If Your Company’s Teamwork is BS, Here’s How to Fix It

Teams, teamwork and the collaboration tools that support them are getting a lot of hype these days. And while collaboration and team-centric work approaches have proven themselves crucial to tackling the everyday challenges of modern businesses, there are also risks that come with new technology and a readily accessible team. The same channels used for constant collaboration can become channels for unwanted distraction if used inappropriately.

New research has found that we may be flying blindly into a collaboration clusterf*ck instead of the golden age of teams. Complex problems and opportunities, diverse and dispersed teams and prods from competition have all spurred organizations to seek out a silver bullet for productivity. But all the technology in the world won’t help if the underlying problems of working together in an environment of urgency, competition, complexity, diversity and global distribution aren’t addressed. Without that teamwork foundation in place, we often inadvertently make it HARDER for teams to get shit done. With the future of work centered around teams—that’s a big problem.

I’ve taken this issue on as a personal challenge in my role at Atlassian, as I travel the world to observe and optimize teams and how they work. Given the privilege to monitor both the best teams and those that can’t seem to get out of their own way, I’ve outlined some pointers on what your teams are likely doing wrong and what you can do to fix it.

You’re Doing It Wrong

Despite the massive shift to a team-centric work approach, recent research makes it clear that some of us are still missing the mark--and the individuals in our teams are getting pulled all over. Consider that the average worker barely goes 11 minutes before getting distracted, or that they switch task every three minutes. Further, workers are spending 3.2 hours a day on average just checking emails. And 75 to 85 percent of their time is spent in meetings, which usually becomes time to work on other tasks (73 percent) despite thinking it’s inappropriate (84 percent).

All of these stats are  just symptoms of greater underlying problems in how we grasp the concept of teamwork. For one, although teams may know what they should be doing, they don’t always know WHY. We’ve become so focused on the process and doing things quickly that we have entire teams executing without knowing how it ties back to larger business goals or how it will impact customers. Work has become the completing of lists. Individuals that make up your teams are there for a reason but without insight into the purpose of their tasks, you lose the value they could provide.

Two, for some reason, proper teamwork got equated to having every single member chiming in on every decision until a consensus is reached. This leads to confusion and a space in which everyone is quick to critique others’ work with no individual accountability.

And three, there’s too much measurement and not enough action—it’s becoming a second job. A healthy team only needs two or three lead indicators that they’re moving in the right direction and one or two indicators for driving customer success. Overcomplicated KPIs are a classic contributor to the larger collaboration issue—but there are ways to fix it all!

Focusing on the Human Element

Teamwork is doing the RIGHT thing, the RIGHT way, with the RIGHT team, at the RIGHT time. At Atlassian, we’ve implemented a five-step plan across more than 400 global teams to make this possible.  

  • Get a Coach: Without a leader, even the most talented bunch is just a group of people—not a team.
  • Start with the WHY: Without understanding WHY they’re working, a team becomes a group executing busy work. Make sure every team member can see how their work maps back to the larger purpose.
  • Know if Your Team is Sick: Knowing the health of your team is critical. Each individual should know how a project is structured and how to best work together while having the support they need to fulfill their part in team success.
  • Just Do It: Forget a 15-point plan or a year-long roadmap—just start! That is the absolute best way to build momentum. Sometimes you just have to start and piece out what is working and what isn’t along the way.
  • Listen and learn: Always work off team feedback. This helps build a sense of unity and an amazing sense of momentum, as kinks are worked out on the fly. Make impact known as soon as it happens.

In all, we can no longer see teamwork as a catch-all term for working in groups. It does not mean constant input from all members or the abuse of productivity tools. It is the collaborative effort that makes complex projects possible after individuals have effectively completed their own part. Teamwork done right requires as much (if not more) individual work, concise feedback and understanding of the broader purpose and implications. You haven’t been doing it right, have you? Meet with your team leads and see how you measure up to our five-step plan.

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