How do we optimise teams?

How do we optimise teams?

14 Dec 16:00 by John Neal


We often talk about what makes a great team, and normally have a well-defined list of relevant qualities ready to hand.   

We generally measure team success by its performance, and in a competitive corporate environment how it fairs against other high performing teams.  We also naturally link team success to how the team is managed and how inspirational the leader is. 

When selecting new team members, we normally look for those high performing individuals that we hope will join the team and make it stronger and more effective, thus increasing its chances of survival. 

There are numerous examples of this in the sporting world, where wealthy owners ‘buy in’ the talent, to win the title, the trophy, or the race.  Yet, there are also many examples where a group of talented individuals fail to perform to expectational levels, and in many cases fail to achieve anything meaningful at all.

This becomes a more significant issue when we factor in the typical hierarchical structure that exists within many organisations, you know that ‘top down’ ‘command and control’ structure that by its very nature, encourages internal struggle and negative conflict as individuals step on whoever is in their way in the race to the top. 

Maybe this is a picture that you are familiar with in your organisation, if the answer to that is yes, then you are fully aware of its negative impact on organisational growth and success. 

Margaret Heffernan famously talks about the ‘super chicken’ phenomenon in her ‘forget the pecking order’ TED talk, which takes the view that the recruitment of those high performers (super chickens) can be counterproductive because of the negative effects of hyper-competitiveness on a group's dynamic, and that recruitment that emphasises collaboration over individual excellence can result in greater productivity.

So, with this in mind, let’s revisit our well-defined list of ‘great team’ qualities and establish how many of those qualities support individual achievement and internal competitiveness rather than true collaboration through an abundance of social sensitivity, collective intelligence, high trust and accountability. Social sensitivity describes the proficiency at which an individual can identify, perceive, and understand cues and contexts in social interactions along with being socially respectful to others.

This is an important social skill and having team members with high levels of social sensitivity can help them to become more well-liked and successful in social and business relationships.

Studies have shown that this is directly linked to the gender ratio held within teams. Teams, with a healthy balanced representation of both male and female team members, are more likely to achieve higher levels of social sensitivity and collective intelligence as it is perceived that females have a naturally occurring higher sense of social sensitivity.

Social sensitivity is a skill and as such can be improved through an array of development approaches like Emotional Intelligence training or coaching.  Let’s put some context around this by looking at how we have had to develop our ability to read emotions and feelings in others without really trying by looking at just their eyes due to the wearing of masks in many environments. 

It is here that we can then unleash the ‘empath’ within us to support those around us and nurture those relationships to develop a ‘high trust’ culture within the team.  A place where individuals are given equal opportunities to voice their opinions and ideas without fear of ostracisation or reprisal, where we leverage conflict rather than manage it.   

At its simplest, ‘collective intelligence’ can be understood as the enhanced capacity that is created when people work together, often with the help of technology, to internally promote a wider range of information, ideas, and insights. Collective intelligence (CI) emerges when these contributions are combined to become more than the sum of their parts for purposes ranging from learning and innovation to decision-making within teams. 

In a nutshell we can refer to collective intelligence as ‘becoming smarter together’ and its here where we will find high levels of creative thought breakthrough and innovation. After all, isn’t it now more than ever as we emerge from the darkness of 2020 that we need our teams to optimise and innovate?

If we take social sensitivity, collective intelligence and a high trust culture within a team and bring it all together by promoting accountability, we are taking huge steps in optimising our teams.

Accountability gives people a greater sense of ownership over their work. You can improve ownership by delegating responsibility to individuals within your team for them to lead. When someone feels greater responsibility, they often feel personal pride, making them care more about the quality of their work. You can see this through improved motivation, enthusiasm, and greater commitment to the team.

Finally – we have discussed the challenges presented to teams by the hierarchical structure within many organisations.  The flatter and more inclusive this structure is, the better the team can perform, where there is a strong sense of connectivity throughout the entire team regardless of seniority. 

The Swedish have a term known as ‘Fika’ which is often translated as "a coffee and cake break", which is kind of correct, but in reality, it is much more than that. Fika is a concept, a state of mind, an attitude, and an important part of Swedish culture. Many Swedes consider that it is almost essential to make time for Fika every day. It means making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee (or tea) and a little something to eat.

Fika cannot be experienced at your desk by yourself. That would just be taking coffee and cake. Fika is a ritual. Even the mighty Volvo plant stops for Fika. All Swedes consider it important to make time to stop and socialise, to take a pause. It refreshes the brain and strengthens relationships. And it makes good business sense: firms have better teams and are more productive where Fika is encouraged.

The author, John Neal is Head of Learning and Development with Maytrix Group Ltd and is passionate about team optimisation.  If you would like further insight or support, please contact us at info@maytrixgroup.com 

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