How do I improve my team’s chemistry? Does team chemistry positively impact team performance? If you would have asked me a year ago, I would’ve given you a resounding yes. Today, I would still say yes, with the disclaimer that it is a more nuanced than chemistry. I think the question is still a good one. Intuitively we know that good teams work better together than others. Good teams have a positive vibe and the bad ones push out a yucky feeling. High performing teams are fueled by balance. The best teams continuously maintain a balance of personalities, skills, and contribution.
How can you make sure that you have the right balance to maintain and improve performance?
Before I share how, allow me to take you on a short detour. A few years back I had the opportunity to take a sightseeing helicopter tour. I was super excited to tick off this bucket list item until I was asked my weight as I purchased the tickets. If asking my weight was not mortifying enough (I was 60 pounds heavier at the time), their process required us to step on the scale. Helicopters are mechanical and engineering marvels that require continuous balance to operate effectively. The operators had to make sure they were balancing and distributing the weight properly for the helicopter to operate effectively. Much like leading a team, the ride was thrilling, terrifying, and unsettling at times. Check!
A helicopter flight is a analogous to leading a high performing team. Just like the helicopter’s pilots, team leaders need the right data to navigate and achieve optimum performance. Let’s review all the things needed to achieve balance, stability, and high performance.
The best teams are diverse. Personality diversity drives innovation and high performance. Teams with both optimist and realist ensure that your ideas properly vetted. Despite this truth, many leaders unconsciously hire and recruit team members who think just like themselves. This could be disastrous for a high risk person leading all risk takers. Innovation dies when a process oriented risk averse leader hires and recruits people like her. While I am not advocating using personality assessments as a prerequisite to hiring, it is something that, as the team leader, you should take a step back and evaluate objectively. DiSC and MBTI are great tools to get a sense of the thinking styles on your team. If you find you are out of balance, my recommendation is to recruit people who balance the team. After years of losses in the Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger used a pod approach to formulate teams. He used personality assessments to match players in a way that would balance their pod for maximum performance.
I know what you are thinking. This is obvious. You need a balance of skills on your team for it run most effectively. One of my worst hires was when I lost sight of skill. He was smart, likable, funny, and totally a wrong skill fit for my team. Not only was I not using good behavioral interview practices, I was not comparing him to the actual job description. You have a team full of high idea generators who connect well with your clients, but you don’t have anyone on the team that is the master of the details or process so deadlines are being missed. As the leader you really have be clear on the holes and gaps that need to be filled from a skill perspective for the team to operate optimally. The National Football League does this exceptionally well. They use a team approach to selecting players to add to the team. NFL teams are crystal clear on the skills needed to improve their teams. Based on skills criterion, they rigorously rank and assess talent. Many leaders miss the mark and fail to solicit input from their team on skill gaps.
Marginalizing a team member or wishing him away is a shortcut to underwhelming team performance. A team that operates this way, will allow one or two team members to underperform. This forces the team to taking on more task and responsibility, often resentfully, I might add. High performing teams have an expectation that all members contribute equally. In the Navy Seal Creed, the elite special unit recognized for its team based approach, it says “By wearing the Trident I accept the responsibility of my chosen profession and way of life. It is a privilege that I must earn every day.” I love the idea that each day that Seal Team members see it as their responsibility to earn the privilege daily. Sandy Pentland in his The New Science of Building Great Teams says that, the best teams balance talk time. All team members are expected to contribute ideas, critique, and perspective. The best teams don’t allow a few members to dominate or others to withdraw. As the team leader, create a culture where contribution is a team norm.
Like an experienced helicopter pilot, who uses GPS for navigation, a team leader must use purpose as the navigation instrument to guide the team. The best way to get a wayward team back on track is to focus on purpose. Having a compelling why is a great way push teams past the motivation dips and personality based skirmishes that are inevitable in long standing teams. I have saved this for the last. If you do nothing else, I encourage you to return to purpose as the best weapon for restoring balance, harmony, and chemistry back to your team. By making daily and weekly rituals, stories, and activities about purpose – it becomes the power you will need to keep your team flying high.