Understand What Teams Need to Succeed

Anybody who’s contributed to a team knows that team work comes with a unique set of challenges — getting commitment from all team members, reconciling different and sometimes competing agendas, uniting behind a shared purpose — the list goes on.

Depending on where they are in the team “life cycle,” teams need different resources to navigate business and interpersonal challenges — and to have a positive impact on their organizations.

When team members know about these needs, they have a way to identify and discuss what is working well and what isn’t. Teams can then be more focused and proactive in making changes that will lead to better team performance.

Team Planning Needs

This phase takes place both when the team is planning actions it is about to take or evaluating the impact of actions it has just taken. New teams, reconfigured teams, and floundering teams benefit from giving time and attention to 6 planning needs:

  • Team charter — Are overall objectives, resources, and constraints defined and clear to all team members? Learn more about how to create a team charter.
  • Goals —What are the measurable team outputs and related milestones?
  • Team norms — What standards of behavior do team members agree to? How will they handle routine issues, such as how work is divided or how disagreements are to be resolved? Team norms also help members address unexpected or complex situations.
  • Task performance strategy — What is the overall approach the team will take and what key actions are needed to achieve goals?
  • Shared understanding — Do team members have a common perspective? What key assumptions may affect performance? Teams can easily be tripped up by different beliefs about the challenges the team faces, the tools or resources available, or the desired working relationships among team members, for example.
  • Team memory — What relevant knowledge, information, and skills do team members posses or have access to? What gaps exist?

Team Action Needs

When teams are in action — engaged in activities that directly lead to goal accomplishment — they have 6 action needs:

  • Monitoring output — How does the team track and communicate progress?
  • Monitoring systems — What methods or resources are available for tracking people, budgets, and information — and for keeping up with stakeholders, markets, or other external factors?
  • Coordination — How does the team prioritize and sequence key activities and events?
  • Communication — Do team members communicate openly with each other? Does the team experience a high-quality exchange of ideas and information?
  • Monitoring team behavior — How is feedback given to team members?
  • Maintaining boundaries — How and when does information flow with other groups or units?

Team Interpersonal Needs

In addition to needs that arise in the planning and action phases, teams have 4 interpersonal needs:

  • Motivation-building — Do team members have a sense of personal accountability for performance? Is the team cohesive and motivated?
  • Psychological safety — Is there a sense of trust on the team? Are team members able to speak their minds, knowing they will be respected and listened to?
  • Emotion management — How does the team handle emotions? Setbacks, frustration, and even overconfidence can cause an emotional strain among team members.
  • Conflict management — Do differences of opinion prevent the team from meeting its goals? Does the team allow healthy debate while avoiding personal attacks or acrimony?

When a team is underperforming, faltering, or flat-out failing, look carefully at what’s missing. What behaviors are required to meet team needs? Whether your team is in planning or action mode, understanding these sets of needs — interpersonal included — will help you know how to gather the resources you need to get the job done.

CCL’s Team Performance work combines research with real-world experience to help team leaders, intact teams, and senior leadership teams maximize performance and achieve results. Learn to zero in on specific team needs by participating in CCL’s Leading Teams for Impact program. 

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