Talent / Culture Productivity

How to Build a Highly Productive Team that Solves Problems

by Sasha Viasasha
March 21, 2018

Our cultural mythos loves to shine a spotlight on the superhero. The Elon Musks and Jeff Bezos of the world are envisioned to be solitary heroes who single-handedly disrupted and disarmed entire industries. But behind every great leader is an effective team that can work together to solve problems and pursue a common goal.

Motivating teams to work together is challenging, especially as many of the structures that teams have traditionally coalesced around, such as a strong central leader and fixed organizational process, have dissolved.

Teams today are often distributed across different geographies, have looser structures and are finding their way forward in midst of widescale disruption and rapid change. They can’t rely on established protocols and are often essentially leaderless, driven by a goal or vision rather than an authoritative figure. This is because agile teams are horizontally rather than vertically structured.

Oftentimes, a team is assembled simply to complete a project; a highly fungible, flexible structure that adapts to a changing set of parameters.  

This structure allows businesses to run solid operations from a small core, utilizing the freelance marketplace and leveling digital technologies to remain competitive and innovative. A strong culture and effective team communication becomes even more important in this instance.

Fostering creative conflict

One of the dangers of teamwork is group-think or polarization. This is why diverse teams come up with more creative and effective solutions. Diversity across a range includes cultural diversity, but also differing backgrounds, experiences, ways of thinking and even personalities.

When you have a diverse team, you’ll likely have some conflict, too. Directing it towards creative solutions means creating a space where each team member has a voice and forum where ideas can be critiqued and shared. Google's epic study on effective teams found a variety of different team structures, from close peers who socialized after hours, to teams comprised of members who were essentially strangers. Some had strong leaders, while in other teams the members took leadership roles. What remained constant, though, was a characteristic that researchers named “equality in conversational sharing,”

When a single individual or small group dominated, the collective intelligence of the team fell, but it rose as more voices contributed to the conversation.

Peer-to-peer reviews

Performance reviews don’t really make sense for small, project-oriented teams, and they are even falling out of favor in larger organizations. Real-time peer review can be tremendously useful, with a few caveats: although criticisms are sometimes necessary, positive feedback has been found to be more effective.

Peer-to-peer review can be a more informal system, where the culture encourages team members to acknowledge a job well done, sometimes simply with a thumbs up or some other visual cue. Some people do flourish under a more vigorous peer rating system. Competitive industries where success has little margin of error often adopt more stringent peer rating system. Many people don’t like these systems, but the type A personalities that survive them often thrive under such a system. 

Peer-to-peer feedback under a formal or informal system can be a great way to build a strong culture even on transient team.

Setting clear goals

Flexible work flourishes when there is a clear goal, and effective teams must have a destination and rough roadmap to get there. Each member must understand their role and own their work, as well as seeing how their work fits into the bigger picture. Are the goals SMART?  

S: Specific

M: Measurable

A: Attainable

R: Relevant

T: Time-bound

This is a good start, but making sure that the work of the team fits together is another challenge, particularly for agile teams. If a project manager or lead is managing the workflow, they should have the big picture in mind, but often the teams itself is responsible for articulating and driving its own vision. In such a case, the team should meet, and make sure goals are aligned and organized in a coherent time frame.

Due to the interdependent nature of teamwork, waiting for another team member to hand off a complete task can create frustrations and even hostility. Organizing everything in a google spreadsheet or collaborative software and posting regular status updates can ensure everyone is on the same page.  

Culture and communication

In the end, digital transformation is less about digital and more about transformation—human transformation. Its ultimate goal is erasing the limitation of physical distance and scale. Success depends on the creation of more intelligent and effective organizational structures and cultures. Agile communications require strategy and planning. To learn more about how an agile communication plan is structured, visit the blog we wrote about this here.

To that end, teams need technology that can help them connect easily with each other and the information they need, with a minimum of friction. The hyper-mobility of digital  workers is driving solutions that are simple but powerful, and help teams solve problems more quickly, on the spot, from wherever they are. 

Connecting teams around the world

Spoke Phone is a virtual phone system that helps teams to stay connected, manage call traffic, and provide a superior customer experience using their own mobile phones. Our virtual PBX is a smart system that routes calls to the right teams, keeps contact info up-to-date automatically, and makes it easier for team members to easily transfer calls to the right colleague anywhere on the planet. We’re also building intelligent next-gen mobile-first features so team members can save and share audio clips from calls, or to record audio notes after the caller has gone.

Want to learn more about our virtual phone system and see first-hand how it empowers your team to get more calls made and answered? Sign up for a free demo and we'll show you how it works. 

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