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5 Keys to a Smart & Healthy Team

There are 5 important keys

to unlocking your team’s potential.

Too often companies proclaim teamwork as important, but frankly never define, invest in, or tap that potential. Instead, teamwork remains a platitude or virtue on the long list of company values posted on the wall.

So, first, let’s define team and why bother to build a smart and healthy team.

Teams are smaller groups of people (6-12) with diverse skill sets, focused on a collective goal, willing and able to share resources.

The Trouble With Teams

Teams often comprise subject matter experts who are passionate about their work – people who’ve either rallied around a vision (say, any start-up) or are assigned to launch a key company project or objective.

That sounds good on paper: the right people, who care, rallied around a clear vision.

However, subject matter experts do not always play well together. “Passion” basically equates to strong emotions, which is not easy to navigate – even for folks with a high emotional IQ.

And clear vision does not come with a set path or a certain outcome. A vision is a destination that often shifts and changes as the team rides the waves in their efforts to close the gap between where they started and where they want to ultimately end up.

So it’s important to understand that teams and teamwork are not easy. It takes skill, work and discipline.

It gets messy and uncomfortable.

It takes accountability and commitment.

It takes heart and courage

Transform Failure Into Innovation

When your team isn’t as productive as you might like, or you find yourself wishing people would just get along, or want them to just do it your way, it may seem like the team is failing. It feels like you’re stalled.

But it is equally possible that you are at a critical choice point! A point that, if tapped into and unlocked, will transform your team’s potential failure into creativity and innovative results.

5 Keys to Turn Your Team Around

Key 1: Know How You Opt Out

Though we create teams to maximize the potential benefit of the shared intelligence and collective effort, we are often not wired to hang in there when the team gets messy.

In order to maximize the benefits of the overall team IQ, you need to create a space that can hold the tension and ambiguity that comes when smart, passionate, team members wrestle over tough issues, creating conflict.

Instead of rushing to a ‘right’ answer, there needs to be room for lots of answers and options. For business leaders wanting to get to a solution fast, this can be uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, in business, rather than acknowledging our own discomfort, we have been trained to override those internal signs. So, with good intentions, we opt out of the conflict by using our super powers to defuse the tension and ambiguity.

To learn how you opt out of conflict, check out our book The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage.

Key 2: Learn to Be Your Best In the Midst of Conflict

Let’s just acknowledge the obvious: most people don’t like conflict. No, we feel uncomfortable and bit out of control. We prefer when our team is getting along, but that doesn’t usually lead to innovative results.

So we encourage teams to use the energy of conflict. Yet we all have our own good and bad past experiences with conflict that can get in the way of doing it well.

Imagine a tense meeting you’ve been in. When the tension started, how did you react?

Here we are – these smart, passionate people – having a discussion in a meeting, and it begins to get tense. As it escalates, despite our best efforts, our physiology (nervous system) takes over. We are no longer thinking with our smart brain, but our reptilian one – the one that just cares about survival. Creativity just flew the coop.This happens all the time with teams having critical, tense discussions. Unfortunately, even though the people may look the same, they’ve shifted into a low performance state while making these very important business decisions.

Learn how to stay smart in the midst of conflict, read How To Be Your Best In the Midst of Conflict.

Key 3: Use The Two Magic Ingredients That Instantly Transform Conflict

It’s not natural, but the best way to deal with the tension that conflict brings up within us and between us is not to defend and protect but, paradoxically, to be vulnerable and curious.

It only takes one person to instantly transform a team! That’s right: when ONE person steps out of fight or flight, and opens up to the potential danger of being vulnerable and curious, amazing things happen.

Be Vulnerable

This can be as simple as saying, “Ouch!” when someone attacks you in the middle of a debate, or “I’m uncomfortable,” as you watch two people go after each other in a meeting.

Be Curious

Instead of giving another person a second (or third) run at your point-of-view, pause… and see if you have really understood what they are saying. Risky? Sure, a little. But on a team, it builds trust and opens the door for real dialogue. Plus, we’ve seen it happen over and over again – it really does work like magic when just one person has the courage and guts to give vulnerability and curiosity a try. To learn more about these Two Magic Ingredients, go to our TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It.

Key 4: Check It Out!

We are wired to make meaning of the world. So we operate based on our own assumptions and how we put the information together. Too often we forget our world is not THE world!

What I see and hear is different than what someone else picks up. I filter my world based on MY own filters – my style, culture, significant emotional events – which are different than my teammate’s.

Bottom-line there is not simply one possibility, reality or storyline – so it is critical to check out our stories.

Key 5: Clarity – Row in the Same Direction

Sounds simple – yet unless the other four keys are being attended to – this one can be the hardest. Too often we find teams think they are clear on their path, but once they start to ask some strategic questions, it’s suddenly obvious they each have slightly different interpretations or priorities.

Frankly if that team were in a boat – it would either be dead in the water or zigg-zagging like crazy!

The simplest step here is to start with: What is the signal most important thing for us to accomplish in the next 3, 6 or 9 months?

There are more questions worth considering, but the answer to that one simple question will produce the team’s rallying cry. All of a sudden the team will be working together immediately and rowing in the same direction.

For more on rowing together read: What’s Your Corporate Signal Strength?

In Summary

Mastering the keys for un-tapping your team’s potential can seem hard. It takes discipline and effort. But before you give up on your team, remember a time when you did experience the joy of a great team. Maybe it was at work, maybe on the playing field or for a cause that you and others were passionate about…

I bet not only did you get better results than you would have alone; I bet you had fun and felt fulfilled. If you reflect a little more on that experience you might even remember the work that went into it. Smart and healthy teams are worth the investment! Tap your team’s potential and create innovative, profitable results!

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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