Team Chemistry in Highly-Effective Teams


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Most of us have witnessed first hand that not all well-intentioned teams work well together. The most important characteristic of a highly-effective team is that the members all strive to accomplish the team goals. The goals should be clear, realistic, measurable, and supportable by both team members and upper management.

Ideally, your team should be comprised of people with complementary skills, experience, behavior, and team roles. This diversity often leads to a richer solution. Co-workers need to cooperate, communicate honestly, and should share their knowledge and skills with each other in order to attain mutually agreed-upon goals.

Just how important is the chemistry on a team?

There is significant debate about what other characteristics are necessary, even to the point of whether to fix personality clashes. For example, the musical team of Rodgers and Hammerstein created brilliant musicals, but didn't get along well with each other. Many business leaders list commitment, loyalty, vision, urgency, motivation, synergy, collaboration, open-mindedness, progressive thinking, inspired leadership, respect, and effective communications as necessary elements. Others suggest excluding certain types of people from teams: big egos, snakes, and silent or reluctant members. In some companies, it would be difficult to imagine trying to kick a big ego off a team or label someone a ‘snake’ and ask them to leave. Also, given the pace of business, it's very difficult to craft all the positive attributes one can think of into each team member in a short amount of time.

Could your teams work together more effectively? Are they as innovative as you'd like them to be? Does your company reward team participation as much as it rewards individual efforts? Building highly-effective teams can be a significant challenge. Imagine, for a moment, what the effect is of reduced conflict and stress in a team. Team members get to spend more time on productive work and less in conflict. Team members are more energized, less distracted, and have more energy when they go home at night. Teams stuck in a ‘storming’ mode sometimes need outside intervention to improve performance and reduce conflict and stress.

There are many ways to approach team-building. For example, the armed forces use weeks or months of training as a means to build effective teams. Some organizations use retreats with a sequence of team-building experiences to aid in developing good team behavior. Unfortunately today, many businesses have significantly reduced training budgets or throw together a team to solve a particular problem without the luxury of training or the aid of a skilled facilitator on the team. There are some short-term steps you can take to reduce conflict and stress, and improve team effectiveness.

Here is a four step approach to diagnose team issues and develop some positive momentum:

  1. Observe the team in action. Unfortunately, whenever you introduce an observer, the team behavior changes. The observer might only see people using good behavior, but even this is significant and provides useful data for followup coaching sessions. On the other hand, much can be learned by simply observing the team in action and applying this information in later steps.
  2. Confidentially survey the team members individually to identify conflict sources. It is important that all team members trust the people conducting the survey and trust the process. If the team members have been together for some period of time they'll have some notion of other members’ skills, experience, behavior, roles, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, etc. And, if they trust the process, they'll provide valuable clues and perspectives on team issues.
  3. Facilitate quick-fix solutions where appropriate. An outside facilitator can often quickly help clear up misunderstandings, improve team morale, improve a meeting process, foster better communication, etc. An outside facilitator should not be utilized to quickly advance hidden agendas, overwhelm a minority position, or short-circuit a proven process to achieve a speedy decision. Some quick-fixes can occur during the Survey step if the survey is performed as interviews, but the real goal of the survey is to gather information for use in subsequent steps.
  4. Work on larger issues through assessments, coaching and other means. Self-learning assessments can be a valuable tool when properly administered. Any instrument that helps a team member improve their performance pays continual dividends. Coaching provides a forum for discussing hard-to-accept, beneficial concepts, serves to reinforce the lessons gleaned from the assessments, and helps team members incorporate these concepts into their teamwork by discussing situations with the coach as they arise. The team, itself, can tackle some of the issues uncovered in the survey when the summary results are made available.
A trained facilitator can introduce one of the self-assessment tools mentioned in step 4 such as a DISC profile to the team in a workshop setting. The instrument explores behavior across four primary dimensions: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness. The profile helps team members, in a non-judgmental way, understand their own behavior, learn how and when to adapt their behavior, improve communication, promote appreciation of differences, enhance individual and team performance, and reduce conflict. In the DISC model, D's are direct, decisive, strong-willed, strong-minded people who like accepting challenges, taking action, and getting immediate results.

I's are “people people" who like participating on teams, sharing ideas, and energizing and entertaining others. S's are helpful people who like working behind the scenes, performing in consistent and predictable ways, and being good listeners. C's are sticklers for quality who like planning ahead, employing systematic approaches, and checking and re-checking for accuracy. Everyone has some of each dimension, but certain behavioral tendencies can lead to conflict and stress more readily. The in-depth DISC profile reports provide a powerful tool for understanding an individual's behavior and for assessing how that behavior plays out in a team setting.

Following these four steps can lead to reduced conflict and stress as well as improved team effectiveness.

Russ Pratt helps professionals and teams function more effectively through consulting, coaching and training. Visit for more information on developing leadership skills and building highly-effective teams.


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