Learn about how to set teams up to achieve peak performance.
- Working in teams is related to all three core human needs. Being on a team can enhance or threaten our sense of safety and security. Working with others creates an additional community to belong to or feel excluded from and often our work in teams is tied to our desire to reach our fullest potential for our professional growth and development. For years researchers have shown that groups naturally move through stages. A classic model is Bruce Tuckman's stages of group development. He identified five stages from forming to storming to norming to performing and to adjourning.
But new research has illuminated that what happens in the first two stages actually determines whether teams move toward positive, healthy interactions or devolve into dysfunctional behaviors that cripple them. When that happens the team won't ever be able to achieve true collaboration or peak performance. I recently wrote a book on the brain science of teams and collaboration. Many aspects of our biology are designed to help us work well in groups, achieving what scientists call neural synchrony, which is a hallmark of peak performance.
However, we can only get there when certain conditions are met. I bring all this together in my model called the Four Gates to Peak Team Performance. The first gate is a sense of physical and psychological safety. If we don't have that it's impossible for team members to perform at their best. Next, every team member needs to have a clear sense of purpose for working together and the ability to make meaningful contributions. Otherwise they won't lean in and bring their best work.
The third gate is that teams need to develop a true sense of trust and belonging. This can only happen when the previous two are met, so many teams never make it to the third gate but when they do the quality of their work goes way up and they're poised to enter the fourth and final gate Peak Performance. Here the team is operating at their best, engaging in true collaboration and innovation. As a leader it's vital that you understand how important those early interactions are and do your best to set teams up for success.
In those initial meetings, teams are establishing their sense of physical and psychological safety with each other which become the ground on which trust is built or destroyed. This is why team building is so important and an investment that pays off ten-fold down the road. In addition, team members need certain skills in order to make their best contribution to the group's efforts. In other words, team training. For example, they should understand the key differences between cooperation, coordination, and collaboration and how their behavior needs to shift accordingly.
Most teams move back and forth along this continuum and if they don't know how to adjust, they often get stuck in cooperation, unable to engage in real collaboration. They also need to know how to have difficult conversations and a clear process for addressing and resolving conflict. You should also make teams the right size. Studies indicate that the ideal size is between four and eight people. Research has shown that three people is unstable because it creates a two against one dynamic and nine or more actually yields diminishing productivity because people feel less accountable for their efforts.
I've pulled all these important considerations together into my team playbook which I have shared in the exercise files. Try using it the next time you bring teams together. I'm confident you'll see much better results.
- Analyze the brain science behind emotional intelligence.
- Identify and assess your emotions.
- Determine how to exercise emotional self-control.
- Identify your triggers and how to respond the them.
- Assess how others respond at work.
- Determine how to maximize team performance using emotional intelligence.
- Discover how to catalyze change.