10 Characteristics of High-Performing Collaborative Teams

Today’s LeadBIG guest post is from Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese. It’s an excerpt from their new book The Collaboration Imperative: Executive Strategies for Unlocking Your Organization’s True Potential.  You can connect with Ron and Carl on Facebook and Twitter as Cisco Collaboration.

Most members of high-performing teams report that it’s fun and satisfying to work on collaborative teams because they are asked to contribute at their highest potential and they learn a lot along the way.

10 characteristics of high-performing collaborative teams

  1. People have solid and deep trust in each other and in the team’s purpose — they feel free to express feelings and ideas.
  2. Everybody is working toward the same goals.
  3. Team members are clear on how to work together and how to accomplish tasks.
  4. Everyone understands both team and individual performance goals and knows what is expected.
  5. Team members actively diffuse tension and friction in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.
  6. The team engages in extensive discussion, and everyone gets a chance to contribute — even the introverts.
  7. Disagreement is viewed as a good thing and conflicts are managed. Criticism is constructive and is oriented toward problem solving and removing obstacles.
  8. The team makes decisions when there is natural agreement — in the cases where agreement is elusive, a decision is made by the team lead or executive sponsor, after which little second-guessing occurs.
  9. Each team member carries his or her own weight and respects the team processes and other members.
  10. The leadership of the team shifts from time to time, as appropriate, to drive results. No individual members are more important than the team.

A team charter paves the way for collaborative success by providing clarity that builds trust and accountability. With a team charter in place, you’ll be able to unlock the potential value of your people by empowering them to contribute.

In the long run, teams with a clear purpose and good chemistry drive business results. Job satisfaction goes up, employees stay engaged in their work and everybody wins.



Collaboration is messy…4 reasons to go for it anyway

I used to tease Frank, an accountant where I worked some years ago, for his hope that life would track more like a balance sheet — all the ins and outs offsetting perfectly, all neat and tidy.

Truth is, neat and tidy rarely applies to life, love and leadership. Getting ‘em right is messy, time-consuming and requires real commitment. This reality surfaced recently in a chat with a colleague when he remarked collaboration was more trouble than it was worth.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. ~African Proverb

Borrowing an acronym from the military, collaboration is full of VUCA - volatility, uncertainly, complexity and ambiguity.  Yet, when a shared effort goes right, the rewards are well worth the trouble.

Collaboration: 4 reasons and realities to go for it

  • Collaboration is volatile - hang on, fasten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride. Multiple opinions, experiences, styles and preferences come into play when working with a group. Sure it’s a balancing and sharing act, yet the variety of inputs yields a richer outcome than what you could have produced alone.
  • Collaboration is full of uncertainty - what a great way to expand one’s comfort zone and sphere of knowledge. Unpredictability and surprise expose us to ideas and emotions we may not encounter on a singular journey; some are beneficial, some not. Yet all add to the breadth and depth of our experience.
  • Collaboration is complex - embrace it. It can be confusing, confounding, crappy and chaotic, too. Embrace them, too! Go it alone if you seek simplicity. If you and/or organization seek growth, engagement and innovation, pass out the waders and head for the deep end of the pool. That’s where the group can really challenge and support one another in the way to excellence.
  • Collaboration is ambiguous - add that tolerance to your toolkit.  Ambiguity is the breakfast of leaders. There’s no room in today’s complex world for cut-and-dried, black-and-white answers to everything. Many of the realities of business are dualities to be perpetually managed — things like stability and change, task and relationship, impose and facilitate. Success requires you to do both because they identify a relationship that’s ongoing and which raises issues that don’t go away. A diet of all stability leads to atrophy and demise; a feast of all change yields bedlam and uncertainty.

As Emmanual Gobillot writes in Leadershift, “traditional leader behavior that focuses on command and control becomes irrelevant.” Communal social power and transformational leadership rest on a base of collaboration. Ready to play?!



Divine Secrets of the Supportive Sisterhood

“It’s a dirty little secret among women that we don’t support one another,” says Susan Shapiro Barash, author of Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry and professor of gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College.

The sweeping generality of Ms. Barash’s comment perturbed me, yet the core of truth in her assertion unfortunately resonated.

The statistics coming from her research troubled me even more:

  • Over 90% of the women Ms. Barash interviewed admitted to envy and jealousy toward other women coloring their lives.
  • 90% had observed competition in the workplace occurring primarily between women rather than between women and men.
  • And, get this, 25% said that they had stolen a female friend’s husband, boyfriend or job!

Distressing for sure,  but more to come…

Gail McGuire, chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Indiana University South Bend, authored an article “Intimate Work: A Typology of the Social Support That Workers Provide to Their Network Members.” This report contains the nasty little nugget: that once women are promoted, they aren’t likely to hire women to join them in the upper management ranks. This research puts quantitative data behind Ms. Barash’s claim about the dirty little secret. Yikes!

And more…

A 2007 Workplace Institute study found that of those who mistreat co-workers, women were more likely to target other women (71%), compared to men who bully other men (54%).

63% of 2,000 British women surveyed in 2009 reported that they preferred having a male boss.

Cue *the big sigh*

Bullying. Not helping. Competing. Under-cutting. Back-stabbing.

Disagree with me if you will, but, to me, these are behaviors of the chronically low-powered.  Women who choose to make their mark, stake out their turf, and/or secure their standing by steam-rolling and/or belittling other women.

Cue *Kathryn and the Divine Secrets of the Supportive Sisterhood*

Kathryn, a woman who honors me with her friendship, has nailed the divine secrets of the supportive sisterhood.  She gets what it takes to support her fellow women.

Secret #1 – Tell it straight-up: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Kathryn was a participant in a workshop I conducted late last year.  Her post-session feedback was invaluable, both what I did well and where I could improve. Women supporting women want to see all women do well, so there’s no skipping over the constructive criticism to maintain “I-want-you-to-like-me” status or covering up an “I-secretly-want-to-see-you-fail” mindset.

Secret #2 – Open doors and make introductions.

Kathryn must have the longest speed dial and email lists around.  She’s quick to facilitate connections or share a recommendation for where to go, what to see, who to meet. Relationships, alliances and coalitions are the new currency of the workplace. Building those bonds between and with other women can only help advance our general standing in business.

Secret #3 – Replace the cat suit with collaboration and recognition.

Having a little milk with your snarky cat chow comments serves no one well. Kathryn is known for her supportive remarks, notes and get-together suggestions. Cease with the catty comments which only fuel the image of Ms. Barash’s dirty little secret claim. Instead, learn the background stories of your female colleagues; be a safe harbor or a sounding board for them. We’re only as strong as our weakest link.

Secret #4 – Share freely what you know.

Kathryn is quick to share articles, access and/or information. Protecting your turf by hoarding knowledge or aggregating power doesn’t expand your sphere of influence…it limits it – with both the guys and the gals.  Power with is the new starting point.

Secret #5 – Like yourself so you can like others.

For most of us, the inner critic is alive and well and oh-so-quick with the negative “you aren’t good enough, smart enough, thin enough, whatever enough” script.  Embrace your own goodness…you’ve got lots of it.  Be confident…look at all you’ve accomplished. Revel in your own uniqueness instead of wishing you were more like someone else.

Please do step into your positive power — and bring another woman along with you!

What other divine secrets will you add to the list?



Leadership, Overcoats and Continuity

“So glad that’s over,” said Charles to his assistant. “It’s hard putting on a happy face when I talk to my employees about the direction the company is going. I don’t want to scare them with bad news or have them think that I can’t handle it.”

Six months later, Charles had to close his little shop. Charles’ view of leadership was a bit like that of an overcoat: something to be put on when needed, then taken off.

Had he shared the truth with his employees and involved them in the solution, perhaps the ending might have been different.

Some use-your-head-to-manage-and-your-heart-to-lead thoughts to guide you in similar situations:

1) Don’t sugar coat the truth. If times are tough, level with your employees. OK, a few may jump ship, but the rest will surprise you. Most people rise to the occasion when times are tough. Be open to implementing their ideas — what a positive morale boost that is.

2) Don’t play a role. Putting on a “happy face” isn’t authentic or effective. A true leader is a leader 7 x 24 — whether at the office or coaching a little league game — who has the best interests of those around him/her in mind and perpetually seeks the best win-win outcome. What other insights can you share? What other examples have you seen, experienced, loved, hated?

3) Reject the-all-knowing-boss myth. Sure, you own the business or run the department, but that doesn’t mean you have all the answers every time. Tap into the collective knowledge, wisdom and creativity of those around you. Challenge and inspire people to get involved, and then step aside and nurture their development as they try out their solutions.

What else would you recommend?





Decisions, double-edged swords and the devil’s advocate

“My boss doesn’t think my decision to implement a new performance review system was a good one.”

“Did he offer a reason for his position?”

“He said he thought I didn’t look at other options or involve enough other people.”

“Did you do those things?”

“Sure, I did some research, albeit not a lot, and talked to a few people but what I really did was my job:  see a problem and fix it.”

Hmmm…danger signs at the intersection of autonomy and collaboration!

Reconsider, v.  To seek a justification for a decision already made.  ~Ambrose Bierce

In his thought-provoking book, Motivation, Daniel Pink points to research detailing — not surprisingly — that we’re stimulated by purpose, mastery and autonomy.  Yet, if we’re going to be a successful leader, the autonomy portion of that equation must be balanced with collaboration.

While there are times when a party of one is the best decision-maker, most times it’s more beneficial and productive to invite more people to the decision-making party. Results include diversity of thought, inclusion and participation.

What’s a good decision-making process?

I’m not advocating for reams of analysis and organizational paralysis, just a simple process to assure involvement and a rich, thoughtful outcome:

- Create a constructive environment.  Have a focus group, take some folks to coffee, mingle after the staff meeting — all good locales for sharing your preliminary thoughts and inviting alternate points of view.

- Generate and explore good alternatives.  No doubt, creating solutions is part of your job. Just be sure that you’ve read enough, talked enough, and turned over enough rocks to have a full picture of both the problem and potential solutions.  Sometimes you find out that the problem you’re trying to solve isn’t the problem at all.  As you explore, challenge (in a positive, professional way, of course!) the thinking of those involved as healthy debate is integral to productive brainstorming.

- Select the best outcome. Be thoughtful in analyzing the pros and cons of each solution. Ferret out unintended consequences before they happen. Balance the three-legged stool of people, principles and profits.

- Check your decision. Bounce the problem and proposed solution off an impartial third-party, someone with no skin in the game.  Get a truly unbiased view of whether your solution is on the mark or misses it.  Park the ego, and be willing to return to square one based on what you learn.

- Communicate.  Double-back with stakeholders (at all levels within the organization) to assure their buy-in. Talk to people who will be affected by the new system, process, etc. and weigh their feedback. Play angel’s advocate with yourself and with the decision-party team to test your assumptions and solutions to see if they hold water.

- Make it happen.  Put the plan into place, create success measures (both quantitative and qualitative as appropriate) and use a thoughtful plan to monitor progress and maintain ongoing communications.

If you’ve followed this process, then you can say “I’ve done my job!”