Uncover the (in)visible elements of team success
Author Vanessa Bradford
5 min read
Do you remember the Dwarfs in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs movie? Despite their faults, the Dwarfs worked pretty well together as a team, whether at home or at the diamond mine – all while singing an enthusiastic “hi-hoooooo.”
While we tend to have less of those “whistle while you work” moments in the real world, it is possible to cultivate a team environment that feels somewhat magical. Imagine leading a team of people who collaborate effectively, communicate well, and deliver great results. Often, those things are possible if they’re facilitated by inclusive leaders who understand the psychological factors that affect a team’s overall performance and success.
In previous blog posts, we explored two of these factors: trust and orientation, both of which are hidden beneath the surface of a team’s dynamic. Now, let’s dig into some of the more visible elements of a successful team dynamic:
Constructive communicationCommunication is an interesting element because it’s partially visible and partially hidden. We can easily observe some facets of communication (such as conversations), while others aren’t as clear-cut (such as body language or tone). On teams where constructive communication is prioritized, conversations are direct, yet positive. Everyone is encouraged to participate in their own way, actively listen, and ask for what they need. People typically leave group discussions with an action plan, and the encouragement or energy they need to move forward.
Poor communication is also relatively easy to spot when you know what to look for. If team members never seem to be on the same page or go back and forth on decisions, it’s a good indication that constructive communication habits haven’t been modeled or practiced.
AdaptabilityAdaptability is a fully visible element of team success. This refers to a team’s ability to adapt or adjust what they’re doing in the face of change. To be an adaptable team, members must be receptive to opportunities for innovation. This also means that members are encouraged by leaders to explore ways to improve processes, products, or outcomes based on market trends or company culture.
In contrast, teams that aren’t adaptable tend to operate with a “this is the way we’ve always done it” approach. They exist in their team comfort zone and are outwardly change-averse. On teams that aren’t adaptable, leaders don’t typically encourage curiosity, questions, or constructive feedback.
ProcessProcess is another fully visible element of team success. Teams with effective processes in place tend to have a good system for how they gather ideas, prioritize projects, and take action. While this takes some trial and error, teams with well-defined processes are clear about both individual roles and collective goals. This means that members can enjoy their autonomy while also feeling like a valued part of the team. In general, members know what to do and why they’re doing it.
At the other end of the process spectrum, teams with ill-defined processes fail to plan. In practice, this looks like unproductive or unnecessary meetings, missed deadlines, confusion about who does what, and quality inconsistencies. Ultimately, teams without the right processes in place don’t last long.
AlignmentAlignment is a visible element that refers to a team’s level of both collective and individual responsibility. On teams with high levels of alignment, members are more likely to hold each other accountable. Interestingly, aligned teams are less dependent on a leader because they’ve learned to take collective ownership of tasks and goals.
Teams that aren’t aligned may need more intervention by a leader or manager. It’s also worth mentioning that sometimes these interventions happen unnecessarily in the form of micromanagement. While the type of misalignment may differ, most teams that lack alignment aren’t clear on the organizational purpose or vision. Members tend to feel pulled in different directions or unsupported.
Conflict managementLike communication, conflict is both a hidden and visible element of team success. Often, outward disagreements are just the tip of the iceberg.
Beneath the surface, there are three types of conflict: task, process, and values.
On teams with good conflict management, the team dynamic is generally harmonious and people feel comfortable giving or receiving constructive feedback. However, it’s important to note that conflict can’t always be avoided, even on high-performing teams. In fact, time spent dealing with workplace conflict has more than doubled in the last 15 years. That’s why it's absolutely critical for leaders to instill good conflict management skills in their teams.
On teams with poor conflict management, members usually go along with whatever decisions are made by the loudest voices. These teams also tend to brush things under the rug and avoid openly debating issues. This creates an environment in which people feel stifled, distracted, and resentful.
To set your team up for success, boost self-awareness among members
All the elements of team success are deeply intertwined. For example, the number one cause of conflict is poor communication. And if a team doesn’t have effective processes in place, they’ll never truly be aligned. When one element is lacking, it causes a domino effect that destroys morale, mental health, and motivation.
To prevent this from happening (or fix an already broken team dynamic), start by building self-awareness – both in yourself and in your team members. Because the elements of team success are largely psychological, psychometric tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment can be invaluable. When team members understand the dimensions of their personality type and how they differ from their colleagues, they’re more open and willing to trust one another. And if the research has taught us anything, it’s that trust is a foundational element of team success.
While all the elements of team success are important, constructive communication should be your first priority alongside trust. This is another area where the MBTI assessment can help build better habits. Head of US Consultancy at The Myers-Briggs Company Dr. Rachel Cubas-Wilkinson puts it this way:
“With certain tweaks, we can apply an understanding of personality type so that our communication better appeals to others . . . Research demonstrates that when the quality of your communication is high in workplace relationships, you promote shared understanding, smoother overall functioning, and better performance. These are impressive outcomes.”
Overall, teams need leaders and managers willing to step up and put people over productivity. While job performance will always be important, the modern work landscape requires a more holistic approach – one that pays off in dividends. When people expand their self-awareness and learn about personality type in a professional setting, it often motivates them to show up as the best version of themselves at work and in life. To keep learning about how to lead successful teams, save these resources:
- Ebook: Psychology of teams
- Ebook: Psychology of conflict in the workplace
- Blog: To build better teams, start by building trust
- Blog: Leadership wake-up call: how’s your team’s orientation?
- Podcast: Psychological needs of teams with Dr. Marta Koonz
- Podcast: Inclusive leadership with Dr. Rachel Cubas-Wilkinson
- Podcast: Connecting with the people you lead with Dr. Martin Boult