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What makes some teams more successful than others?

By Abdul Rauf May 29, 2019 July 17th, 2019

What sprang to your mind when you read the word “teams”? The Cricket World Cup? Microsoft Teams? After what they have done to Skype, we all are a little apprehensive about this one as well, but no, the teams I want to talk about are us, the teams that make up this wonderful organization, Visionet. I want to talk about what makes some teams successful where others might struggle.

Of course we are all part of one large team that represents the whole organization. After all, what is Visionet, or any organization for that matter? A legal entity that owns certain assets like buildings and equipment? Yes, but it’s the people in an organization that make any of it work, and this large team is a collection of smaller groups that get formed to achieve certain objectives like product development and marketing. The most prevalent form of teams at Visionet are the groups of people assigned to customer projects that represent a huge chunk of the workforce here.

Conventional wisdom dictates that successful teams have great leaders, each of whom effectively utilizes their team’s talents in the service of the assigned task, and that each leader relies on a rising star in the team to get the tough parts done. However, research conducted by the likes of Google, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT has shown that the most successful teams are not the ones that have one or two very smart people or strong team leads. Rather, most successful teams are the ones where every team member’s talents are brought to bear on the project, where everyone is equally heard, where people feel safe to share their ideas, and the teams that have more women in the group.

In other words, successful teams are those that work well together, have a diversity of ideas and identities, and have high social sensitivity. A survey of companies conducted by Technical University of Munich indicated that having more women in leadership positions results in more innovation-driven revenue, but the tipping point is when the ratio is greater than 20%, something for us to keep in mind as we make hiring and promotion decisions.

Projects today are complex and require a multitude of skills and innovative ideas to create the product or application that will give customers an edge over their competition. In other words, the work we do is not trivial and we need collaboration with others to be successful, since it is not a one-man show anymore. In order for each one of us to contribute effectively, we need to be confident in ideas being heard and not mocked; hence the need for everyone in the team to get equal time to speak and team members to show empathy towards each other to encourage openness and innovative ideas.

Each member should be comfortable with expressing how they think they can do their part in the team and how that will contribute to the team’s overall goals. As team leads and colleagues, it is therefore our responsibility to others to let them be their true self without making any judgements, and to make them feel safe – that’s it! This was all we have to do to make teams successful.

When people feel safe, they are free to employ the best ideas that help them advance their professional skills and achieve project goals in the process. There is an easy technique that we can all follow called M.R.I, where we should make the most respectful interpretation of what people say and do, be it our team members, the dreaded “on-siter”, or the tough customer – after all, eventually their agenda is to provide constructive feedback or information that can help us realize their overall project objectives more effectively. So my expert tip is to keep eyes and ears on the real subject and not the style in which people convey information.

As we get into the minutiae of our projects, let’s not forget why we are doing this. We did not join this organization for a single one-time project or assignment. Remember that our goals were to enhance our professional skills, advance our careers and make good friends – teamwork is the way to achieve all of those. We are Visioners; teaming is what got us here.