Given that high performing teams has been a top 10 business topic for over 40 years, perhaps it’s time to reconsider how to approach this from a different perspective. So what does it entail to move beyond the notion of a high performing team to build a team that can thrive?
Let’s look at three fundamental principles of thriving teams:
Performance AND Wellbeing
Thriving teams attend to both wellbeing and performance because they understand that sustainable high performance is built on a foundation of team wellbeing
. Consider the samurai who is able to operate at peak performance and yet experience a sense of calm and ease as they do so. What if teaming in your organisation (and we are not just referring to intact teams but agile and project teams too) became a source of energy and not distraction? This would require an emphasis on not just performance but how to sustain it. Our ability to succeed and achieve is fundamental to our sense of vitality yet if it is the only focus we can pay a very personal price.
So thriving teams know how to hold performance and wellbeing together – in order to perform we need to sustain our strength and in order to gain a sense of our strength we need to be assured that we are performing.
We are not talking about yoga classes and gym memberships for team members but rather the healthy dynamics and skills to resolve the divides that tend to grow across people and teams. We need to create a sense of “us” without a “them”!
There is a traditional notion that high performing teams demand a certain amount of trust that relies on some degree of creative conflict. But how can we ask people to risk being vulnerable if they do not first feel safe? Trust is not something that we can solve with a linear formula. It is complex and largely subconscious. If you are my new colleague and you somehow resemble my irate teacher from high school there is no trust equation or team building workshop that can override the involuntary reactive response that is triggered in me every time I see you. So how can we build environments where trust can grow in safe conditions? Teams that invest in learning and development often forge greater trust as they ride the inevitable wave of doubt and confusion together that true learning invokes
. Learning for the sake of the success of the team creates the safe container for vulnerability in the context that it serves a greater purpose.
If the leader of the team is on that same learning journey, demonstrating an openness to share what is easy and what is not, trust can be earned rather than demanded. This does not have to be formal learning either. The notion of a quality fail where mistakes are openly unpacked without any need to fear or retribution, particularly when leaders unpack their own mistakes first can liberate significant trust.
And now let’s remember that no team is an island. If we focus only on this team and their performance we risk becoming too inward-looking.
Thriving teams have healthy relationships both within and without. While team coaching can be a helpful intervention, unless it recognises and includes the vital connections surrounding it, it risks resulting in a team that feels strong together to the exclusion of those who matter most to their success. A systemic approach to team coaching ensures that teams gain strength by focussing not just inwardly but all around for clues to what could be missing in their own internal dialogue.
These three initial keys: wellbeing, learning and a broader, system-wide perspective are some of the fundamentals to building thriving teams.
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