It’s an understatement to say the pandemic has challenged us. For many organizations, much of the attention has been focused on the top and bottom lines of businesses, and what is often overlooked has been the pandemic’s effect on the teams inside the organizations and their ability to function. Some teams have managed to excel during these times while others have fractured and are struggling to perform.
In order to understand why some teams have succeeded while others haven’t, it is important to understand what separates most teams: Some are teams, in name only, a few that are still functional, and the holy grail… the precious few that are high-performing: The Accountable Teams.
Let’s begin by looking at what is required for a group of people to actually function as a team:
- Clear and commonly accepted purpose
Everyone on the team must know exactly what the team is accountable for achieving.
Every functional team has a clear way of knowing whether they are on track for achieving their purpose.
- Competent people
I have yet to experience a functional team that tolerated incompetence. At the same time, you don’t need a bunch of superstars to have a highly functional team.
- Capable processes
There are clearly defined roles and responsibilities, clarity around what decisions can and cannot be made, good communication and problem-solving processes inside the team.
- Shared Fate
Shared fate is the experience of what happens to one, happens to all. This is what makes a group of people function as a team. Under pressure, a team without a meaningful shared fate will literally fracture. Teams that have a strong shared fate will pull closer and become stronger under adversity.
In order for a group of people to function as a team, you need all five of these things. The degree you are missing one or more of these will be the same degree you will watch those individuals struggle to function as a team. Of the five the most important, by far, is the existence of a real and meaningful shared fate.
To go from a functional team to an accountable team requires one more crucial component. Accountable teams deal with their real issues together. By real issue, I mean any issue that affects a teams’ ability to achieve its purpose. My experience is that most team members collude with each other to actually avoid talking about their real issues when the team is together. They talk about their real issues in the “meeting after the meeting” in smaller, “safer” sub-groups. Topics like performance, unequal investment in the team or behavior contrary to our agreed-upon standards are routinely avoided and therefore it is the leader who must address these issues. A team that repeatedly looks to the leader to deal with a team’s real issues will become weak, lazy and leader-dependent. In time the team will become a team in name only.
I have seen a strong correlation between teams that had a strong shared fate and were able to deal with their real issues together during the past nine months and those that have been highly successful. Teams who started 2020 without a real shared fate and were unable to deal with their real issues together have struggled mightily. Any team can function well together in low stress or low pressure environments but a shared fate is required for a team to function well in the face of adversity.
To build your very own accountable team, get in touch with Eric Coryell at firstname.lastname@example.org.