Raise your hand if you were ever part of little league or played a high school sport. Or maybe you did Model UN or debate club? Whether it was sports teams or other team-oriented extracurriculars, many of us spent a good chunk of our adolescence learning how to function on a team.As we all learned, teamwork doesn’t end after school. No matter what you do professionally, almost everyone needs to work in a team at some point. But building a high-performing team in a professional setting can be pretty tricky.
Part of creating a high performing team has to do with the people involved, but that’s not all. Much of a team’s success comes down to how your team functions, what tools they use and what systems are put in place. That’s why, no matter the project or people, high-performing teams usually have a few common characteristics, from the way teammates interact with each other to the tools they use to keep track of progress.
What are these common characteristics and how do we elevate teamwork so everyone is successful?
Everyone on the team needs to have the same goal. The in between—like how people get to the goal—may differ, but everyone must be on the same page for what the end will look like. Think about a political campaign. People have different strategies and ideas but, at the end of the day, everyone from a part-time volunteer to the campaign manager has the same exact goal—to win and see their candidate in office.
The goal, however, needs to be well articulated and accessible to keep everyone on track. If team members can’t explain what they’re working toward, do they really know what the goal is? Increase sales by 10% in Q3 or expand the development team to accommodate a new product pipeline. These are the types of specific goals that will help drive a team’s activity and focus.
Unlike your high school soccer team, your professional team is not all working on the same field at the same time. Busy schedules, different time zones and disparate offices can make collaboration challenging. Whether you’re dealing with remote colleagues or working on a project with distant association members, easy sharing is imperative. That’s where technology—specifically collaboration software—can play an important part in helping a team function well.
Documents that are easily shared must also be easy to find. Email is very helpful, but only goes so far. Highly functioning teams know where everything is—and how to find them—at all times. That’s why your team needs a go-to place in the cloud where everything important is organized, stored and easy to access by all.
In addition to sharing documents and resources, team members need to communicate proactively and quickly. It’s important to have one place, like a community with discussion forums, for team members to work together online and stay informed. Plus, if your team communicates in a forum, you’ll never have to worry about leaving someone out of a discussion.
Even though email isn’t an ideal place to share documents, allowing members to reply to a community discussion via email can greatly increase participation. Many people already use email in their day-to-day lives, so find a collaborative platform that allows team members to respond to their working community via email. Also consider looking for a collaborative platform with a native app that will alert team members with push notifications when there is a change.
Say you miss a meeting or a team member falls behind—how can you keep everyone informed? A highly functioning team has a system for recording everything, even minute details like old versions of documents or ideas that didn’t quite make the cut. You never know when something will come in handy later on.
Recording meeting minutes and tasks also helps team members understand what their colleagues are prioritizing, minimizing redundant work. Why work on something if someone else already started?
Plus, it allows new team members to catch up quickly on the project’s history.
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really important to remember. When many people work together, deadlines and accountability become even more critical than normal. If one person doesn’t follow through, an entire project can get put on hold or slow down, decreasing the entire team’s efficiency.
Highly effective teams have calendars and know how to use them. They create realistic timelines, document their progress and hold each other accountable. Shared calendars come in handy here.
But how do well-functioning teams determine appropriate timelines in the first place? When choosing a collaborative platform, find one that not only has a calendar function, but one that helps your team set those critical deadlines. Polls can be useful for this. Rather than having one person say when something is due, quickly set up a poll and see what the entire group thinks is realistic.
Just like your little league team, a team that collaborates effectively is better poised for success. In the baseball game, knowing where the cut-off man is and when to use him gives you a better shot at getting an out for your team. In the professional arena, collaborative software functions like a good game plan—making the difference between a team that just shows up at the field and one that is prepared to win.