Teamwork allows us to engage in important work, and teams hold immense power. Those on teams share perspectives, brainstorm ideas, and produce results beyond what’s possible alone. With organizations relying increasingly on teams to deliver impact, teamwork skills are needed more than ever.
Part of the ATD Soft Skills Series, Teamwork in Talent Development is for talent development professionals who serve as team leaders or team members and wish to improve their collaboration abilities, build successful teams, and maximize their team performance for solving business problems, meeting learning needs, promoting culture change, and more.
Author Thane Bellomo is an organizational development innovator, author, and speaker who has spent more than 20 years working with Fortune 500 organizations and leaders in manufacturing, healthcare, government, and the energy industry. We recently spoke with him to get some insights on key takeaways from the book.
1. Why write another teamwork book?I often get called on to help organizations with teams. In such cases, leaders are struggling to create high performing teams and don’t quite know how to do it. There are a million teaming models and formulas out there that outline the attributes of high-performing teams, yet I still see leaders and organizations wrestling with this problem. My observations are that many leaders don’t often think about the upfront work of team creation. What circumstances are most likely to drive the development of team performance? What are the attributes of team support that help high-performing teams develop? I haven’t seen many resources that address the upfront work needed to create the circumstances most likely to develop high-performing teams.
An analogy for this is trying to grow crops in unfertile soil. You can read all the books about how to plant, when to plant, and how much to water. But if your soil is poor, then none of that matters. What I address in this book is how to ensure that you are working with fertile soil. When we create the correct conditions, the likelihood that we will end up with high-performing teams is much greater. This book addresses a gap in teaming literature, which will help leaders.
I also wrote this book to outline the far-reaching impact that creating high-performing teams can have on your organization. People often think that teams are just groups of people that complete a task or packet of work. That is such a limited view of how powerful teams can be in your organization when done well. In terms of the development of trust and community, high-performing teams have enormous downstream benefits. Leaders don’t often approach teaming with this in mind. This book will help leaders not only recognize that value but work to create it.
2. What is the one thing that you hope people take away after reading this book?I want leaders to understand that well-formed and well-led teams solving important problems lead to the development of trust and community within the team. Teams accomplish a lot of work, which is a good thing. But when people struggle together to accomplish important things, they develop high levels of trust and relationships that end up resembling what we might call a community. Communities care about one another; they want each other to succeed; and they create circumstances where people will provide high levels of discretionary effort to ensure the success of not only the project itself, but of each other.
The relationships forged in these instances live on long after the team is disbanded. Team members continue to collaborate, maintain communication, and help each other succeed. The result is often high levels of cross-functional and cross-departmental information sharing and innovation. This dynamic can be a big differentiator in your organization’s ability to compete in the market.
3. What is the biggest gap you see in how leaders lead teams?The biggest gap in how leaders lead teams is in the initial framing and formation of the team. Leaders often throw a group of people together and tell them to go do something. This approach undercuts some of the most powerful factors that determine team performance. First, teams should be thought of as problem-solvers, not task-doers. This is an important distinction that is often overlooked. When we task teams to solve a problem, we have the opportunity for coming up with better solutions. This dynamic allows us to leverage the innovative capacity of the group to engage with the problem and develop solutions.
Second, high-performing teams are more likely to form when they are engaged in important work. Leaders often assume that just because they want a packet of work completed, the assignment is important. However, if the team doesn’t feel the assignment is important, then they will not naturally provide discretionary effort to solve the problem or execute the work. Important work lends itself to discretionary effort, engagement, and collaboration.
We know this because the inverse is true. When teams engage in unimportant work, we tend to see the hallmarks of low-performing teams—lack of discretionary effort, disengagement, variable effort, and destructive conflict. Helping the team understand the importance of the work you are asking them to engage with is key. If you can’t convince them that it is important, then that might be a clue that it really isn’t.
4. What team behaviors are most impactful for creating high-performing teams?The most important attributes and behaviors critical to team performance are their level of curiosity and their ability to challenge. It is a tautology that humanity advances through disagreement. Only through wrestling with differing ideas and perspectives do we triangulate onto the most effective answers. Too many teams have cultures that stifle disagreement and frown upon vigorously challenging one another and leadership. I advise leaders to build team cultures where the expectation is that everyone approaches disagreement with curiosity. “Tell me more” should probably be the most used phrase on any team, particularly during disagreements. This opens the door for people to engage in dialogue and perspective sharing.
Curiosity also permits vigorous challenges. The team norm should be an expectation of disagreeing that leads to solutions. Leaders can set a good example by asking their teams, “Tell me why I am wrong,” or maybe even better, “Tell me why this is a bad idea.”
5. What are the outcomes that you hope leaders and organizations will get by using this book to guide their team leadership?I hope that leaders will recognize the “if you want teamwork, then give the teamwork.” I hope that leaders will internalize that trust is an outcome of people effectively struggling together to accomplish great things. I also hope that leaders will spend a lot more time up front thinking carefully about the importance of the work they are tasking the team with; framing the importance of that work; tasking the team with solving a problem; and honoring the importance of the work by providing the team autonomy, funding, and effective sponsorship. When all components are in place, leaders are much more likely to create a high-performing team and reap its benefits.
6. How can organizations best drive the development of high-performing teams?Organizations can take the lessons from the book to build an effective team approach into their culture. They can define the way in which they “do teams.” Process the idea that teams solve important problems; honor important work by giving teams autonomy, funding, and sponsorship; and encourage curiosity and challenges. It is all well and good when leaders know these things, but unless they build the approach into how teams work, then it is just another aspiration that people might talk about but which they actually never do. This dynamic only ends up breeding organizational mistrust.
It also ends up sabotaging efforts to create high-performing teams in the future. People end up not believing you when you say the work is important, they end up not trusting that they will be given support, and they quickly lose interest. What likelihood do we then have of a high-performing team where a sense of trust and community are built? Make the principles outlined in the book a part of how you do business, and you will do better at creating high-performing teams, solving your most difficult challenges, and creating communities within your organization that drive innovation and cross-functional collaboration.
About the AuthorThane Bellomo is an executive coach and team and organization development practitioner. He has more than 20 years of experience working with Fortune 50 leaders to maximize their potential and optimize their results. Thane is an accomplished author, speaker, and coach and spends his time studying how leaders and teams most effectively form and function.
About ATD and ATD PressThe Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD Press publications are written by industry thought leaders and offer anyone who works with adult learners the best practices, academic theory, and guidance necessary to move the profession forward. For more information, visit td.org/books.
ISBN: 9781952157660 | 152 Pages | Paperback
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To schedule an interview with Thane Bellomo, please contact Kay Hechler, ATD Press senior marketing manager, at [email protected] or 703.683.8178.