We throw the words "dream team" around a lot in business but what does it really mean? Is it about having the right people, the right management or the right culture? Or is there some other force at play that sets some teams on paths to success while others stumble? Understanding these kinds of stellar teams helps managers have a more tangible bar to aim for, plus it also helps highlight that's not working. As much as we'd like to think we all work on, or manage, a great team sometimes dysfunction or conflict between peers can raise its head. In fact, trust in the workplace globally hovers around 46%, meaning less than 1 in 2 employees trust those around them; trust in senior leadership is often lower. So when dealing with the constraints of a modern workforce, how do you build your dream team and put them on the right path?
The five factors of building a dream team
Where do you start when you need to build your team? Whether you're about to start hiring or you're looking for tips to help improve a current team, the best teams account for the following 5 factors:
1) Patience: This is from Stanford University professor Lindred Greer: “Management dramatically underestimates the amount of effort needed to create and maintain a common vision for a team. There is almost never enough alignment on this when teams are brought together.” This is indeed a common problem. We’re very focused on immediate execution at work, so we forget obvious societal examples. Very few entrepreneurs or sports teams come together immediately, for example. The New England Patriots are a great football team, but for most of the late 1980s and early 1990s, they were not. Building teams takes time. There needs to be a degree of trust, comfort, rapport, and knowledge among a team before it excels. So, while it might not be everyone’s favorite characteristic, you do need patience in order to build great teams.
2) Personality: Having the right mix of personalities on a team means there will be a degree of “psychological safety” -- knowing others can do the work and trusting that you voice both pros and cons of what’s happening on the team -- and a mix of IQ, EQ, and “CQ,” the latter being curiosity quotient. You want to make sure you have a mix of personalities, but also personalities that make sense within your culture and how your work gets done. The good news: personality assessments are very reliable as predictors of future performance and can be used to help pull the right teammates together.
3) Job role: Simultaneously as you assess for personality, you need to make sure you’re defining the job role properly. There is lots of research -- here and here, for example -- on the importance of job role. In fact, look at this:
Role design can have a bigger impact on employee motivation than even compensation! It’s crucially important to define what roles you need on a team, and try to limit overlap or superfluous roles. While sometimes teams can have a lot of work and it can feel right to add multiple new members, sometimes the better approach is to look at the work needing to be done and seeing how it can be better divided. When you add the wrong roles, or unnecessary roles, the team loses momentum and won't function as well. People may be concerned they’re getting replaced, or you may add someone that doesn’t have a lot to honestly do all week. Be careful about job role and when are how you add new additions to your team.
4) Accountability: While there have been experiments in recent years with different management structures aside from hierarchy / chain of command, most have not been successful. While hierarchy has flaws, it is the best team organization we’ve come up with yet. A big reason for this is simple: The human brain needs a degree of accountability. Who can tell you what to do? Who can evaluate your work? Who can offer you incentives or advance your career? If those elements are not well-defined, the team will struggle to work together because they're fighting against ambiguity while also trying to do their jobs. So make it clear. What's the big picture? What goals or responsibilities does each team member have, what are they accountable for, and who are they accountable too? When everyone understands what they need to do and work on, it's easier to find opportunities to collaborate and work together.
5) Fairness: This takes many forms. We’d argue a team needs to be fair in how it advances individual members, compensation models, letting different team members voice different opinions, and even changing up who works on what projects to give people different opportunities. We observed a team once where one person, i.e. the “A-Player” of the team, got every major assignment. As a result, the rest of the team became disengaged and their parts of the work suffered. The team overall suffered. There needs to be a certain amount of fairness to how the team executes day-to-day tasks, but also how the team members are incentivized.
Keep in mind...
None of the above information is necessarily groundbreaking. We’ve been studying work, teams, and effective teams for generations now. What we broadly know is that team dynamics are incredibly important in business, but again, it’s almost as common to find a dysfunctional team as a functional one in a given organization. Great teams aren't necessarily about having the smartest person in the room on them. It's more about how the group functions as a cohesive unit. A lot of that is psychological and related to how different people have different views of work, yes. But dream teams can be built with a mixture of patience, fairness, personality, and role design. And when truly engaged team members are brought together with clear goals, there's no limit to what they can achieve together.