Can you afford poor quality teamwork?

It shows on the bottom line when collaboration is not working
This article was originally co-authored by

11 November 2015

In many workplaces, too many resources are tied up in bad or random collaboration. It reduces job satisfaction, it reduces efficiency and effectiveness – and ultimately it reduces profit. How can we change this picture? What does it take to release the energy tied up in poor or inferior collaboration?

It is our assertion that the organisational transformations that are necessary to bring society through i.e. a financial crisis can only be achieved through a conscious effort, focusing on collaboration as a core discipline. Smooth collaboration is a condition for success and development of any company.

In this article, we will demonstrate two levels of team development: A short method that can quickly transform a random group into an effective group, and a longer and more thorough method that can lift the effective group into a team – ”if you want it all”.

Most managers are aware that employees at all levels are the company’s most valuable resource – yet also the most complex one. Every day, when we come to work, we bring many things with us which have no relevance to the work we are about to do. However, they will influence the quality of the work and the contribution we offer the greater whole.

Any encounter with another human being, whether in a private or a professional context, brings everything that we are and everything that we have to offer into play. Our values, attitudes, emotions and experiences affect the relationship at various, often unconscious, levels. This is a challenge – often a major challenge. When working with leadership and developing teams, the art is to cultivate the conditions in order to bring out the best skills. When we succeed in making employees work together towards common goals and in a common spirit, a lot of energy is generated, which in turn makes it possible to achieve great results.

"Mutual recognition makes people whose purpose it is to succeed in workplace relationships rise to the pinnacle, regardless of the given assignment."

Collaboration is a discipline to be practised consciously

In our daily work, we meet numerous dysfunctional groups and teams that do not achieve this level of synergy. Occasionally, a group will actually achieve a negative synergy, accomplishing less than would have been possible individually. The expectation that people will automatically and naturally cooperate is mistaken. When a team is formed, the first emotion that occurs among its members is typically fear. Fear of failing within the group. Only when this fear has been mitigated by concrete plans for the collaboration and a better understanding of each other, the team members begin to look for opportunities.

We can only experience positive recognition from people who truly see us and form an opinion about who we are. The experience that another person is genuinely interested in who we are stimulates us and gives us energy.

Mutual recognition makes people whose purpose it is to succeed in workplace relationships rise to the pinnacle, regardless of the given assignment. We simply have to practise collaboration as a discipline within a specific framework in order to exploit the team’s full potential and ensure that we utilise all team members’ competences most optimally.

The task is not difficult. It does not require a special psychological insight or great empathic abilities in order for each member of the group to contribute to making the collaboration creative and constructive. But it does require a clear understanding and recognition of the importance of collaboration. Using simple tools and a few days’ work, one can easily identify how a group of people can work constructively together. Instead of feeling intimidated or scared by what we do not understand about each other, we can learn to utilise our differences in order to strengthen the group’s overall performance.

High Performance Teams are a rarity

We regularly meet the concept of a ”high performance team”, and we have met many groups who consider themselves as such. However, it is our belief that less than 10% of the teams we know can actually call themselves high performance. It is simply a rarity in the world of business, and only very few of the teams we meet live up to the conditions of a high performance team.

To us, a number of very specific conditions must be met if a group of people working together are to consider themselves a high performance team: A high performance team always has a burning platform on which they work. The members improve their performance, even when they are ahead. They operate with a plan A only. All members take on leadership, and they have a sense of mutual responsibility that goes far beyond their professional relationship.

We do not have to be a high performance team, however, in order for our joint effort to be successful. Our definition of a strong team is simple: We are a strong team when we make each other better. Fundamentally, we must have a common task, a mission, a purpose. If we do not feel that there is a common task, we cannot mobilise the team or ourselves. The task must be concrete: defined, resolved and submitted.

We have often witnessed teams that have been unsure about the task they were expected to perform. The answer to the question ”why are you a team?” has often been ”to fulfil the strategic goals of the company”. If this is the answer, it is a clear sign that the task has not been defined clearly. The task has to be much closer to the individual. Of course, it must be connected to the overall strategic goals, but the team members must be able to relate to it at a more personal level.

Effective team collaboration begins with four simple questions. We call them minimum standards or the team’s hardware. It is a best practice model that we have developed based on the most important studies of teams from the late 60s to the present, combined with the experience gained and observations made during our work with more than 600 teams in the past 12 years.

Why? – The group members must have something to connect their hearts to

We have to define a purpose, maybe a defined mission, but at least establish a sense of meaning, so that everyone knows why we do as we do. As human beings, we are driven by meaning, and if we do not understand the deeper purpose of what we do, we never really invest neither our heart nor our brain in the project.

What? – The group must have a goal to pursue

We must set specific and challenging goals, so that everyone knows what we need to focus on and how we measure it. It brings clarity and common direction. Precise targets are required to create and maintain a high performance level in a group. Demanding and ambitious goals create drive – and drive is a condition for development.

How? – The group must make a common plan

A master plan that ensures the group’s efficiency and common understanding, just as it enables the group to act faster and stronger in case of conflict. By creating an actual framework for our work procedures, we ensure that as a group we solve the tasks correctly.

Who? – Every team member must know exactly who assumes which responsibilities

Unclear roles create frustration. It is both about who is on the team, and what tasks they solve. We must clarify roles and functions to utilise the team’s skills optimally and to be flexible and effective as a team.

Your contribution is more important than you

If we have achieved the above, we are no longer just a random group, but already an effective group. If we want to increase the level of our cooperation further and become a team, we must focus on what we call the team’s software.

Throughout the years, we have witnessed many members of teams who are silent or passive when the team is debating important issues. Such behaviour seriously limits the team’s ability to develop. No member is more important than the other, and the team is always above the individual. Being a member of a team means that we have an obligation to contribute. But we also have an obligation to maintain physical and mental fitness in order to ensure that our contribution is valid.

No member is more important than the other, and the team is always above the individual.

Building trust

Trust is a fundamental condition for a strong relationship. And trust is essential for a healthy feedback culture. We must be able to feel safe knowing that when we measure and provide feedback, it is from a desire to help each other and make each other better. Confidence does not just happen. When we first meet, there is typically a lack of trust.

This is a neutral position. There is also a lack of distrust. When we spend time together and work together as a group, the group will imperceptibly move towards either trust or distrust. If the dynamics of the group are moving towards distrust, the motion can be stopped and reversed, and the motion towards confidence can be accelerated.

This can be done by talking openly about concepts such as credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-interest. What these terms mean to us and how we work with them.

Increasing personal commitment and the level of energy

We can only do our best when we are rested, eat healthily, exercise and are mentally in balance. To us, it is a natural assumption that in a binding partnership where everyone depends on each other, we all try to be the best version of ourselves in order to be able to provide a high level of energy to the team. And when we are not able to do so for different reasons, we make sure to let each other know.

Creating the team’s DNA

By sharing our personal history, we create the team’s values, which makes us stronger as a team. Our common mission is based on a sense of community and strength. The better we know each other, the better our collaboration.

Identifying our mental corner flags

The framework within which we operate defines the attitudes and behaviour we wish for the team. The team defines the corner flags, and these are absolute or indispensable. Corner flags should be defined when there are no problems. The day that the need for the corner flags occurs, is the day where there is a discord in the collaboration. The corner flags serve the purpose of limiting discussions because everyone can relate to what has once been jointly defined.

Taking mutual responsibility

We must make commitments to each other and expect that we each take on our responsibility and solve the agreed tasks to the team’s undivided satisfaction. Shared responsibility is more than just filling a role in the team. It includes result orientation and personal initiative with a clear focus on the team’s mission and goals. The members communicate with each other and accept each other’s ideas and views so that collaboration and decisions become collective.

The board of directors – a neglected area

One of the most neglected areas when we talk about upgrading the collaboration of various groupings is the board of directors of companies and organisations. Nevertheless, the role of the board of directors increasingly comes into focus in a time of crisis where the need to place responsibility grows.

Regardless of the fact that a board is the supreme body of an organisation, the time devoted to this work is amazingly limited, and even more remarkable is the limited training that is provided to the members. The training is only focused on board professionalism, despite the fact that the board is only really called to work when something goes wrong within the organisation.

If the company is doing well, the work of the board of directors is manageable. That is why so many board members are able to be members of several different boards of companies and organisations. The company more or less runs itself. Where there really is a need for an effective and energetic board of directors is in a crisis situation. A situation in which past experiences are not sufficient and where confusion and uncertainty arise. Often, it turns out that the board members know as little about how to approach the crisis as any other person.

The board members are not equipped with the necessary toolbox and have no emergency plan. That is why you call it a crisis. The board of directors is, nevertheless, the last defence against the consequences that the crisis might have, and all the board of directors has to draw on are the internal resources.

In such a situation, it is essential that the members know each other, have confidence in each other and trust each other. Fortunately, a greater awareness of the value of consciously working on creating harmony and understanding in professional boards of directors seems to be rising.

Are you ready for development?

The big question is how to start working on developing the collaboration in your organisation? How do we talk about trust – how does a group of people define a common mission – and how do we give each other qualified feedback?

It requires a certain maturity in the group before we can start talking about these things. A great tool for testing how ready for development your organisation is and for estimating the work that lies ahead is to answer the following questions by grading the responses on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 being least true and 4 being most true. The higher the score, the more ready the group is to develop into a highly professional team.

Maturity in terms of being an effective group

  1. We discuss openly what our common purpose is.
  2. We can spontaneously answer why we are together as a group.
  3. We all know our common goals.
  4. We know what the group is measured on.
  5. We have clear procedures for how we work.
  6. We have a common understanding of how we make decisions.
  7. We have defined each group member’s roles and responsibilities.
  8. We openly discuss our different personalities and styles.


Maturity in terms of being a team

  1. There is a general confidence between us.
  2. Everybody trusts everybody.
  3. We regularly discuss how the individual manages his or her personal resources.
  4. We talk openly about emotions
  5. We share our personal values with each other.
  6. We care about each other beyond the professional domain.
  7. We automatically take over from each other if we realise that it is best for the team.
  8. We have a reward structure that supports our common responsibilities.
  9. We ask the team’s stakeholders for feedback.
  10. We handle friction/conflict when it arises.
  11. We have a few non-negotiable standards for how we work together.
  12. Non-compliance with standards has consequences.

The team’s success is reflected on the bottom line

The reason why we believe in the importance of investing time in making people collaborate better is that so much energy is wasted by teams that do not function. This has serious consequences for the internal working environment and for the quality of the tasks completed – and ultimately for the company’s bottom line.

None of us can succeed on our own, and to be part of a team can be a deciding factor for the individual’s feeling of wellbeing and sense of meaning. This is why our ability to collaborate is so important, both to the development of society and to our own sense of happiness.

Most of us work with colleagues in random groups. Such groups can function very well, as long as the conditions are good and the tasks are easy. When conditions become difficult and the tasks more demanding, as is the case in both public and private sectors these days, one thing determines whether we succeed: The ability to collaborate.

"Whether you cook, climb mountains or build shelters matters less. It is the conscious and active investment in the team that makes the difference."

We sometimes hear people say that teambuilding is a waste of time. This is true when it is forced upon people who do not wish to work together or be part of a team. Our point is that everything begins with the individual: And if everyone has agreed to be part of the team, the desired development will happen.

Whether you cook, climb mountains or build shelters matters less. It is the conscious and active investment in the team that makes the difference. Talking about it just is not enough.

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