If there is one takeaway from Walter Isaacson’s book The Innovators, it’s that the lone genius is a myth. Not individuals drive innovation, but teams. After learning about individual productivity, thinking about what makes teams perform is a natural progression. My thoughts here are still very much a work in progress and this is more a status report of my exploration in the topic than anything else.

Team Performance Formula

For a team to be effective, all its members should be competent in personal productivity habits. The more each individual potential is realized, the greater the effect on the team as a whole.

Then there are factors that influence the collaboration of a team. These are the factors that make teams so powerful because they have non-linear effects on team performance. The team is more than the sum of its parts.

The formula (work in progress) here is:

Team Potential = Individual Potentials^X

X is a power factor that contains the things that improve the collaboration of a team.

Currently, I see the following factors:

  • Collective purpose (Why/goals)
  • Diversity within the team
  • Psychological safety
  • Operations / Processes

Collective Purpose

Without a common goal, you have either a team pulling into different directions or unmotivated and underperforming team members. From my experience, team leaders generally spend too little time on this. Somehow it’s just assumed that the reason we are here is obvious. Here are two simple questions to check if your team has a common goal:

  1. What are we trying to achieve?
  2. How do we measure our success? Ask each team member individually and then compare all the answers. If they are the same, your team is aligned, at least on paper.

Now it’s crucial that the heart is in it too. Knowing the goal is not the same as believing in it. This makes the difference between having a team of mercenaries or missionaries.

Diversity within the team

Shane Snow basically wrote a whole book about this with Dream Teams. Diversity within a team makes it more likely to arrive at better solutions to problems because there are more perspectives, inputs, and refinement of ideas. While an individual is stuck in a local maxima (because she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know), in a team the combination of each local maxima makes it more likely to reach the highest one. That’s a very technical way of saying that diverse teams find more creative and better solutions to problems.

Psychological Safety

In project Aristotle, Google analyzed what made teams perform better and found one factor more important than all the others: psychological safety. It describes the condition for each team member to feel safe enough to express himself freely, share his inputs openly and proactively, and leaving ego at the door. If a member has a great idea but doesn’t share it, it’s useless. If an idea is stupid, but nobody speaks up, well, that’s even worse.

Operations and Processes

Lastly, how the team does things. How does the team…

  • share information
  • work on problems
  • connect on a personal level. This is stuff like meeting structure and practices, work processes, team building, 1-on-1s but also team rituals and jokes. So, I would also put team culture here, since it relates heavily to the way we work together.

That’s where I’m at currently. I continue to read up on the subject and experiment as an individual contributor. It doesn’t offer the same exploration potential as a team lead but offers still some interesting insights. Onwards.