The key to a successful team

Have you ever been part of a team that really crushed it – really exceeded expectations, and had fun doing it?  If so, did you then ask yourself, "how did this happen?"

  • Was it the people on the team? 
  • Was it the physical environment? 
  • Was it the rules of engagement?

As companies are restructuring away from traditional, hierarchical organizations, towards a network of cross-functional teams, the formula of what makes a team perform at high levels is becoming a critical pursuit for corporate leaders looking to gain a competitive edge.

Some have tried:

  • Filling the team with A+ performers, employees who consistently exceed expectations, assuming that they are smart people and will therefore quickly figure out how to work well together.
  • Co-locating the entire team, providing a physical environment conducive to greater efficiency and higher levels of collaboration.
  • Implementing structure and decision making models designed to accelerate progress.

Those who are consistently successful have learned that the real key to building a high performing team has very little to do with who is on the team or where they are physically located.  The most important characteristic of a high performing team is Psychological Safety.

Psychological Safety is a shared belief that the environment is safe for interpersonal risk taking:

  • Speaking up with ideas
  • Asking questions
  • Providing candid feedback

Without Psychological Safety, team members can spend valuable time and energy managing risk, to minimize the possibility that they might be undermined or sabotaged by another team member.  Time and energy spent managing risk invariably compromises the capability of the team and impacts team performance.

When team members feel safe, the entire team will have a much higher success rate. When team members feel safe, they are more likely to ask for help, admit mistakes, or try on new roles and take more responsibility.  Leaders who create Psychologically Safe environments see team members consistently contributing at the highest level. 

How can leaders create Psychologically Safe team environments?  It starts with Emotional Intelligence.

In the next article we will explore Emotional Intelligence – what it is, how to measure it, and how to improve it.

Tom KopinskiComment