What Makes World Class Teamwork?
Over the past two years we have been studying teamwork in the workplace, and we commissioned a 350,000-person study from the Best Companies Group that identified the characteristics of the most productive, profitable teams. What did we find? Teams that produced superior results had much higher levels of camaraderie, communication and recognition.
I think we’d all agree these three are needed in the workplace. Study after study shows the need for these “softer” leadership skills. And yet what we’ve learned about the best work environments also works in our non-work life. The funny thing is how often we keep the two separate, to the detriment of both. Each of us, to one degree or another, has an imaginary line that differentiates our work persona from who we are in our personal lives. For eight, nine, or ten hours a day, we work with colleagues, set goals together, communicate back and forth, and recognize each others’ accomplishments. When evening comes, we turn off the lights and head home, leaving our best relationship tools behind, at the office. The very skills that we develop at work that could improve our personal lives are repressed.
We’re a bit like Peter Parker. On the one hand he’s a bright college kid with good grades, a cute girlfriend and a job shooting photos for the city newspaper. On the other hand he’s the Amazing Spiderman swinging from webs, nabbing crooks and saving the free world. An enviable existence, wouldn’t you think? So, why is he always so miserable, gloomy and in need of a good prescription medication? Because he leads a double life. He’s a two face. It’s the age-old problem of the duality of (spider) man. In one of the Spidey flicks Peter’s good side literally battled against his inherent evil side. Of course his good side also battled a 20-story sand mutant and a turncoat, disfigured best friend. But, don’t we all?
We’re like Peter Parker/Spiderman (or Diana Prince/Wonder Woman), and unfortunately, a dual-life can wear anyone, even a superhero, down.
Real people face the same challenges. Liz is an outgoing, witty and personable teammate. Her employees and others simply must seek her out each morning to hear the latest buzz, get some advice on their projects, and sample some of her contagious energy. She is tolerant of mistakes and encourages the development of those around her. Her work style is laced with open communication, stellar results, and a healthy dose of cheer for her workmates. She sets a great tone for the whole office.
But at home Liz is a total opposite. She is apathetic or even negative. She belittles her husband and children and has no time for fun and games. People adore her at work, and avoid her at home. It is as if she is taking off the superhero costume and leaving it at the office. That’s sad because it could be a key to finding more happiness at home.
And, just like Peter Parker, she swings from webs and doles out vigilante justice … no wait—
And, just like Peter Parker, she endures internal turmoil, whether she’s aware of it or not. The battle between “work Liz” and “home Liz” rages on. She expends so much energy being magnanimous and gracious to her employees that she has precious few drops of cheer left for her family, the people in her life who deserve her very best treatment. Liz will never be truly happy until she becomes the same person at home that she is at work and vice versa. At that point she’ll reconnect with her family and friends, and the kids will stop referring to her as “that grumpy lady who makes breakfast sometimes.”
So what teams in your personal life could use a little of your workplace teachings? If you don’t think you’re part of a team outside of work, think again. At our most basic level, human beings are pack animals. We naturally join together into groups for many reasons, including emotional fulfillment, safety, happiness, and social status. Below we’ve listed just a few of the team relationships that probably exist in your personal life:
- Marriages and committed relationships
- Volunteer work
If we accept this list, we realize that a lot is riding on our personal teambuilding skills. The most important relationships in our lives function smoothly (or not) depending on how we approach them. Fortunately, creating a breakthrough team in your personal life isn’t that different from doing it at the office. We start by defining a clear big-picture goal, then we collectively commit to living what we call the Rule of 3: We wow each other. We make sure there are no surprises. And we cheer. When these basics are in place, the rest takes care of itself.
Let’s just focus on one element of great teams: Cheering.
Cheering is not just for sports’ teams. Families, neighbors, civic groups, and other successful groups root for their fellow members. As an exercise, take note of the ways you can recognize your neighbors, friends, and family members in the coming week. Entries may include:
To a teacher: “That multiplication game you sent home has really helped Kellie. Thanks for taking the time to find something that worked for her. She went from hating math to it being a favorite. You really make a difference.”
To a grocery bagger: “You always put the bread and fruit and eggs in separate bags so they don’t get squished. Not everyone does that. Thanks.”
To a Scoutmaster: “Thanks for keeping Tony going with his merit badges. He got discouraged but you wouldn’t let him give up. We are so grateful you kept in touch every week to see how he was progressing.”
To a significant other: “I really appreciate you coming with me to my work party. I know you don’t know anyone here, but it means a lot to have you with me.”
To a teenage neighbor: “I noticed that you’ve been driving slow on our street and watching for the kids. You are really thoughtful.”
To a niece: “I saw you hold the door open for that other girl. That was really kind.”
To the drycleaner: “You know, I come here because my clothes are always on time. And if I have a problem, you take care of it right away. You’re amazing.”
We could go on, but you get the idea. It just takes a moment to recognize and cheer for someone in a specific way, but the impact on the future is undeniable. That’s because recognition:
- Defines exactly what behaviors you value (unsquished Zucchini, starched shirts, careful driving, etc.); and
- Makes the recipient feel their efforts are noticed, motivating them to repeat those behaviors.
Such cheering combines clarity of purpose with a strong emotional reaction in a way that nothing else can. And it gives us the power to revolutionize the personal teams that matter most to us.
This article is a guest post by New York Times bestselling authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. They are the authors of The Orange Revolution: How one great team can transform an entire organization (US). Or Amazon.co.uk (UK)