Turning Diverse Groups into Effective Teams

Getting a group to function as a team with a common goal is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenges every leader faces. As a leader, you will find yourself leading a group of diverse individuals through both small tasks and intricate projects. You will often inherit ‘teams’ who have yet to become one, and whatever is the condition and the baggage of the group, you need to bring out the team skill at the end of it all. To succeed in the position of the leader, it is commonly considered that you need of essential skills: the leadership capability to build teams, the ability to clearly and effectively communicate, strong interpersonal skills.

Building a team starts with the attitude. First and foremost, you have to treat your team as a high-profile project. This means you need to set measurable goals, put together a plan with deadlines, benchmarks, and desired outcomes to keep everyone focused.

To help get you started, take a look at how Katzenbach and Smith define a team: “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

Questions to Help Set Outcomes:

  1. What would be the ideal size for your team?
  2. What skills do you already have on the team, which do you need to acquire?
  3. How does every individual contribute to the common purpose and mission?
  4. Does the team abide by behavioral rules?
  5. Do we approach setting, tracking, and meeting performance goals as a team?
  6. Do we both as individuals and a team hold ourselves accountable?

Go over these questions and identify if any of these fundamental ingredients are missing. Setting these right will put you in the position where a group of individuals starts becoming a team. With the foundation in place, you can then continue building up the team spirit. Here is a quick example.

Imagine witnessing a problem-solving session of a team that was identified to have interpersonal conflicts. Turns out, the team has five top-achievers. However, each of them clearly sets and pursues individual goals. One of them even goes out of his way to say: “I don’t see the point of us even meeting as a team. We have nothing in common.” No evidence of collective work could be found either. In other words, this was indeed just a group of individuals sharing no characteristics of a team. When members of the team were asked to share some of their roles and objectives, their colleagues have started to see the potential in team collaboration. All in all, the reason behind conflicts here can be mainly explained by the lack of teamwork and isolation from one another.

Individual Approach to Sync the Entire Team

When you look at a truly effective team, you’ll see that superstars are not encouraged. You get no heroes when the entire team is focused on maximizing its strengths and making the most of diversities. It may seem like working with people similar in experience, approach, and thinking would be easier, but diversity brings in people with various beliefs, lifestyles, and backgrounds making the team all-around richer. The leader of the group needs to be able to respectfully embrace the differences and work out a way to eliminate subgroups of any kind.

After you have gathered a group of talented individuals and defined the mission for the team, it is time to figure out how this team is going to function. Set “ground rules” by taking the following steps, use everyone’s personal values to build upon:

  1. Have every member list up to 5 most important workplace values.
  2. Get together as a group and pick a minimum of 3 values everyone can agree upon.
  3. Gain consensus on the appropriate definition to each of these values.
  4. Discuss what makes each of these values important, what behavior reinforces/undermines these values.

Take into account, setting up too many rules may make things unmanageable. Preferably, start by putting 1-2 ground rules into practice at a time. It can be something as simple as “I will meet my deadlines” or fundamental as “I will respect my colleagues”, but make sure everyone is doing their best to follow it. It will completely change the way a team functions.

If you find your team at the time of conflicts, lacking productivity, or being ineffective, don’t immediately jump to conclusions and play the judgment card. Perhaps, the talent you’ve recruited just needs a little syncing up to do.