Google the words “team, build, work,” and you will get an infinite number of results for pages filled with inspirational, motivational quotes, and uplifting stories of how to build an effective team. You also know the reality of many of the teams on which we work–one person takes the lead, one person’s ideas are rejected, another member contributes minimally, and the rest go along for the ride. We are constantly hearing about how we all need to be team players, but because most teams are dysfunctional, we have no idea how to take on that role.
What happens when teamwork works the way it should, and everyone is equally invested in the same goal? When everyone is on board, teams can function efficiently, communication is expressed effectively, and innovation happens. To illustrate an effective, high-performing team, let’s think of a theatrical production.
Costume designers, set designers, the orchestra, the stage crew, and countless others are vital members of the larger team. The production’s cast is obviously the most visible part of the team, but even that is broken down into very clearly defined roles. Usually, there are main characters, supporting characters, minor characters, and sometimes an ensemble. The mantra in the theatrical world is “The show must go on,” and they truly abide by that. The lead has taken ill with the flu? In comes the understudy, who knows the character’s lines just as well as the lead does. Someone’s costume rips? Costume design to the rescue. Violinist couldn’t make it to this evening’s performance? Another violinist takes her place. And we, the audience, are oblivious to most of this.
The main goal is to create an amazing performance for the audience, and everyone in the company works toward that goal. When someone cannot perform, someone else steps in. When something unforeseen happens, there’s someone immediately on it. Everyone involved has different skills, but they all complement one another. The most talented stage performer would not be as effective without all of the help from the team that supports her.
An effective team, in any context, needs the following:
- Clearly defined roles and responsibilities
- A clear understanding of the goals of the team
- A mix of skill sets and knowledge
- A leader
A “team” made up of people who all do the same thing will never innovate anything. You need people with different experiences and perspectives to do something different. So if your team is exclusively made up of, say, mechanical engineers, you might want to rethink that. When you build a great team, and they are empowered with the necessary resources to achieve their goal, they can connect, collaborate, and create. Otherwise, it’s that same old group project we all hated from high school.