Self-organizing Teams (SOTs) are the most important aspect of completing projects and allocating responsibilities: their performance ultimately determines the success or outcome of each business initiative. An important goal for leaders is to develop well-rounded, capable teams that can meet – and ideally, exceed – the desired expectations. But how can we effectively build teams in current remote working conditions?
Effective team building is always a critical skill for every leader, but it is now more imperative than ever as we struggle to remain connected with one another. When building and managing a virtual team, there are some critical aspects to keep in mind.
Team Selection: The first step for leaders is to select the right team. Before the selection process, a leader should outline what skills they are looking for and determine whether these skills are universal or only apply to certain roles. The skills needed for every project tend to vary, so team members should be adaptable and confident when onboarded. A good analogy comes from the sports industry where team selection is a matter of intuition and logic. In cricket and football, for example, selection is crucial for victory. There are some sports teams full of superstars (and some Agile teams full of the brightest engineers) that still lose because they can’t work together harmoniously. There are other teams with less talented individuals who simply operate more effectively as a unit.
The book, Moneyball, has some great insights into how to recruit a team merely based on each individual’s skills – and it too revolves around a sports team relying on data and statistics. Using statistical analysis, the protagonist, Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt in the film adaptation), selects a championship level team that outplays its richest competitors despite being overlooked by other managers and industry professionals. Beane and his colleagues rely on a theory that on-base percentage and slugging add more firepower than simply spending money on star players and hoping for the best. This goes to show how different approaches to selecting a team can be crucial for those in leadership roles.
Team Vision: Once a team is selected, it’s important to agree on a vision that keeps everyone engaged. This is where leadership can be especially challenging but also rewarding. When a team knows what they are working towards, it increases commitment in that members are more likely to contribute with an end goal in mind, even when the going gets tough. Vision provides meaning and context, and it gives people something to work towards, so hold a virtual gathering where members can go over team goals and individual ones – hint: the two tend to overlap. Identifying goals sure made a difference for Billy Beane, although his initial success came from his data-driven approach to sports management.
Team Bonding: Once the vision is clear, team bonding is the next step. Camaraderie within the team often leads to better results, so team members should get to know one another both inside and outside the workplace. Sharing personal stories allows people to connect over similar experiences and values, and people are more willing to work hard if they learn about their team members as individuals. This holds true not only throughout Moneyball when Beane asks the more experienced players to set an example for younger ones, but across any team effort. Furthermore, any activity that gets the team together in a non-work environment contributes to team bonding – whether it be an intramural sports league, happy hour, or an event after work – so be sure to integrate those on a routine basis. During the remote work phase, virtual happy hours with the team, and creative online competitions are good places to start when integrating these activities.
Team Meetings: It’s important to have recurring meetings so each team member can discuss what they have accomplished, where they might be struggling, and what their priorities are for the upcoming week. Weekly meetings are a good place to start. What this communication does is give awareness and insight into what each member is doing, how their contributions are improving performance, and whether they are driving progress towards the end goal. Meetings also help in bench-marking performance for individuals and the group as a whole.
Based on the structure of each team, leaders should schedule weekly meetings for each subset; for example, if associates don’t report directly to a manager – or if there is a middle ground between who oversees their work – then make sure to have those smaller team meetings, as well. Given today’s remote work environments, there are multiple platforms to host virtual meetings across different time zones and regions, like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype and more.
Feedback: Continuous feedback is necessary to make the team aware of what is working and what can be improved. Regular honest feedback on a periodic basis can benefit team performance because it allows people to support one another in productive ways. Feedback should be given two ways: the team leader soliciting input on areas of improvement from the team, as well as providing input to enhance performance for the team.
Rewards and Recognition: Not all people are intrinsically motivated. Some need external rewards to feel validated that their contributions are making a difference. One of the ways to facilitate this is to praise individuals for their efforts and achievements in public, which can be challenging when working remotely. Sometimes the rewards don’t need to be shared, but results should always be provided after a big event or completion of a goal. Praise is more effective when given immediately so that individuals are driven to work harder. If your company have a monthly update or newsletter, try to recognize efforts there so people can read the recognition in their inboxes.
Team Consistency: While changes are inevitable, unnecessary reorganization of team responsibilities can lead to disharmony and confusion. However, even if something goes wrong, the team leader should demonstrate faith in the team so people are not disillusioned by failure. If anything, failure is necessary for growth. Ensure that sudden changes are kept to a minimum so the core team is intact over a long period of time – this promotes consistency, harmony, and, leads to better results.
Team Co-elevation: This term is from the book, Leading without Authority, by Keith Ferrazzi, a world-renowned networking authority, and Noel Weyrich. Co-elevation refers to the guiding ethos of “going higher together.” Team members build co-elevating relationships with their teammates by collaborating and problem-solving through partnerships and self-organizing teams. In essence, this is where leaders are made through trust, not through title or position, and it’s where team members work together, collaborate and don’t compete with each other.
Psychological Safety: This term was coined by Amy Edmondson, an authority on studying how teams perform, and a successful author of books like The Fearless Organization. The basic thesis is that organizations need to create a climate where everyone is free to express their views without being ridiculed. A leader can create a nurturing environment where all voices are heard while welcoming dissent and, as Jim Collins says in Good to Great, conduct autopsies without blame. Once this climate of trust is instilled, friction between team members is reduced, and creativity can flourish.
The job of a leader is to coordinate the efforts of various individuals and pull them together through a well-crafted vision which inspires, motivates and gets the team to perform well beyond their capabilities. At Orion, we believe that self-organizing Agile teams are the keys to success in executing complex software development and other transformation initiatives. The accelerated move to digital business–and all the technologies that support it–is also driving adoption of the DevOps model for software development. Using Ogile—Orion’s comprehensive DevOps methodology designed to help companies transition to the digital age—we enable teams to self-organize and work harmoniously.
With our state of the art technology, teams can deliver the best results for customers. Since teams are the building blocks of success, making these changes towards having a fully engaged team will enable greater harmony and achieve greater outputs. As Billy Beane states, a team is a business, and “the better the business is run, the healthier the team on the field is going to be.”
The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson
Leading without Authority by Keith Ferrazzi and Noel Weyrich
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
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