Work Better Part 3 – Teamwork
Welcome to the third part of our Work Better series.
- The Future of Teamwork – Part 1
- Team Motivation – Part 2
- Teamwork – Part 3
- Remote Working
- Effective Virtual Meetings
- Freelance vs Teamwork
- Optimal Tools for Optimal Results
- How to achieve ten times more
The past two years have revealed an invaluable amount of lessons on teamwork in our group of companies. Especially in digital design and the software engineering agencies. Both companies have seen times of tremendous growth in short periods, which created unthinkable pressures, both financially and strategically and the only way we could get through it was highly effective teamwork.
We went through everything you can imagine from tech to processes, to human strategies, we turned every page to discover the perfect ingredients for the ultimate success in teamwork and how to get things done faster and more efficiently. Growing fast meant we started dropping balls, which meant clients were frustrated, so we had to make fundamental changes in the way work and it took a few serious decisions to turns things around.
In both these companies, achieving successful outcomes for their clients comes down to collaboration, facilitation and harnessing expertise. Put the perfect team together for the job, spend enough time in front of the whiteboard and put each task in the most capable hands for that particular deliverable.
An important lesson learnt was that you don’t take on work that does not form part of the core of your expertise. It damages team morale and more importantly hurts the relationship with your client when expectations are not met. Focus on your core expertise and do that incredibly well.
Building a high performing team goes beyond having the right people with the right skills to do a job, it is also about integrating these people into the existing client teams and shaping those teams to become more effective.
So what is it that makes a digital team effective and successful?
This is a reflection on some of the lessons we learned about high performing teams, working in a high-pressure environment – which has basically been every day for the past three years.
Understand the broader mission, the WHY
High performing teams understand the broader mission, the importance and the why behind the work being done and how every part of the project fits into the bigger scheme of things.
By understanding the broader mission, teams have a clear sense of purpose and ensure that the decisions they make consider all factors with a focus on achieving the desired outcome.
Our software engineering team developed a global product procurement system for a large multinational retail food company. But the engineering team’s knowledge of the scope spreads far wider than the inner workings of the system itself. They understand the client and the WHY behind the system. They know that this corporate is driven to create a national sales platform for furniture and art to the local producers in South Africa and transforming one-man businesses to large manufacturing companies in the process. When our team makes decisions, they consider the entire ecosystem and the client’s long term goals beforehand.
What do successful teams have in common? They are empowered, allowing each team member to work autonomously. Their leaders ensure that they are empowered with the right skills and knowledge in order to make their own decisions. This powerful enablement of a team allows the leadership to focus on leading, without having to be too deeply involved operationally.
In some companies, the approval process to make decisions is such a heavy process it takes weeks or even months to get approval or make decisions. Innovation drowns in a company where people are not empowered to make decisions.
It was extremely difficult for me to let go and let my people make decisions. The moment that happened, everything changed.
Top level leadership is critically important for a team to thrive. I am not referring to being a boss, I am talking about authentic leadership. With strong leadership at the top, you enable innovation from the bottom. Leadership is about supporting team decision making, unblocking issues, being a soundboard, creating context around the work being done and being the protector of the team as a whole as well as each individual.
There is a beautiful rhythm to a successful team that is hard to create or replicate. It is something that happens when all the little things come together just perfectly. If a team shares the same goal they also develop shared working practices, languages, styles which when it picks up momentum creates a tempo that seems unstoppable. When this rhythm is achieved you experience high-quality work being produced in record-breaking times.
This rhythm also creates a high level of respect, so that when conflict does happen, an argument between policy and digital, a disagreement with the product owner over a priority, then it is dealt with respect instead of resentment.
As a result of producing such high standards of work, the team gains credibility. The biggest benefit of credibility besides your reputation is that it allows you to get buy-in easily when you want to try something new. This allows a team to experiment a bit more, and this is exactly when real innovation takes place.
A diverse team made up of various experience levels and skill sets operate much more efficiently than teams with a fixed set of equally skilled individuals. Team members with different backgrounds, with different levels of expertise, learn from one another over time and creates a very enjoyable working environment. Our engineering team speaks volumes to this point. They are diverse in age, race, religion, skill sets and experience and combined they form the ultimate team.
The dream team. Literally.
Out of all my years in the tech space, I have never worked with such a strong team, where diversity plays such a key role.
My conclusion is that a team is all about people.
If we as leaders put in the effort to give the team defining principles, clarity and purpose and we focus to support, develop and empower the individuals of this team, then the ingredients are all there for that team to thrive and beyond that, become family.
Family dynamics and team dynamics are very close to the same thing. As a dad, rather than doing things myself, I pride myself in equipping my kids with what they need to get the job done themselves. When they do it well, they are praised and often awarded for it. And when something goes wrong, instead of making them feel like a failure, I sit them down, we talk through what happened and together we figure out what we can learn from this in order to prevent this in the future.
These rules apply 100% in the workplace too. A healthy one of course.