Ten Behaviors of Great Teams

By Marc Smith Sacks, MA, PCC

What was the greatest team you were ever a part of?

Great Teams

Some characteristics leaders often cite are the buzz of energy and engagement, being part of something compelling or bigger than oneself, and feeling inspired to stretch beyond ones normal limits to win.

What was your experience like?

We see and coach common behaviors that become predictors of great teams. We want you to have the ability to grow your team to greatness, whether you are the official leader or a member of a team. In his April 2012 HBR article, The New Science of Building Great Teams, computer scientist, Alex “Sandy” Pentland describes how his team at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory identified the ‘data signature’ of great teams.

As coaches, we are always encouraging our clients to turn their awareness into tangible actions they can take.  To that end, here are ten behaviors of great teams that are measurable and quantifiable, and I say that they are nondiscretionary. By “non-discretionary”, I mean that if any one of these behaviors is not present, the team’s performance will suffer. Alternatively, practicing all of these simple, learnable behaviors is a far better predictor of team performance than intelligence or raw talent.

See how your team stacks up against this list:

1. Members spend an appropriate amount of time meeting face to face. This factor can account for 35% of the variation in team performance! We’ve seen the importance of involving our bodies in communication  since the 1960’s. Remember the Merhabian studies? Subjects attributed tone of voice and non-verbal behavior far more important than words. Not being face to face increases the likelihood of disconnection, misunderstanding, and mis-coordination.  An especially important observation in our ever-increasingly virtual world.

2. When meeting in person, members face one another, and their gestures are energetic. It’s possible to be in the same room, and be not present, connected, or even open to others.  Somatic Leadership expert, Richard Strozzi-Heckler has trained Navy Seals and Fortune 500 leaders to remain present, open, and connected in even the most high-stakes situations.

3. Members listen as much as or more than they talk and are usually very engaged with whomever they’re listening to. This reminds me of Steven Covey’s Fifth Habit: “Seek first to understand before being understood.” When we apply this fundamental habit, we can create an environment of openness, authenticity, and transparency in our interactions with others.

4. Members keep conversational contributions brief and to the point. Meetings can get bogged down in dueling assessments that describe various points of view and never get to action. Generative Conversations, as described by performance experts, Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan require less time and powerfully create next actions.

5. When operating remotely, members use video conference or phone for substantive conversations and minimize use of email and text. So much gets lost in virtual communications, especially asynchronous, two-dimensional communication, such as email and texting. We already face plenty of challenges to being fully present, connected, or open, and email and text communication make these communication factors nearly impossible. So before you hit that send button, take 30 seconds to a) define what success looks like for this communication effort, and b) evaluate whether a face to face, phone, or video conference conversation would be more appropriate.

6. Members routinely and actively circulate amongst the team, engaging with one another in short, high-energy conversations.  In his book, You Can’t Lead with Your Feet on the Desk, hotel industry leader, Ed Fuller recommends ditching the desk and leading from the front to build trust, shared values, and commitment in partnerships and teams.

7. Members carry on informal, side conversations within the team. So much of great meetings depends on what happens before and after the meetings. It is often in informal conversations, when we are most relaxed, most open to possibilities, when we can be the most creative, produce and spread our best ideas, and harvest our most important lessons.

8. Members distribute their energy across the team. Knowing our team members, having strong relationships, building trust and alignment happens over time and through a recurrence of positive interactions. We perform best on teams where we have built strong relationships over time.

9. Members are democratic with their time, making sure all team members get a chance to contribute. Great teams make sure that everybody has a voice, and nobody is left out of the loop on topics that impact them and their roles and commitments. I heard team expert, Patrick Lencioni, giving a keynote claim “People won’t buy-in until the weigh in.” Even if the ultimate decision is different than what people propose, they are far more likely to buy in and support it when they have had the opportunity to express their point of view and have it considered.

10. Members seek ideas from outside the group, but not at the expense of group engagement. This factor becomes especially important for creative teams. Discovering and cross-appropriating ideas from other functions is a proven strategy for innovation.

How did you and your team do? Question-Mark

Through innovations in data science, we now have the ability to track these behaviors and directly link them to team performance. The non-discretionary nature of these behaviors means that they are affecting your team’s performance whether you are paying attention to them or not. In most cases, we can anticipate significant increases in team performance simply by taking a finite number of practical steps.

Contact us to learn about what specific steps you and your team can take to boost you performance!