The Leadership Playbook: How Teams Work

Almost every day I drive through the Starbucks in my neighborhood. Most days the team that works at this particular Starbucks does an exceptionally good job managing high traffic. On days when someone is missing, the traffic backs up. Traffic is particularly backed up at the drive-through window. Because the Starbucks is located in suburbia, there might be 20 cars waiting to order a drink.

But some days, when there is a new team, even the large staff can’t manage the traffic. It isn’t because they’re not good people, and it isn’t because they don’t care about their work. They just are not clicking well together. They don’t have a rhythm. They can’t anticipate what customers need or how best to help each other.

And this is the nature of teams. When people have the right chemistry, when they’ve worked together and know how to work as a single unit, they are highly effective and highly efficient. But a team that doesn’t have the right chemistry, that hasn’t spent time learning how to work as a team can be inefficient and ineffective–even though individually each member of the team is perfectly competent.

In fact, changing just one member of an effective team can have a detrimental impact on the team’s effectiveness and efficiency. Even if that one individual should be, by all accounts, perfectly qualified to generate the outcomes necessary to perform on that team.

  • Time: For a team to gel together the members need time. Sometimes you can be lucky enough for someone to step in and immediately fit with the team, but more often it’s a matter of spending time as part of the team.
  • Communication: For a team to work well together, there needs to be exceptional communication. After a team has worked together, they don’t need to communicate as frequently or with great direction, because they know how each other thinks. In fact, they think as a team. But that competency was only developed because there was so much communication at some point. But the new member wasn’t there when the team learned to work together, and now the new member needs that same communication to succeed.
  • Expectations: A new team member needs to know what that team expects of them to be effective. They need to know what good looks like. The team has a standard, and a new person on that team will not be familiar with that standard. The team has to teach the new member.

It takes time for a group to become a team. It takes time and communication. That is how teams work.

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