Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Many Teams Don't Hit the Mark


I recently did some research on teamwork as I completed my masters degree. Teamwork is something we almost all experience from time to time. In fact, my research shows that nearly everyone works in a team environment in some fashion, and many of us work in teams on a regular basis (there is plenty of other research available on the subject as well). As we advance in our particular discipline or career, we often have the opportunity to lead these teams. There is a lot of material out there on becoming an effective team leader, but that’s not what I wanted to write about. Though many of us have opportunities to lead teams as we become high performers, we also continue to be team members. A particular part of my research that I found interesting was this:
Though 94% of respondents to my study agreed that they knew what was required for effective team work, only 67% agreed that their teams are actually effective.

Basically, we all claim to know how to work on a team but our teams don’t tell that story of success. If 94% of us really knew how to work on a team I guarantee that 43% of our teams wouldn’t be failing to produce. Here is the frustration point though for many high performing members: we know our teams aren’t performing well but we aren’t “in charge”. Have you been there – or maybe you are there? You are thinking to yourself, “If John would just pull his weight, we could get so much more done”. Or maybe you’re thinking, “if we could just get Sally to stop talking and going off topic, we’d get more accomplished.” Maybe it even goes much deeper than this for your team. Your team may flat out have incompetent members or, even worse, team members who just don’t seem to care about success. Yuck! As leaders and high performers, this can be such a frustrating and disillusioning situation. Here are a few tips for increasing the performance of your team when you aren’t officially empowered as the leader:

1. Leadership is NOT strictly positional: Leadership is much more than having the title “manager” or “team leader”. You don’t have to have the title to help move the team forward to success. Always remember that you can lead without the position. Serve the people around you, help others succeed, and provide thought leadership on topics of discussion. Invest in social capital and relationships to gain support and momentum for your ideas. 
2. Success is about the team: When it comes to a team, you won’t be successful until you buy into the fact the success of the team is more important than your own. If you’re concerned about your own well being and success then you’re damaging the team just as much as those that are under-performing. If you want to help, check your ego at the door and buy into success as a unit.
3. Teams develop as People Develop: Teams will never grow and develop without the people within them growing. If you’re a high performer, you can probably pick out the issues in your team. You have two options: you can complain about it, or you can fix it. Complaining will simply get your team into a downward cycle. Instead, choose to be a leader by helping other members develop.

With these realities in hand it might be a bit easier to understand how you can be a leader without being the leader. Great team members understand that they can engage with others and help them learn and development. High performers may simply look around the team and point out the weak links. Even if your opinion about those who are under performing is 100% correct, it doesn’t matter. Complaining about it doesn’t do any good. Leaders, on the other hand, see the weak links and come to support for the sake of the team. It’s a thankless job, but if you are truly focused on team success (which is the focus that you need), than it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. High performers and leaders are often asked to work on teams that they aren’t leading. You will most certainly come into contact with teams that are not performing well. In these instances, you have options: complain and withdraw, or lead and support from behind the scenes. Always remember that you don’t have to be the leader to be a leader. We may all claim to know how to work on a team, but that doesn't seem to be the case.


What have you been learning about effective team work? What makes a great team member?

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