are team members who contribute with their own unique talents, in concert with one another, where all are reaching in the same valued direction.

Resources Do Team and Individual Debriefs Enhance Performance? A Meta-Analysis - Scott I. Tannenbaum, Christopher P. Cerasoli, 2013.

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