It is a truism that teamwork is important to achieve organizational goals. But what makes for effective teams? .orgCommunity has been exploring that issue. Our recent Leadership Summit featured a team effectiveness session led by association executive John Forbes. John also led a subsequent .orgCommunity “30 on Thursday” webinar on the same topic. One thing we learned is how rare a truly effective team is. So, to learn more we extended the conversation, asking about the most significant barriers to teamwork that association executives were encountering.

Two interrelated characteristics emerged at the top of the list of barriers to team effectiveness:

  • The absence of trust among team members
  • Failure to deal with conflict within the team

In addition to the above, at least half of the participants also considered the following characteristics as important barriers to team effectiveness:

  • Team composition lacking relevant perspectives/expertise
  • Lack of clear operating agreement to guide team dynamics
  • Lack of strategic context/shared vision and purpose

The message seems clear: 1) effective teams are based on an underlying culture of trust and openness; and 2) there has to be a clear strategy to guide the composition, purpose and guiding principles of the team.

While the “formula” for success may be clear, execution is difficult. When asked about lessons learned, one association executive told a story about how a team was put together to replace a website that was “a total mess.” The initial reaction was “we have to fix this horror show.” But some of the staff tasked with being on the team had been involved in the previous site. The result: trust became an issue. As the leader pointed out: “My comments came across as implicitly critical of their knowledge and capabilities. I should have positioned this project as building on our previous success to avoid alienating my colleagues.”

Another association executive talked about the need to focus on team dynamics. “Our team worked together to describe how we wanted to work together, what we felt were important principles and values guiding our internal interactions and external interactions. Our approach worked well but we need to remind ourselves if we start to slip from our principles, especially in times of stress… We also are still working on how we can comfortably ‘call out’ behavior that is outside what we want our norms to be.”

What is your story about effective teams? We invite you to comment on this blog, telling your story of what worked, what did not and lessons learned as you strive to improve team effectiveness.

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