Why are some teams more successful than others? Why do some organizations appear to have it together while others are constantly on the verge of crumbling? What separates the former from the latter?
Are there even factors that determine which category your team or organization belongs to?
At Team Strive, we help both businesses and sports teams alike. There are numerous similarities between how business teams and sports team operate, and here we’ll be discussing the general principles that apply to both, and how these principles lead to the success of sports teams and business organizations alike.
According to a 1995 study on social interdependence that primarily focused on how learning in education is a cooperative process, effective teamwork occurs when we have interaction, problem solving, dialogue, cooperation, and collaboration1.
These attributes are by no means the be-all end-all, but they are displayed in every successful team.
In a 2001 article published in Team Performance Management: An International Journal, J.T. Scarnati, the County Superintendent of Warren County School District in Warren, Pennsylvania described teamwork as a “cooperative process that allows ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results.”
From this definition alone it’s obvious that successful teamwork relies not just on the individuals themselves, but also on the synergy created when each member of the team works together. This can create a profound effect that individuals outside of the team can’t help but notice.
For over two decades, numerous research and case studies have shown six general principles that are consistent among all cases of successful teamwork. Below we’ll examine the first three. The final three will be broken-down in a separate concluding article.
Commitment to team success and shared goals - team members are committed to the success of the team and their shared goals for the project. Successful teams are motivated, engaged and aim to achieve at the highest level
The commitment from each individual is paramount to the overall success of the team. Such a commitment requires each team member to be motivated and engaged in order to achieve at their peak levels.
One surefire way to nurture this principle is to make sure everyone understands their purpose and role on the team. Similarly, they must also understand how their particularly part impacts the team and its overall goal. “One way to ensure you’ve hitched yourself to a star is to know intimately your role within the team,” writes Laura Stack, “including how your knowledge, skills, abilities, and work ethic mesh with those of the co-workers with whom you work daily. When you maximize the power of your personal role, you inevitably boost team performance.”
Another excellent method involves providing each team member with the appreciation and recognition that they deserve. This helps with not only motivation, but also team bonding -- which will lead to a more cohesive team. “Appreciation and recognition are major factors that motivate employees to work harder and aim higher,” writes CEO Ernie Capobianco. “By applauding employees for their achievements in front of colleagues, it stimulates everyone to work harder.”
If this attribute is carefully considered and the proper strategies are implemented, the team will form cooperative-working relationships and be fully focused on the end goal. Evidence of the lack of recognition can include team members being preoccupied with their personal issues, allowing them to affect their contribution to the team effort.
A mismatch of expectations can also impede team members from committing to the team’s success. While some members of the team may be content with minimal effort, others are putting in overtime in hopes of producing exceptional results.
These problems will need to be addressed in order for the team to acquire this attribute.
Interdependence - team members need to create an environment where together they can contribute far more than as individuals. A positive interdependent team environment brings out the best in each person enabling the team to achieve their goals at a far superior level (Johnson & Johnson, 1995, 1999). Individuals promote and encourage their fellow team members to achieve, contribute, and learn.
Although the team needs to be united, there has to be a certain amount of independence among each team member as well. Not all tasks require constant collaboration from every individual.
As a matter of fact, constant collaboration can be detrimental to certain important tasks, such as an athlete trying to address his or her own personal weaknesses in their game. Or a leader that has delegated various tasks for each individual based on their strengths, only to have them collaborate and potentially waste their time with each others’ work.
Proper interdependence, when implemented, will be exhibited in the form of team members encouraging each other to achieve, learn, and continue contributing to the team. They will also promote one another’s success, whether it’s for the team or personal. This requires each member to take interest in others’ individual achievements. Also, no member on the team is completely reliant on any one individual, nor is any one individual completely self-directed or independent.
“Success depends on the participation of all the members,” writes Dianne Crampton, “These individuals encourage and facilitate each other’s efforts in order to reach a common goal, which includes conflict resolution, so the team continues to make progress.”
This can be a slippery slope, especially when some team members become too independent to focus solely on their own tasks. While this may produce quality results for them, they tend to expect peer assessment be applied to all team members.
This may be due to their desire to shine as individuals, or their lack of interest in assisting others on the team. Either way, there’s no room for interdependence if this attitude is allowed to exist among the team. Instead, team members should be happy to help out with any difficulties their peers have, going as far as brainstorming solutions for their problems.
As Anna Windermere puts it, “Interdependence is a combination of both dependence and independence. Working interdependently means each worker can offer individual contributions that other workers require to do their own tasks.” Not only do we have a synergistic effect when this attribute is acquired, each team member will subsequently perform better an individual.
Interpersonal Skills includes the ability to discuss issues openly with team members, be honest, trustworthy, supportive and show respect and commitment to the team and to its individuals. Fostering a caring work environment is important including the ability to work effectively with other team members.
In order for an interdependent spirit to flourish among the team, each individual must also possess interpersonal skills.
No, I’m not talking about the social butterflies who seem to be able to strike up conversations with any stranger they meet (although that doesn’t hurt).
This is more about being willing to openly discuss issues with team members; being willing to trust in others; being honest in your words, intentions, and actions; and most of all, showing support and respect for the team members.
According to Susan Cullen, “Interpersonal Skills are the most important skills you need to lead other people successfully. Whether you are a Project Manager, Supervisor, Leader or Peer, everyone needs to use key interpersonal skills to influence others. Without them, you can experience conflicts with co-workers, your manager or team members.”
Naturally, individuals have different personalities and experience different problems at different times. Proper interpersonal skills exemplified in this case would involve the respect and support for team members experiencing difficulties while keeping realistic expectations.
The obvious offender to this principle would individuals with a brash personality that choose not to rein it in for the good of the team. Others may simply be socially unaware but fostering no malicious intent, yet they inadvertently offend those around them. Just as with the other two principles, violators will need to be addressed in order for the team to thrive.
This article will conclude in part 2, discussing the last three of the six principles for successful teamwork.
1. Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1995). Social Interdependence – Cooperative Learning in Education. In B. Bunker & J. Z. Rubin (Eds.), Conflict, Cooperation, and Justice (pp. 205-251). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.