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Not every task has to be highly creative or inspiring; many require a certain amount of drudgery. But leaders can make any task more motivating by ensuring that the team is responsible for a significant piece of work from beginning to end, that the team members have a lot of autonomy in managing that work, and that the team receives performance feedback on it. With 4-D teams, people in different locations often handle different components of a task, which raises challenges. Consider a software design team based in Santa Clara, California, that sends chunks of code to its counterparts in Bangalore, India, to revise overnight.

The 5 Key Fundamentals of Success

But in one such team we spoke with, that division of labor was demotivating, because it left the Indian team members with a poor sense of how the pieces of code fit together and with little control over what they did and how. Repartitioning the work to give them ownership over an entire module dramatically increased their motivation and engagement and improved the quality, quantity, and efficiency of their work.

Destructive dynamics can also undermine collaborative efforts. Teams can reduce the potential for dysfunction by establishing clear norms—rules that spell out a small number of things members must always do such as arrive at meetings on time and give everyone a turn to speak and a small number they must never do such as interrupt. Instilling such norms is especially important when team members operate across different national, regional, or organizational cultures and may not share the same view of, for example, the importance of punctuality. And in teams whose membership is fluid, explicitly reiterating norms at regular intervals is key.

Having the right support is the third condition that enables team effectiveness. This includes maintaining a reward system that reinforces good performance, an information system that provides access to the data needed for the work, and an educational system that offers training, and last—but not least—securing the material resources required to do the job, such as funding and technological assistance. While no team ever gets everything it wants, leaders can head off a lot of problems by taking the time to get the essential pieces in place from the start.

Ensuring a supportive context is often difficult for teams that are geographically distributed and digitally dependent, because the resources available to members may vary a lot. Consider the experience of Jim, who led a new product-development team at General Mills that focused on consumer goods for the Mexican market. While Jim was based in the United States, in Minnesota, some members of his team were part of a wholly owned subsidiary in Mexico.

The team struggled to meet its deadlines, which caused friction. But when Jim had the opportunity to visit his Mexican team members, he realized how poor their IT was and how strapped they were for both capital and people—particularly in comparison with the headquarters staff. Establishing the first three enabling conditions will pave the way for team success, as Hackman and his colleagues showed. The solution to both is developing a shared mindset among team members—something team leaders can do by fostering a common identity and common understanding.

In the past teams typically consisted of a stable set of fairly homogeneous members who worked face-to-face and tended to have a similar mindset. This is a natural human response: Our brains use cognitive shortcuts to make sense of our increasingly complicated world, and one way to deal with the complexity of a 4-D team is to lump people into categories. This was the challenge facing Alec, the manager of an engineering team at ITT tasked with providing software solutions for high-end radio communications.

His team was split between Texas and New Jersey, and the two groups viewed each other with skepticism and apprehension. Differing time zones, regional cultures, and even accents all reinforced their dissimilarities, and Alec struggled to keep all members up to speed on strategies, priorities, and roles. The situation got so bad that during a team visit to a customer, members from the two offices even opted to stay in separate hotels.

In an effort to unite the team, Alec took everyone out to dinner, only to find the two groups sitting at opposite ends of the table. Incomplete information is likewise more prevalent in 4-D teams. Very often, certain team members have important information that others do not, because they are experts in specialized areas or because members are geographically dispersed, new, or both.

After all, shared knowledge is the cornerstone of effective collaboration; it gives a group a frame of reference, allows the group to interpret situations and decisions correctly, helps people understand one another better, and greatly increases efficiency. Digital dependence often impedes information exchange, however.

The Secrets of Great Teamwork

When we walk into an in-person meeting, for example, we can immediately sense the individual and collective moods of the people in the room—information that we use consciously or not to tailor subsequent interactions. Having to rely on digital communication erodes the transmission of this crucial type of intelligence. Some effects of incomplete information came to light during a recent executive education session at Takeda Pharmaceuticals in Japan. One of the U. The Americans left the office at a normal hour, had dinner with their families, and held calls in the comfort of their homes, while their Japanese colleagues stayed in the office, missed time with their families, and hoped calls ended before the last train home.

Fortunately, there are many ways team leaders can actively foster a shared identity and shared understanding and break down the barriers to cooperation and information exchange. Returning to Alec, the manager of the team whose subgroups booked separate hotels: While his dinner started with the Texas colleagues at one end of the table and the New Jersey colleagues at the other, by its close signs had emerged that the team was chipping away at its internal wall.

He emphasized that both subteams contributed necessary skills and pointed out that they depended on each other for success. To build more bridges, he brought the whole team together several more times over the next few months, creating shared experiences and common reference points and stories. You can prime teams for success by focusing on the four fundamentals.

Often this is done by reserving the first 10 minutes of teamwide meetings for open discussion.

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The idea is to provide an opportunity for members to converse about whatever aspects of work or daily life they choose, such as office politics or family or personal events. This helps people develop a more complete picture of distant colleagues, their work, and their environment. By simply panning the camera around the room, they were able to show their remote colleagues their work environment—including things that were likely to distract or disrupt them, such as closely seated coworkers in an open-plan space or a nearby photocopier. Together the four enabling conditions form a recipe for building an effective team from scratch.

But even if you inherit an existing team, you can set the stage for its success by focusing on the four fundamentals.


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How will you know if your efforts are working? We have found that these criteria apply as well as ever and advise that leaders use them to calibrate their teams over time.

What you think of your testing program means little about its actual performance

The ideal approach combines regular light-touch monitoring for preventive maintenance and less frequent but deeper checks when problems arise. For ongoing monitoring, we recommend a simple and quick temperature check: Every few months, rate your team on each of the four enabling conditions and also on the three criteria of team effectiveness. The results will show where your team is on track as well as where problems may be brewing.

To see how your team is doing, evaluate it on the three classic criteria of team effectiveness. Then look at how well it meets the four conditions that drive the success of teams in a diverse, dispersed, digital, dynamic business. Underperformance on the criteria and weaknesses in the conditions are usually linked. Understanding the connections between them can help your team identify ways to improve.

This assessment draws on the seminal research of the organizational-behavior expert J. Richard Hackman. If you need a deeper diagnosis—perhaps in the face of poor performance or a crisis—block out an hour or more to conduct an intervention assessment. Carefully examine the links between the lowest-rated conditions and team effectiveness criteria; managers who do this usually discover clear relationships between them, which suggest a path forward. You can conduct both the quick check and the deeper intervention on your own or assess overall alignment by having all team members assign ratings separately.

For a team-based check, you should compare results across the group. For a team-based intervention, you can increase the impact by holding a full-scale workshop, where all the members get together to discuss and compare results. Not only does this give you more-complete data—shining a light on potential blind spots—but it also reveals differences among viewpoints and opens up areas for discussion. Teamwork has never been easy—but in recent years it has become much more complex. And the trends that make it more difficult seem likely to continue, as teams become increasingly global, virtual, and project-driven.

Taking a systematic approach to analyzing how well your team is set up to succeed—and identifying where improvements are needed—can make all the difference. Martine Haas is an associate professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

He researches, teaches, and consults on issues of collaboration, organizational design and new ways of working, and leadership. Leading teams. Martine Haas Mark Mortensen. Collaboration has become more complex, but success still depends on the fundamentals. View more from the June Issue Explore the Archive. Executive Summary Over the years, as teams have grown more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic, collaboration has become more complex.

The book cover, interior design, and the final edits on the manuscript are complete. Once the proof copy of the book is printed and approved, a release date will be set. Simple Life Publishing is a startup company that focuses on breaking everything down into its fundamental elements and simplifying life. With the publishing of this first book, I will begin a series of publications that will focus on helping readers simplify their lives.

I think the simpler we make anything, the easier it is to accomplish. When we break anything down into its most fundamental elements, it unclutters the process and simplifies our path to achieving our goal. We falsely believe that to be successful at anything the process has to be complicated. What do we do? We talk ourselves out of trying before we even get started. Remove this kind of thinking from your head! You can be successful at everything you do! But first, you must get started!

Breaking every task down into its smallest parts, he or she reasons, makes the goal easier to accomplish. That is not what I am talking about when I say fundamental elements.

So, if I am not talking about traditional goal setting, what am I talking about? Identifying tasks that need to be completed to accomplish a goal is important, but there is an even more basic set of elements that are necessary for you to be successful in everything you do.

The Psychology of a Successful Testing Program

Why does the traditional goal setting process fail for a lot of people? Because as simple and logical as this process may sound, it is too complicated, time consuming and not a natural fit for everybody.


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I have found that most people end up so consumed by the process of breaking every goal down into its smallest task that they lose focus of their overall goal and fail. The execution of the process becomes more important than the overall goal that they are trying to accomplish. Simplifying the process of success is the key. In fact, at Simple Life Publishing we think that simplicity is the key to everything in life.