Take a moment to think of your favorite, most successful teams in any competitive field and the characteristics that made them great. They probably did a number of things well, such as sharing a common goal, strategically empowering individual team members, and clearly defining everyone’s role in pursuit of the primary objective. It’s no surprise these traits are often shared by the most successful teams, as many studies have shown four key characteristics most commonly associated with the most successful units: shared sense of identity, distinct roles amongst individual members, structured communication, and specific team norms. Of course, “research” and “studies” are often best validated by your own personal experiences.
Can you think of any successful teams you may have been on maintaining some (or all) of these characteristics? As any member of a successful team dynamic can attest to, cultivating these four characteristics within the group is at times easier said than done. Luckily there are tangible actions you can take to turn your team into a well-oiled machine! Here are a few:
- Set Goals – Motivation is highest amongst individuals and teams when there has been an agreed upon outcome the team is striving to achieve. Set your team outcome goal(s) early in the journey (i.e. competing in the regional open). The ultimate goal provides purpose for the long-term commitment of the team. Next, sit down as a group and record the smaller, process-oriented goals you will actually do to achieve the mission (i.e. daily/weekly training regimen). Create a system for tracking the process. The outcome goal is the “WHY” we compete, while the process is the “HOW” we get there. Be sure to focus mostly on the process goals, occasionally revisiting the outcome goal(s) when motivation for the process is needed.
- Establish Individual Roles – This can be tricky, as discussing individual roles often reveals the true complexities of the team’s members. Be mindful engaging this process. Discuss roles as a group while aiming to establish clarity and acceptance of roles for each member. Create space for team members to utilize their unique abilities, discuss ways to establish significance within each role reinforcing the purpose behind their efforts, and allow team members the opportunity to fulfill their job independently! A great coach once said, “Be a superstar in your role!”
- Normalize Communication – After goals and roles have been established for the team communication becomes everything to maintaining the chemistry. If you’ve completed steps 1 and 2 you will have already begun communicating purposefully with teammates. When establishing standards for team communication be attentive to the different communication styles of each team member, as one form of communicating with certain teammates may not work for others. Allow each team member the opportunity to discuss their preferred style of communication while remaining flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the larger collective.
- Actively “Check In” – Clear goals? Check. Individual roles established? Check. Effective forms of feedback for the group? Check. You’ve actually done most of the work already. Since repetition is the cousin of mastery, be sure to set a specific “process goal” (see step 1) for openly discussing the shifting circumstances of the team early and often. Be mindful of how team dynamics evolve as you all train and compete together. Schedule formal (i.e. team meeting at the gym) or informal (i.e. dinner and games at a teammates house) times to openly discuss them! While outcome goal(s) are less likely to change, the process it takes to get there is full of challenges, setbacks, and changing circumstances. Roles and teammates evolve. Commit to embracing this change, discussing it as a team, and validating the abilities, efforts, and challenges of team members’ experiences along the way.