A few years back, I was one of a small team responsible for crafting an important document, one that outlined everything students in California needed to learn in each grade. The document influenced the education of six million kids, thousands of teachers, and one of the nation’s largest K-12 textbook markets.
Even though the implications of the work were huge, it was a joy to come to work every day. My colleagues and I were so in sync, we could almost read each other’s minds. We worked incredibly hard under intense public scrutiny, and we did great work. Each day ended more energized than it began.
As we learned, a team that functions well at a high level can succeed in ways big and small. This is important information for the adventure park industry, where teams are vital and can take various forms: a cross-functional team to assess the viability of expanding your park; a brand new marketing, sales, or customer service team; or a standing team such as your senior leadership.
Knowing what makes such teams effective can help you maximize their impact. And with a sense of how good teams work, you will be able to look for signs when the team may be at risk of failing.
Management is an area that deserves focus. Harvard professor Richard Hackman, who studied teams and their dynamics, discovered that the key factor of success is how a team is managed. Left unmanaged, he said, teams tend to fail, no matter how qualified their people are.
If the way teams are managed is so important, what do managers need to do? According to Hackman, they must:
- Maintain an appropriate balance of authority and level of involvement, and avoid being on either end of the control spectrum (i.e., a traditional “boss” role—telling them what to do and how to do it, or “laissez-faire”—leaving the team alone entirely).
- Set a very clear and engaging direction for the team and keep them on track. Managers need to be unambiguous about the goals the team needs to achieve, and unapologetic about it.
- Give the team responsibility and authority to determine how to achieve their goal. The team needs decision-making power to decide how they will go about their task. This kind of responsibility is how teams become teams.
- Provide support for team skill building over time. Of course, it helps to train teams on skills like listening, communications, and conflict management. However, it is more effective to do training over time with the team rather than frontload the skills training.
- Recognize that experience is a great teacher. Team function tends to improve the longer a team stays together. People grow comfortable and familiar with each other, and the team environment becomes safer as power/status dynamics tend to level off.
- Encourage team members to hold each other accountable (rather than the manager assuming that role). Mutual accountability is a sign of true teamwork.
- Let teams define their own metrics. Teams that are given the authority to determine how to measure their progress are more effective (as long as the metrics are business-related).
When was the last time you were on a team that was truly high performing? That the whole team was greater than the sum of its parts? That the output was high quality and, even though people were working hard, seemed effortless? Was it a sports team? A work team? An ad hoc team or a permanent one? Was it recent or a long time ago? It might be helpful to analyze why that team worked so well, and if you’re so inclined, share your story here, on this site.