Leaders assemble teams to complete essential functions such as program administration, human resources, accounting and facilities maintenance.
For the purposes of this post: teams are multiple employees (and external stakeholders) who work together on distinct high performing teams is essential in successfully serving communities. Mission-based programs with low performing teams will not yield intended social outcomes and can tarnish the organization’s relationship with their clients, funders, and other stakeholders.
After many years of consulting and teaching project-based courses, we here at ILE Consulting Group have seen a fair share of team successes and breakdowns. Team breakdowns do not have to be permanent, however. In fact, with the right attitude, tools, and support teams can overcome failure and become to highly functioning teams.
Building teams poised for success requires establishing clear measurable goals, values and direction upfront. Friction is to be expected during the formation of teams as individuals on the team work to get on the same page, adjust in their role on the team and learn how to interact with their fellow teammates.
There are numerous issues – internal and external- that impact team success. The six most common factors that can make or break a team, in no particular order, include:
1. Values. Being on the same page about why this work matters, how you’ll get it done, how you’ll treat each other. Having a values system ensures team cohesion when things get tough. To establish values leadership and team members should generate a list of values. Continuously checking and reflecting on the team’s adherence to its values is essential. Teams should use a scorecard to measure performance. When the team scores low on a particular value, address this problem immediately before it escalates and causes further damage to the team psyche and productivity.
2. Mindset. Researcher Carol Dweck coined the term “Growth Mindset”, which describes underlying beliefs about the potential for success. Teams that emphasize a growth mindset share the belief that no matter the odds, success is possible. A growth mindset keeps team members enrolled and invested in the project despite the challenges that will inevitably arise. In addition, particularly on teams in nonprofit organizations, growth mindset places a high value on the latent talents and assets within the communities they serve (i.e., the belief that all children in our community can and will succeed when adequately supported).
The opposite of Growth Mindset, according to Dweck is a “Fixed Mindset”, which describes a set of negatively underlying beliefs. Negative thinking is to be expected from time to time, especially when teams are overwhelmed or in conflict and cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Leaders can aid their teams in adopting a consistent growth mindset with continuous coaching and regular reflection.
3. Communication and Information Exchange. Sharing information is two-fold in the following ways: 1. Ensuring that all members of the team have access to files, data, reports, and other organizational assets are crucial to team success. Lack of information or organizational artifacts can result in unnecessary delays, and often results in duplicating work that has already been done, which wastes time and money. 2. In addition, transparency is becoming increasingly important in the mission-based and public service sectors. More and more constituents, community stakeholders, and employees and demanding openness past and current challenges. No matter how bad the news, keeping team members informed, builds trust, agency, or sense of empowerment keep them committed long-term despite the obstacles along the way.
4. Vision and Direction. Having clear direction on what needs to be done and how to go about it is a must for team success. Having clear vision and direction reduces conflicts about how to get things done. Conflict slows the team down and hinders productivity. Having a picture or vision of the future is key in keeping the team enrolled in the mission and drive motivation and productivity from day- to- day.
5. Resources. While mission-based organizations are often resource-strapped, operating successful social programs require money and talent. Employees of nonprofit organizations experience burnout as a result of “having to do more with less” with no additional insight. One way to address this is through strategic partnerships and resource pooling with other organizations. This may include sharing space and admin staff to eliminate or reduce overhead, or outsourcing certain functions that can be managed by other agencies.
6. Team Size. The size of the team can pose challenges as well. Teams of three to five are often preferred due to ease of decision making, as it is often difficult to get larger teams on the same page. Smaller teams allow for better efficiency in distributing work and holding members accountable.
If a program or project requires more than five team members to accomplish tasks the team should be broken up into smaller ‘sub-teams’ based on the tasks.
What Individual Team Members Believe They Need to Be Successful
At ILE, our team has had countless conversations with employees of various organizations and companies about their experiences in the workplace. Leaders and employees prioritize these three needs:
Agency. Employees want to feel as if their talents and efforts matter. As a team member, they want to be understood by their fellow team members. Being heard and having their ideas and contributions acknowledged is also important. They want to feel as if their work has meaning and contributes to a high-level mission. Team members need to feel as if they have a part to play in bringing this mission to fruition.
Emphasis on self-care and personal development. Many employees we have spoken with report enjoying work settings that emphasize self-care and personal growth. Having bosses that allow for flexibility in work schedules to address individual or family needs, having access to professional training and education, and a boss that checks in on them were all highly valued.
Coaching and mentoring. Beyond their role as a team member, employees also want specific direction and coaching regarding their responsibilities to the team, the organization and the community. Having one on one time with leadership or personnel that can support individual team members in mapping out both team goals and individual professional goals, reflecting on their achievements and working through challenges are all highly valued.
The image above illustrates a commonly referenced concept of team evolution: Forming, Storming, Performing, Norming. This concept is commonly applied to new teams, in a linear manner. However, in reality, this process often repeats itself over the course of team work, and resembles something closer to this:
Team cohesion and productivity can suffer due to various challenges prompting a need for the team to reflect regroup, air out frustrations and challenges and get back on track.
In mission-based work, teamwork can be especially challenging due to limited resources relative to community needs. All teams experience cycles of highs and lows. However, there are many ways of supporting teams and each member to ensure success despite the challenges.
Read our related posted on the 5 Pillars of Capacity Building.