What do we find in a Successful Team? Skillset, Diversity, Raw talent? or something else?

After working a couple of decades in Software industry both as Individual Contributor and in management, I often think deeply about how to keep the culture of my teams at the best. Culture is a variable and not a constant. It changes with time and maturity of team/company etc., For eg. a startup may have different set of values vs that of a huge enterprise. But people give their best when they work with people whom they “Trust”.

Trust

Trust - firm belief in the character, strength, or truth of someone or something, is usually unspoken but felt by humans when they collaborate. It makes people to be positive and focus on their work without questioning everything. People feel happier, chase their dreams without feeling insecure. It also makes them secure & fearless - lets them take more risks without worrying about failures. A team without trust isn’t really a team. It is just a group of individuals, working, often not making progress. They may not share information, they might fight over roles & responsibilities and often try to pull one another. It doesn’t matter how capable or talented they are, they wouldn’t reach their full potential if trust isn’t present.

However, when trust is in place, each individual in the team becomes stronger, because they are part of an effective, cohesive group. When people trust one another, the group can achieve truly meaningful goals.

High-functioning teams achieve greater levels of participation and collaboration because their members trust one another with strong sense of team identity. They have confidence in their abilities and effectiveness and high levels of EQ.

By the way, Trust is a necessary trait in any team - not specific to just Engineering teams.

Trust vs Preformance

Inspired by similar graphics in TLC blog.

Respect

Respect is similar trait as Trust in a highly achieving team. Team members value each other purely as humans and not biased by title, age, gender or race. They appreciate & acknowledge each other’s strength & ignore the weakness of others. The maturity of this trait takes the team to a different level of Trust. This makes them caring for each other and creates a strong bond. This connection exists beyond current team/company. Managers need to encourage this behavior.

Vision, Alignment & Openness

We may find trusted & respectful team members, but if they are not aligned on the vision, then it increases probability of failure. The team members may collaborate hand in hand, but the combined energy gets diluted with lack of passion and ownership. A leader has to ensure team is aligned for what they are solving for. This could be educating team members, listening to their opinions & understanding the root cause. May be there is some action that we could take as a team to fix/alter. Sometimes, answer for this puzzle could be moving people around within or outside the teams. End of the day, the goal of the leader is to keep the team members happy -> so they are productive -> results in success for everyone! It is the duty of the leader to keep the communication flowing both ways with an intention to challenge the status quo & progressively evolve.

Culture

All these put together form Team Culture. It is about dynamics between humans. Different teams within a company can manifest their own culture. But they’re generally influenced by the company culture as a whole. To get an idea of the Company/team culture listen to a 5 minutes talk from Tony Hseih from Zappos.

More

  1. HBR: Do You Really Trust Your Team?
  2. TLC: Performance vs Trust
  3. Standford: Culture is Priority One