The 3 Crucial Conditions of Great Teamwork

Accomplishing great things in business requires great teamwork. Steve Jobs put it this way, “Great things in business are never done by one person, but rather by a team of people.” 

Achieving great teamwork depends on our ability to manage the team’s energy. For that, we need a compelling goal, a conducive environment, & effective systems.

1) A Compelling Goal

A good goal is clear and compelling; it’s time-bound, measurable, challenging, & meaningful. It generates energy among all team members

Time-bound. Time throttles energy. Too little and energy is spent in a frenzy, without a strategy. Too much and energy is wasted. Monthly goals are best, with visible daily and weekly performance targets (sub-goals). When the team misses a target, energy will actually increase—there’s still time reach the goal!

Measurable. A measurable goal is clear. It’s simple to know when it’s achieved. It also delivers real-time performance feedback, which empowers the team to hone in on how to best use their energy.

Challenging. The right amount of challenge depends on the team’s capabilities—the goal needs to be ‘right-sized.’ Too much challenge and energy is lost to anxiety and stress. Too little and energy is lost to boredom and complacency. The right amount of challenge sits just outside of the team’s comfort zone—it makes everyone a little uncomfortable.

Meaningful. Make it meaningful by conveying why it matters and acknowledging wins along the way. Showing the team how their work makes a difference keeps the team energized—it stokes their fire.

But a compelling goal isn’t enough.

2) A Conducive Environment

A conducive environment prevents energy from being wasted or snuffed out. An environment that’s conducive to great teamwork has core value alignment, structure, ground rules, and autonomy.

Core value alignment. Alignment on core values is critical for minimizing unproductive conflict. When everyone’s aligned on core values, trust is high and there’s a strong sense of shared belonging. Trust and shared belonging helps people do better work—trust increases speed and quality.

Structure. Trying to accomplish a goal without structure is like trying to assemble IKEA furniture on the roof of a moving bus.

Structure provides a solid frame and support. The frame consists of the physical workspace, team size, ground rules, and mission. Support consists of helping team members work within the frame (coaching) and settling disputes (refereeing).

A team can only be as effective as the structure that supports it.

Ground rules. Gossip, rumors, grandstanding, and other toxic behavior focuses the team’s energy against itself—like a cancer. Good ground rules promote respectful, constructive interactions (and discourage toxic, destructive ones). The consistent enforcement of ground rules is necessary for maintaining a conducive environment. Great teamwork isn’t possible in an environment that tolerates toxic behavior. Ground rules define boundaries, what the team must always do and never do.

Autonomy. Energy plummets when team members lack control over how a goal is achieved. Great teamwork requires the team be granted some intellectual range of motion (trusted to use their judgement). The game, with its rules, playing field, and scorekeeping method can (and should) be clearly and rigidly defined, but how the team plays the game needs to stay flexible. Autonomy is essential for engagement.

3) Effective Systems

Systems are the resources & methods needed to get the work done. Systems power more progress with less effort, and fewer mistakes, which makes obtaining results easier and amplifies the team’s effectiveness, especially over time. Systems—like good habits—make progress automatic; they minimize setbacks and propel the team forward.

Great things happen through great teamwork, but teamwork doesn’t just happen. It hinges on these three crucial conditions: 1) a compelling goal, 2) a conducive environment, & 3) effective systems. 

Photo by Riccardo Annandale