The word “teamwork” can sound trite, but with more and more people working remotely and virtually, the term is often thrown around without the weight or intent behind it that it deserves. It’s one of those things that’s often overlooked and unappreciated when it's present and it’s usually too late to fix for the current situation when it’s absent.
For leaders, having a team that works well together can be a gold mine. For members of that team, it can be an immensely rewarding experience that goes well beyond monetary compensation. We usually refer to this as good team chemistry. Even without the best talent from top to bottom, good team chemistry can take what looks like a mediocre team on paper and propel it to limitless heights.
What characteristics make a great team or one that has good team chemistry? We can break that down into three key areas of focus: diversity, respect, and trust. These three key areas, coupled with the support of a strong leader working for the advancement of team members, exemplify what helps teams conquer roadblocks and overcome barriers along the way to succeed in a virtual world.
It’s a natural tendency for leaders to surround themselves and fill their teams with “like-minded” individuals. This creates an atmosphere of comfort and usually paves a speedy path to an end. Unfortunately, this also prevents the team from exploring other ideas and they usually miss out on evaluating alternatives. Even if the alternative is not the answer, broadening the spectrum to allow spirited debate is healthy for the team in the long run.
Leaders tend to staff their teams with those of similar skill sets, rather than attempting to diversify their portfolios and cover as much ground as possible. There are multiple analogies: military, sports teams, and think tanks. I prefer to use sports analogies.
Most will say that Tom Brady is the greatest football player of all time. His achievements don’t give much room for contradiction. However, you wouldn’t want 11 “Tom Bradys” on the field at the same time. Your team would be awful. Certain jobs require certain skill sets to be successful and the art of piecing those together for the betterment of the team demonstrates a successful leader and, ultimately, a successful team.
How individuals approach or attempt to solve a problem or evaluate an opportunity is also important to consider. There are those that will “run the numbers” or explore every possibility internally before taking it to the larger group. These individuals will more than likely present the situation and provide solutions for potential paths forward. Others tend to immediately throw it to the crowd to commence the debate. Each has its merits and a good combination of these individuals prevents the scales from tipping too far in either direction.
This is too often talked about but without practice. First and foremost, we’re all individuals, deserving of respect from one another as human beings. When leaders and team members treat each other as equals, irrespective of title or responsibility, the desire to perform is elevated. The ability of leaders and other team members to inspire those around them to perform at a higher level than the individual previously believed possible is a rare gift. Treating others with respect and equality can promote this desire. When a team member strives to perform for the benefit of the team, everyone wins.
"With more and more of the workforce operating virtually, elements of what it takes to make a team truly work and be successful can easily get lost in the online shuffle."
Respect for those that we’re depending on, and those that depend on us, is equally important. Usually, the job doesn’t begin and end “with us”. There is no “end all, be all” in most scenarios. Dependence on those “up the chain” and responsibility towards those “down the chain” from us should be as integral a part of the thought process as when the task lies directly with us.
We need each other to be successful. When mutual respect is apparent, performance improves. Whether it’s within a particular team or across teams within a larger organization, respect for the roles and responsibilities of those depends on and is responsible for the success and well-being of everyone.
Perhaps at the foundation of all of this is trust. Without trust, most of this is shallow and meaningless. Trust isn’t something that’s easily given; rather, it’s something that’s built over time with consistent proof. Trust is something that takes time to build, but it can also be shattered in an instant. The foundation of instilling and maintaining trust within teams is built on three “legs”:
- The first leg, a key element in gaining one’s trust is authenticity—the understanding that someone is true, acting without ulterior motives. It’s absolutely a feeling that we perceive whether we realize it or not. It’s hard to even get out of the gate if we’re not sure who it is we’re dealing with.
- The second leg of trust is ethics. Ethical behavior encourages a feeling of camaraderie in knowing that “doing the right thing” builds a moral and ethical backstop for the team.
- The third and final leg is reliability. There’s an old military analogy of “who would you want in a foxhole with you?” that comes to mind. Team members need to be able to rely on each other to get the job done and done well, while always doing the right thing (even when no one is looking). This becomes a powerful catalyst for team chemistry and one that’s key to a successful team.
Today’s workplace landscape has changed dramatically. With more and more of the workforce operating virtually, elements of what it takes to make a team truly work and be successful can easily get lost in the online shuffle. Without in-person accountability, how does a team effectively maintain its cohesiveness? This is where the practice of these principles, combined with a leader who is present, maintaining their “visibility”, must be placed paramount.
The character of individuals, doing the right thing—even when no one is looking—must be under constant self-scrutiny. Keeping in mind these elements of teamwork ensures that leaders and organizations can operate seamlessly during these unprecedented times.