Five Truths of Teamwork & Business Transformation
Digital transformation gets a lot of column inches and air time, but business transformation – well, perhaps less so. It should come as no surprise, given my job title, that it’s the driving focus of my role, and interestingly, many of the questions I am asked about business transformation have a key theme: team work.
People can find it difficult to work as part of a team as they feel that they’re giving up control in some way. However, you’re likely to achieve far more as a team of people with different opinions and experiences to bring to the table. Just remember the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Here are a few of the top and topical questions I’m frequently asked about team work from the perspective of business transformation, and the truths we’ve discovered in our day to day team dynamics as a business.
1. How important is shared decision-making and communication?
If you want to maintain engagement within a team then shared decision making is key. The more you exclude team members from decisions which impact them or the project you’re working on together, the more likely they are to be disengaged. Increased disengagement is likely to result in them contributing less to the group and will see their focus potentially move on to other things.
Try and put thought into the decision-making process up front. Create a ‘modus operandi’ for how key decisions are made and agree whether a consensus or similar approach will be taken as a group. By communicating that from the outset, people will know how and when they will get the opportunity to input and challenge.
Communication is key to all successful teams - internally within the team itself but also to stakeholders outside of the team who are impacted by the deliverables. In many functions daily ‘stand-ups’ are an absolute must in bringing and keeping teams together. They’re deliberately called ‘stand-ups’ as they’re short and snappy – it’s an opportunity to update on the achievements of the previous day and what’s anticipated for the day ahead. This clear communication method ensures everyone stays aligned, focused on the next activities and fully engaged with the results of the team.
Within the team itself, open communication will ensure that there are limited misunderstandings. Keep communication open, keep it regular, keep it honest and confirm understanding. A team will strengthen when everyone is crystal clear on what’s happening and where concerns are raised without fear of consequence.
2. I struggle when working in a team – how can I get better?
If you don’t feel you’re making the impact you’d like within a team, it may be time to ask your team mates for some feedback. It can be daunting to do so, and you may not initially like all of the feedback you receive, but it’s so important to demonstrate that you’re listening and that you want to make a difference for the team. This feedback should provide direction on changes you can make personally to have a better impact.
Look for ways to make an immediate impact. Try to take some of the load off your colleagues – demonstrate with some quick wins that you’re there to support them in achieving shared goals.
If you’re approaching a team project from a ‘position’ – then be honest about it. Tell your colleagues why the project is so important to you and why you wanted to get involved in the first place. It avoids team mates thinking or looking for an agenda in others. Be as positive as you can within the team – talk with passion about what can be achieved rather than talking about barriers and challenges all the time.
3. Why are some teams more effective than others?
Often it can be due to a lack of diversity in a team – whether that’s skills, sex, culture etc. There’s so much research that recommends that diversity is present in all teams – including around the boardroom table.
More often than not, unsuccessful teams don’t have a clear purpose. If the vision is not clear from the outset, confusion can set in around what success looks like and what each of the individual contributors to the team are looking to achieve. It’s so important for a successful team to have clarity of purpose as well as empowerment to make decisions.
A successful team is likely to have three elements in place:
- Listening – the team will listen to each other with 100% attention ensuring everyone has the opportunity to contribute
- Feedback – they will seek out ways to develop themselves and one another, without fear of consequence
- Appreciation – they will spend time actively appreciating the contributions of others
With these in place - alongside a clear purpose – you’re likely to have a strong culture within the team; a culture where people are supportive, willing to take risks and, ultimately, achieve greater levels of success. It’s about building a culture of psychological safety.
4. What are the common pitfalls of team-working?
I see four common pitfalls:
- Teams taking too long to be able to make an impact, leading to potentially lack of support from stakeholders and perhaps apathy setting in within the team itself
- A lack of empowerment to make decisions. Having to revert to some level of authority for minor decisions, who may or may not be readily available to grant their ‘permission’
- Imbalance: if some members of the team deliver far more than others, this can lead to unrest as people believe they’re carrying others. A strong team with an open feedback culture will tackle this from the outset
- Conflicting priorities: this can be the reason for an unequal contribution from team members. It’s important that everyone in the team understands the importance of what they’re trying to achieve and that it’s prioritised accordingly
5. Top five tips for improved teamworking?
- Have a clear sense of purpose – why are we here, what are we hoping to achieve and results-orientated
- Have a culture of feedback – people share appreciation and opportunities to develop themselves and colleagues – supportive learning and adapt culture
- Create a culture of psychological safety – where it’s ok to make mistakes, learn fast and move forward. This, in combination with appreciation, will ensure positivity in the team; a feel-good factor which will improve performance
- Clarity on team roles – embrace diversity and what everyone brings to the team, listen with 100% attention when people contribute and provide everyone with the opportunity to have their say
- Communicate frequently and openly – this will also support the development of trust in the team, which is vital
In order for businesses to transform, change needs to be communicated. So regardless of your position, ensure you communicate the successes of the team on a regular basis to stakeholders. Not only is it great in terms of keeping the positivity and engagement of those in the team, but it’s good practice to ensure your stakeholders are aware of the progress that’s being made and how it’s benefitting the function or business overall.
Gareth Cram is Director of Business Transformation TAA, Wolters Kluwer UK, and is responsible for delivering transformational digital and leadership services across Wolters Kluwer's UK tax and accounting software division. An inspired leader with a track record of delivering outstanding results over a 20 year period in customer service,...