Great team strategies are sometimes counterintuitive. For example, teams that make the fastest decisions do not always make the best decisions. Back-and-forth debate among team members takes longer, and it sometimes gets messy, but professional argument is also healthy and necessary when making important decisions.
Another misconception is that great teams always reach consensus. Not true. Great teams reach commitment. They understand the value of giving people the chance to share their insights and opinions--and be genuinely heard.
So, if healthy teamwork is not always what it appears to be, how do you know if your team is as effective as possible?
Rick Packer, a colleague and longtime Table Group principal consultant who has worked with hundreds of teams over the years, compiled this list of the markers of great teams:
1. No elephants.
Great teams talk about their most difficult topics as a team. If there's an elephant in the room, it doesn't stay there long, because someone will bring it up and the team will constructively deal with the underlying (and often distracting) issue at hand.
2. Micro, not macro.
As Rick says, you cannot solve problems with generic, third-person language ("Some people might think that we're not being decisive"; "People lose their patience in meetings"). So when team members get specific or micro, we know they're on the right path. It's OK to use names ("When the debate gets a little messy and Tyler pushes us to move forward without a resolution, the whole department suffers").
3. Get serious about meetings.
Great teams know how to meet and follow a rigorous meeting structure. They have worked hard at finding the right balance of meetings for their specific team. And they keep it up.
4. Close the backdoor.
Team members don't "take it offline" as an excuse to exclude part of the team from sticky discussions. They know that if anyone on the team will be impacted by the issue being discussed, it probably needs to be addressed at the team level. A simple question to ask: Does anyone feel that it would be appropriate to join this conversation?
5. Who's Team No. 1?
Great teams make decisions horizontally, not vertically. In other words, they are not strictly thinking about their individual department or project; they're thinking about the good of the whole team. And when they leave the meeting, they support team decisions because they value the whole team.
Bonus track. Members of great teams often say, “I feel like team members have my back.” This is more a result than a hallmark, and it’s one benchmark for determining whether your team is on the right track.