What Are Some Secrets of High Functioning Teams?

Len WilsonInnovation, Leadership3 Comments

Teams are far from a new concept by now, but few teams function well, and fewer still are what I’d label as “high functioning teams.” What elevates a group of individuals that work for a common goal to a team that is able to do great things?

I recently finished a book by Tim Hartford called Messy. In it, the author devotes a chapter to teamwork.

Teamwork was a big corporate trend about 15-20 years ago. My cowriter Jason Moore and I tried to apply it the worship design process in a book we wrote called Taking Flight with Creativity: Worship Deign Teams That Work. Hartford raises some interesting new thinking on it. Here are a few things I took away:


1. The secret isn’t a good team as much as it is a good set of teams that are overlapping and connected.

Harford writes that “outstanding games were forged by ‘networks of teams.’¬†I read something similar in a book called Team of Teams a while back. it’s the overlapping nature of teams that matters.

2. Diversity trumps ability.

That homogeneity isn’t productive to teamwork has been known, but Harford demonstrates that not only is it not productive, it is a death trap, and the reason is because “people think harder when they fear their views may be challenged by outsiders” and that people will actually censor themselves and make bad decisions for the sake of perceived group harmony.

I loved the line in the book, as he analyzed one case study: “Portfolio associates did brilliantly and had a miserable time.”

3. Smaller communities are actually more diverse.

The part about large campuses actually being full of people more closed off from one another was counter-intuitive. Being in a smaller campus forced you to interact with people you wouldn’t otherwise.

4. “Goal harmony” is more important than “team harmony”.

The goal isn’t getting along, it’s working together. I wonder how true that is in life? Do we form friendships in common mission? I know in small group settings, a lot of men hate “navel gazing”.

Maybe acknowledging that goal harmony is as or more important than relational harmony is a step to engaging more people.



3 Comments on “What Are Some Secrets of High Functioning Teams?”

  1. Number 2 is really interesting. Besides increasing the desire to do good work, I can think of many times recently where we’ve seen communication that misses with certain audiences because a lack of diverse perspectives.

  2. Team Harmony is an odd term… but I see what you mean. If team members trust & respect eachother (which only comes with relationship and good leadership), they can support, challenge and maximize the goal, instead of making decisions based on self-preservation. Time to brainstorm, space for failure, a passion to ‘do better,’ plus the skills to execute… no wonder high-functioning teams are rare!

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