The Secrets of Great Teamwork — William E. Oliver

Talking Trends
3 min readJan 5, 2024

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

Rosalynn Carter | Writer, Activist and Humanitarian

Today’s teams are different from the ones in the past; more diverse, digital and dynamic. Although they face different difficulties and new hurdles, I believe their success is still based on the core fundamentals of teamwork.

Having built dynamic teams and excelled in leadership roles, an article published by Harvard Business Review “The Secrets of Great Teamwork” by Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen greatly resonated with me.

The article outlined certain “enabling conditions” that the authors believed to be vital for a team’s success. Here are the enabling conditions that the authors found to be important for teams’ success even during the modern-day -

1. Compelling Direction

It is important for every team to have a direction or a goal. Otherwise, teams cannot be motivated or inspired to work. Goals should be challenging, but not seem unattainable. Direction is especially important when the team members are diverse. With different backgrounds, members can hold different perspectives of the group’s purpose. Thus, explicitly mentioning a direction or goal is vital.

For example, in a team studied by the authors, there was conflict regarding how they perceived the goal of “serving the client”. “Members in Norway equated it with providing a product of the absolute highest quality — no matter what the cost. Their colleagues in the UK, however, felt that precise solution would better serve that client.

2. Strong structure

Teams require a mix of diversity and a balance of skills. “Every individual doesn’t have to possess superlative technical and social skills, but the team overall needs a healthy dose of both. Diversity in knowledge, views, and perspectives, as well as in age, gender, and race, can help teams be more creative and avoid groupthink.”

3. Supportive context

A supportive environment helps facilitate the team’s success. This involves “maintaining a reward system that reinforces good performance, an information system that provides access to the data needed for the work, and an educational system that offers training”.

4. Shared Mindset

In the past, teams were homogenous and had a similar outlook. Now with great diversity, there are subgroups in a team which leads to a “us versus them” problem. As such, leaders have a greater responsibility to foster a shared mindset, “common identity and common understanding” amongst the team members.

5. Evaluating Your Team

Evaluating your team is vital for determining whether the above four conditions actually work. This involves regular checks for preventive measures as well as in-depth checks when issues arise. “Not only does this give you more-complete data — shining a light on potential blind spots — but it also reveals differences among viewpoints and opens up areas for discussion.”

You can read the original article here



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