Being a great team is a choice.
It doesn't just happen naturally when you bring together a group of talented individuals; it takes hard work and a firm commitment. The sum of a team's parts is tremendous when working cooperatively, as is the pay off for all that hard work. That's the good news.
The bad news: Most startup teams are actually functioning more like working groups, which look like teams but don't achieve the same results because they're just not as productive. What's the key difference? Organizational health.
So how do you know if your team is healthy? Here are five quick questions to gauge your team's health (and future prosperity):
1. Are your team meetings a nightmare?
You can tell a lot about a team by its meetings. One toxic example with which you might be familiar: the leader holds court while everyone around the table nods their heads and takes notes, then the meeting is adjourned. No discussion; no argument; in fact, hardly any interaction at all. No one really feels part of a team in this scenario. It's more like a monarchy.
Equally bad is the meeting that plays like one PowerPoint deck after another, leading up to a foregone conclusion. There's no real discussion. A decision is rubber-stamped, and the team leaves. Then the real meetings start. Team members meet up casually in offices, the lunchroom, and the hallways to share ideas about what should really be done.
When a healthy team meets, it discusses issues relevant to everyone present. People voice their opinions -- even those outside their areas of expertise -- without fear. Decisions are made and everyone is clear on the reasoning, benefit, and company-wide message.
2. Do you always get the best ideas on the table?
Do people hold back their honest opinions from the group? Perhaps they fear being ridiculed or, worse, ignored. Maybe they're just not sure if the idea is good, and they don't want to risk sharing a doozy.
The reason doesn't matter. Keeping silent undermines productivity. On healthy teams, opinions -- no matter how far into left field -- are shared at the meeting, in front of the leader. Team members do not hold back and they're not afraid to advocate for their point of view. The goal is to hear all of the best ideas before making a decision for the organization. Where those ideas come from and how they get aired is immaterial.
3. Is there backstabbing?
Do team members hold one another accountable and discuss destructive behaviors openly? Or do they take the backdoor and complain to colleagues but resist telling the person directly? Do managers end up playing the middle role and negotiating between two warring colleagues?
This, like #2 above, is fundamentally about trust. High-performing teams trust each other and know that whatever feedback they receive -- no matter how hard it may be to hear -- is aimed at getting the best results for the team. It is not personal. Of course, on great teams, teammates tell each other the kind truth -- the most constructive way of saying something. And they honor their colleagues by saying it to their faces.
4. Do you hold each other to the same standards?
Do you look the other way when star performers act out? This is a touchy one. Some people bring in the bacon. Others fry it up. I'm kidding. But not really. There are different roles on every team, but the succesful ones hold everyone to the same standard. Regardless of whether they're generating revenue, providing support, or leading, each person plays by one universal set of rules .
5. Do team members put the good of the group ahead of their personal goals?
Do people understand that the goals of the team supersede their personal or departmental goals? Do they automatically put the good of the whole first?
Let's play this one out. If a team is struggling and needs to cut expenses, do teammates willingly make sacrifices in their areas for the greater good? Would a team member offer a painful cut that might greatly benefit the entire organization? That’s what happens on great teams. People have a sense of shared responsibility, and they trust that they’ll be taken care of when it matters most.
In my work, I'm asked a lot about the worst behavior I've seen on a team. Well, I definitely don't air clients' dirty laundry, but this list is a pretty good overview of common unhealthy habits. Focus on these five and your team will achieve great things.