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What does a great team look like and what sets it apart from average teams?

If you’ve got homogenous teams where everybody looks the same, sounds the same, and thinks the same, it’s probably a great sign that you don’t have a high-performance team.

Often in the hiring process, managers will hire people who look like them, sounds like them, think like them and have a similar track record to them. It isn’t the end of the world if your team currently looks like this, but you should be aware that diversity of thought, experience, skills and opinion are incredibly important to the team’s success.

On the flip side, simply having a variety of colours, creeds, backgrounds and experiences are not a solid predictor of success either. It’s simply indicative of a highly diverse group of people.

All the diversities in the world do not predict a great team. They certainly help, but in and of itself, diversity is not a factor in developing high-performance teams.

The great thing about diversity in a team is that they generate a great deal more options because people think differently, have different experiences, and approach problem-solving differently. In that interplay of collaboration, often there are better ideas created and generated.

A team that can talk.

What you want is a team that can talk openly, respectfully, and honestly.

A team that embraces hard conversations and empowers individuals to speak without fear or favour. A team where curiosity and intelligence blend to create a powerful force for innovation and continuous improvement.

It’s important that the team can disagree. It’s important that the team allows conflict, respectfully, and allows people to voice their opinions, recommendations, and share their perspective. A place where they are allowed to argue their line of reasoning and demonstrate why they feel their idea, solution, or perspective is a valuable option to explore and implement.

High-performance teams have the ability to show up, explore ideas and opportunities, and disagree respectfully or challenge what is presented vigorously. They do so respectfully and openly knowing that they are going to work through the opportunity to discover or uncover the best possible answer.

They interrogate data, ideas, and recommendations with integrity and curiosity.

It isn’t about being right. It’s about finding the right answer or the right solution.

Great teams don’t compromise.

In many relationships and working environments, people often settle on a compromise to avoid or end potential conflict. The compromise becomes the thing that everybody can live with, but inspires nobody.

That isn’t a great result.

High-performing teams actively seek the best possible outcome or opportunity to improve, and doing so consistently is what empowers them to develop great products, features, and services.

A great team would rather invest hours thrashing out ideas and reverse engineering potential opportunities than simply accept a compromise between two opposing points of view.

In many cases, the team don’t know the answer upfront nor have they ever encountered the problem before so there are no sacred cows. They understand that they need to figure it out and doing so requires rigour, inspection, and creativity.

One of the great things about high-performing teams is that they will agree on the best way forward and once they do so, everyone is onboard and committed to delivering the best outcome possible.

Great teams have a predetermined methodology for making decisions as a team so that when they come up against a wall, they have a way to agree how to move forward and take the next step which will allow them to learn and potentially develop a better way forward given the evidence they have.

Psychological Safety

Psychological Safety is what Amy Edmonson refers to as ‘the ability to speak truth to power’.

Its where each member of the team knows that they can respectfully agree or disagree with any idea, recommendation or proposal without fear of retribution, personal attacks, or losing their job.

This is a really big deal.

Over the past 2 centuries, hierarchy has been incredibly important in organisations.

The managers and leadership often held all the power and the workers were seen as disposable, replaceable, and subject to a chain of command.

An autocratic style of leadership prevailed with each step in the corporate ladder representing an increasing degree of power and autonomy.

If workers disagreed with their boss or supervisor, they were fired. In some cases, it could also derail their entire career within an industry or community.

So, people largely kept their mouths shut and their ideas to themselves.

In the 21st century workplace, we value creativity, contribution, and collaboration. We need the best ideas to emerge from the brightest people on our teams, and we need the team to execute deliberately and effectively.

High-performing teams create an environment of psychological safety that not only welcomes new opinions, objections, and recommendations but actively rewards and respects those contributions.

For individuals, it becomes a visceral thing. You don’t think that you can say something, you know that you can.

The newest member of team can contribute to any discussion just as much as the most senior person in the room, on any topic, regardless of whether it will upset the apple cart or not.

Psychological safety and equality of voice are the hallmarks of great performing teams. They are known for being vibrant, creative, collaborative and incredibly effective at getting great work done.

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author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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