How highly productive teams are different and what they do better?

A culture of collaboration requires that people trust one another and are willing to work together to help one another.

Feb 24, 2021

If there is one thing that defines a highly productive team, it's "Direction first, then speed". This is a key point because a lot of teams are made up of highly competent members who may move fast on their own, but not together. The sum of the parts is not greater and it's only a matter of time before they are out performed and out executed by better teams.

Even though direction first sounds fairly obvious, there are a lot of underlying principles that lead some teams to be highly productive and others on a race to the bottom. One of the first principles is "trust". Trust in this is not blind or taken for granted, but comes from humility, self awareness and a willingness to learn from others.

Great teams have trust within, to trust each member to do what they do best, effectively. To be open to being challenged and learning vs wanting to be right. To remain focussed on the goal and always question if what they are doing is moving them in the right direction, and to allow each other to try their best when it comes to uncertainty. Success does not come easy and every single member and the entire team will be tested. Learning to trust each other when things are going well and to be open to other ideas, suggestions when they don't.

Which brings us to the next principle of "Candor". Most people within teams can go to extremes of avoiding conflict for fear of conflict and letting the entire team suffer, or the other extreme of pointing fingers, blaming others and creating a toxic culture of fear and blame. The ability to be frank and candid while being respectful to each other is not easy and does not come easily. It requires first and foremost trust and a commitment to make everyone succeed, and as a consequence the team succeed as a whole.

Once trust has been established, what follows is effective communication. Communication entails everything from daily interactions to documentation and everything around it. The ability to communicate ideas, to articulate them into something more tangible and detailed enough to be worked on. Productive teams take the time to articulate, to bring form to ideas while ensuring that they are communicated for everyone appropriately. It also entails taking the time to pause and understand what needs to be communicated and in what medium for different functions within a team. This may seem tedious to some, but will no doubt invite a lot of trouble that will come eventually with compounding interest in the form of meetings, rewrites, missed deadlines and more.

With trust and effective communication, the direction that the team and by extension the company takes becomes clear. Once everyone is on the same page, moving towards shared goals becomes easier, without as many bumps and distractions along the way as long as you are decisive with a strong will and enough discipline to see things through.

Having said this, accept with humility if what you're doing is hard and not routine or run of the mill, that you will face hurdles, failures, disappointments and frustrations along the way. What will help you get to the light at the end of the tunnel is your team. So invest in making your team highly productive, different and as a consequence better and thereby more successful.

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