Five ingredients for successful teamwork

Team of women gathered around a board table

Written by Gordon Coe, Digital Director at Methods

I run Methods’ digital transformation arm and, as a consultancy, we distinguish ourselves through our approach to the work we do.  We believe that achieving outcomes for our clients must be based on collaboration, facilitation and harnessing expertise – both our own and our clients’.

Building a performing team means not only having the right people with the right skills to do a job, but also integrating those people into existing client teams and shaping those teams to become more effective.

So, what makes a digital team successful?  I’d like to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned about high-performing teams in both the private and public sector.

1. Understand the wider mission

Performing teams understand the wider mission, the importance of the work being done and how it fits into the overall scheme of things. This gives teams a sense of purpose and helps make sure the decisions they are making are focused on achieving the right outcome. In other words, they understand the problem and what needs to be done. In the 90’s I worked at British Airways, building services for the first iteration of BA.COM. The purpose was very clear:

  • Get people to self-serve.
  • Stop paying travel agents.
  • Help reduce queues at airports

And the approach was clear too – deliver iteratively every 90 days.

2. Empowerment

And having that approach, having defined principles in place plays to my next point – that really successful teams are allowed to operate almost autonomously. They are empowered by their leadership and make decisions without the need to go up and down a chain of command. They run themselves with focus and dedication to the cause. Also, principles such as meeting GDS service standards in the public sector, allow teams to operate autonomously with little intervention from senior management.

3. Leadership

Leadership, and I mean top-level leadership, is massive. Someone once said that culture starts at the top and innovation starts at the bottom – so getting your culture right is vital. Leadership in performing teams doesn’t mean ‘I’m the boss – do as I say’, it means supporting team decision making, unblocking issues, setting the context around the work that’s being done, and being a front for the team, and often an umbrella.

4. Cadence

Another thing I’ve noticed – successful teams have this rhythm, this cadence of working and a focus that’s organic and rather difficult to resist. If a team shares a goal then they also, over time, develop shared working practices and shared language. It’s a lovely thing. And when conflict does happen, an argument between policy and digital, a disagreement with the product owner over a priority, then it’s done with respect and not resentment.

Performing teams also have credibility. As a result of the work they are doing and how that’s been communicated, successful teams find it easier to get buy-in when they want to try something new. They are able to experiment a bit more.

5. Diversity

Finally, diverse teams made up of different levels of experience and ability, operate better than ones stuffed to the gills with expertise. Teams with individuals from different backgrounds and with different levels of expertise learn from each other over time and team life seems that bit more enjoyable. If you build teams full of 30-year-civil-service-lifers then what is there to learn? Diversity is important, and that doesn’t just mean race or gender – it’s about diversity of skills and background with everyone heading towards a common goal.

My simple and rather underwhelming conclusion is that in the end it’s all about people really. If we put in the effort to give a team a set of defining principles, clarity and purpose, and we look to support, develop and empower the people in that team then the ingredients are all there for that team to thrive.

This article was originally published here.


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