Home Innovate I Spent a Year Studying Hundreds of Global Teams

I Spent a Year Studying Hundreds of Global Teams

The Best Ones Do These 8 Things. Great teams don't just happen; they're built, step-by-step. Here's how to work better, together.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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What makes a great team?

That's the question I and five fellow researchers have been trying to answer for the past year and a half. Tasked with analyzing hundreds of teams for an international organization, we interviewed dozens of team members across the globe, as we embarked on a quest to identify why some teams work so well together while others struggle.

What we discovered has much to do with building an emotionally intelligent culture, one where people feel safe to be themselves and to express their true thoughts and feelings. At the same time, team members must get to know one another, and build a high level of trust and interdependence.

I know what you're thinking. None of this is new--and you're right.

But this is where it gets interesting. 

The key to successful teamwork and collaboration is not so much recognizing where you need to go, but figuring out how to get there. In other words, what are the actions teammates need to take to build a balanced culture of psychological safety, trust, and high productivity?

Or, put more simply, what do you and your teammates need to increase your team's chances at success?

Below, you'll find eight key measures you can take that will increase your team's ability to work well together--along with specific actions you can take, starting today. (If you find value in this lesson, you might be interested in my free course, which teaches you how to build emotional intelligence in yourself and your team.)

They set standards for communication

I love this one, because it's so simple. Yet few teams actually do it.

Have you ever talked with your team (or family) about how long it should take to respond to a message? (Think email, text, or DM.) 

Is it an hour? A day? Longer?

What about evenings? Or weekends?

You might think everyone is on the same page, but experience shows that people have different ideas--especially if the team is new (but some long-term teams, too) or from different backgrounds and cultures.

Try this: Come together to create a set of communication ground rules. Then, set the example in following them.

They know one another's strengths

This one's important because the more you know your teammate, the better you can leverage their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses.

The problem is, often teammates don't know enough about each other to do this effectively. You can remedy that by, first, getting to know your teammates. And second, by focusing specifically on your teammates' strengths.

Try this: Schedule time this week to get to know a teammate a little better. Ask them what they're good at, what they like to do, and what they'd like to learn. (You'd be surprised how much this conversation will teach you about family members, too.)

They fill a role and work together

When you know what you're good at, and what your teammates are good at (and they know these things too), it's easier to establish roles and responsibilities, to work together, and to complement each other.

Think of a great sports team. Talent is important, but it's through filling roles and working together that you create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Try this: Talk with your teammates about your roles, and if you're happy with them. Try to align work and roles with what people enjoy doing the most, and what they're good at.

They're flexible and helpful

Established roles and responsibilities are good, but so is flexibility. Be ready to step in and help when a teammate is in need.

Remember, everyone has a bad day, week, or even month. If you're ready to help others, they'll be ready to help you.

Try this: Pay attention to when a teammate needs help. You can see this through what they say (or don't say), through their body language, or through their actual performance. 

Or, if you're the one who needs help, kindly ask for it. Then, be ready to help others the next time.

They're dependable, and they depend on others

Good teammates do what they say they're going to do.

They realize that delivering subpar or late work affects everyone on the team. And if for some reason they can't deliver, they communicate as early as possible to find a plan B.

At the same time, good teammates depend on others. They're not afraid to ask for help, and they don't micromanage or take over. Instead, they let teammates fill their roles and work together.

Try this: This week, take note of whether you:

  • Deliver everything you promise to do, when you say you'll do it
  • Give teammates the freedom to work
  • Ask for help when you need it

They try to understand each other

When teammates disagree, they don't insist on doing things their way. Instead, they try to understand why the other person wants to do it that way.

They ask tactful questions to learn more. Then, they listen carefully, without passing judgment.

When they can't come to agreement, they practice the principle of "disagree and commit": They support the final decision, whether or not it was the one they came up with.

Try this: The next time you disagree with a teammate, ask them to share more about their point of view and why they feel that way. If you still aren't persuaded, consider whether you can disagree and commit.

They give and receive feedback

Good teammates praise sincerely and specifically. They tell each other what they appreciate and why. By doing this regularly, they build trust.

This makes it easier to give critical feedback when necessary. When that time comes, they strive to make that feedback constructive, so others see it as helpful, instead of harmful.

In contrast, when they're on the receiving end of critical feedback, good teammates set their personal feelings aside. They thank the other person for sharing their point of view; then, they use that feedback to improve or adjust.

Try this: This week, schedule time to tell a teammate something specific that you appreciate about them and why. 

Separately, if you see something that could help a teammate improve, tell them that, too. To keep your feedback constructive, share a mistake you've made and how others helped you improve in the past as well.

They settle differences quickly and respectfully

Diversity of culture, background, and personality can be a team's strength. But those same differences can become the source of resentment or other hurt feelings.

When that happens, good teammates attack the problem, not the person. 

They accept one another's differences. They show each other respect. And they apologize when necessary, realizing that an apology doesn't always mean they're wrong. Just that they value the relationship--and the success of the team--more than their ego.

Try this: If you have a difference with a teammate and you can't brush it aside, force yourself to talk it out. Most important, remember to keep things civil--and always strive to attack the problem, not the person.

Good teams don't just happen. They're the result of good teammates practicing the right skills and cultivating qualities like these.

So, if you want to build a great team, you can start by being a great teammate.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

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