Highly Productive Teams

I have been fortunate to participate in teams where members engaged each other in an inclusive way that energized, inspired, embraced change, and just plain made work more productive and fun. I refer to these teams as Highly Productive Teams. These teams always seem to position the rewards and accolades of success with the team and never the individuals involved. They keep their eye on the ball and collaborate instinctively to achieve the project vision. However, I’ve also seen firsthand organizations that don’t collaborate and have a silo mentality, hoard information, and resist change. They assign blame or success to individuals and in doing so they often neglect the overall goals and vision for the project.

I view the Highly Productive Team as the Holy Grail of productivity. At the centerpiece of Highly Productive Teams is workplace collaboration—the act of harnessing the collective intelligence, ingenuity, energy, passion, and creativeness of an organization to result in innovative and successful team effort driven toward achieving a common vision. Highly Productive Teams are inspired organizational efforts that transcend mediocrity and go on to achieve greatness.

Teamwork and collaboration are high on the list of reasons that top-performing companies give for their success. In 1999 at the height of HP’s reign as one of the most successful and innovative companies, it published the Rules of the Garage[1], a framework for innovation. HP’s framework heavily weights teamwork in its list of organizational success factors. Similarly, Google’s Susan Wojcicki’s Eight Pillars for Innovation[2] attributes collaboration within five of her eight pillars.

Do a little research on teamwork and workplace collaboration, and you’ll find a consensus of opinions centered on a close knit work environment promoting regular communication and sharing amongst team members: A team with a high trust quotient, common interests, vesting in the successful outcome of the project, and leadership that is clear on goals, objectives, and vision.

Just a few simple rules that should be easy enough to implement, right? The million dollar question is: “Why do so few teams click, collaborate successfully, and become highly productive, and the bulk of the rest, not so much?”

At Mangrove we pride ourselves on doing more with less, and I attribute our highly productive teams as a big part of the reason why. I wish I could say that every project or endeavor falls into the utopia of the Highly Productive Team, but we’re there more often than when we’re not. So what are we doing specifically at Mangrove to build Highly Productive Teams?

Our leadership model is open, inclusive, passionate, results-oriented, but flexible with deadlines.

  • We paint the big picture and are realistic and forthright with the project objectives.
  • We engage the team to discuss, challenge, contribute, and ultimately be a part of the solution-creation process.
  • We instruct the team on what not to work on, and prioritize the issues that require creative solutions.
  • We communicate flexible target dates, success criteria, and levels of authorities; we never sacrifice innovation, forward momentum, and morale for the sake of meeting short-term deadlines.
  • We are passionate with a singular focus on the delivery of high quality results.
  • We are generous with praise.
  • We size the team with just enough resources to get the job done.
  • We provide adequate time to be efficient with resources as compressed projects tend to get sloppy.
  • We ensure that the entire team has a vested interest in the desired outcomes.
  • We guide collaboration and keep things moving to be sure that collaboration does not go too far where things get bogged down.
  • We promote an experimental philosophy where calculated risk-taking is encouraged and a failed effort is acceptable. We, however, never give in or concede defeat. Obstacles are opportunities and not roadblocks.
  • We help each other be right and not wrong, and we act as though the team is counting on our individual contributions.

Our teams are small, agile, aligned with vested interests, and are given adequate time.

  • We size the team with just enough resources to get the job done.
  • We provide adequate time to be efficient with resources as compressed projects tend to get sloppy.
  • We ensure that the entire team has a vested interest in the desired outcomes.
  • We guide collaboration and keep things moving to be sure that collaboration does not go too far where things get bogged down.
  • We promote an experimental philosophy where calculated risk-taking is encouraged and a failed effort is acceptable. We, however, never give in or concede defeat. Obstacles are opportunities and not roadblocks.
  • We help each other be right and not wrong, and we act as though the team is counting on our individual contributions.

As Mangrove has grown, so has our distributed workforce. We’ve seen firsthand how contributors working in different physical locations and different time zones can slow down collaboration and challenge productivity.

We connect the team with technology.

  • We invest in video conferencing and document sharing capabilities, and now we engage our remote team members equally with our resident team members.
  • We use automated tools to track open items, record resolutions, and communicate progress frequently in terms of project deadlines and milestones.
  • We embrace a regular rhythm of social activities and informal meetings that promote trust and accountability among team members.
  • We encourage the use of social media tools to facilitate information broadcasts, knowledge transfer, recognition, and real-time communication.

Our approach to workplace collaboration is one that instinctively works for us, and it is becoming engrained in our culture as a company. I’ve seen both side of the coin, and there’s no question in my mind that organizations that collaborate earn the right to remain relevant while those that don’t eventually face tough times. In 2001, Apple’s iPod device was a runaway success that challenged Sony’s Walkman product line into obsolescence. Sony was unable to collaborate to counter with a viable iPod-iTunes alternative because of too much internal competition; they instead went to market with two competing products, and both failed.  Apple on the other hand, parlayed its previous iPod success by collaborating and sharing designs from the iPod team with the iPad tablet team, and the iPad became another runaway success.

So the rewards for assembling highly productive teams are obviously great. Getting your team there is a matter of finding the right balance of leadership style, and a having a good, solid framework for collaboration in place.

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  1. Pingback: 4 Principles of Employee Engagement | Three lefts make a right

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