Crafting High-Performing Teams Wherever They Work

The power of investing energy into goals, processes, and boundaries

Group work often yields better outcomes than individual work. Just “collaborating,” however, doesn’t automatically make it so. We must work well together with purpose— and we form teams to do that. Many of us on teams worked in the same office location pre-pandemic. Today, we are dispersed and relying on collaborative technology to connect and work.

Whether your team is working in the same space, virtually, or in a hybrid of both, leaders should invest energy into three key areas to craft high-performing teams: goals, processes, and boundaries. With the right structure, leadership, and resources, teams can improve outcomes beyond ad hoc collaboration.

Clarifying Goals
One difference between a group and a team is that a team has a well-defined, shared goal. The best teams have members with diverse skill sets, so goal clarity ensures everyone understands and is working toward the same outcome.

High-performing teams expertly assess and adapt to shifting priorities, coordinate relationships for joint efforts, and efficiently leverage resources to achieve their goals. Thus, teams need to have access to necessary information about each other (e.g., areas of expertise and preferred ways of working and communicating), as well as their resources and objectives. Without goal clarity, teams have wasted effort, unnecessary overlap from different members, and rework—and coordination languishes.

A clear, shared goal brings the team together for better coordination and contributes to team identity and cohesion. In addition to clarity, goals also should be challenging enough to keep the team engaged. Easy goals are unmotivating, and overly difficult ones can be too frustrating—neither of which yield optimal outcomes.

Managing Team Processes
Putting processes in place—like overall standards of work, as well as other ways of doing that a team agrees on—can smooth out a team’s work. We know that bringing together members with diverse skills and perspectives provides an innovative advantage, but that also can pose a challenge. Tuckman’s developmental sequence for teams remains an important process for coordinated work. It focuses on how the relationships between members impact a team’s output. Here’s a brief overview:

  • Forming is the shared goal that brings the team together. Here team members learn about each other, their work styles, and power dynamics—which sometimes result in conflict, leading to the next stage.
  • Storming is when members may compete for roles as they try to establish their places in the team. If that conflict is managed constructively, the team moves on to norming.
  • Norming is when cooperation begins to take hold and team members start working together to achieve their shared goal.
  • Performing takes place when the team has reached peak performance and they’re working toward their goal effectively and efficiently.

Skillful leaders usher teams along this process within a psychologically safe context. If team members don’t feel safe to share ideas and critical feedback, the quality of work suffers. Trust among members is how knowledge is quickly and effectively shared and built—which is essential to achieving and exceeding goals. This is not a “once and done” process. When members or goals change, the team often revisits these stages, and not necessarily in exact order.

Navigating and Negotiating Boundaries
Teams perceive how to achieve their goals from how an organization manages and prioritizes its organizational, functional, and geographical boundaries. Furthermore, those boundaries impact the way resources—the workplace, its tools, and collaborative technologies—are distributed across the organization. Since team outcomes often reflect their interactions, and interactions reflect perceived boundaries, successful leaders navigate and negotiate these boundaries to their team’s advantage.

Paying attention to boundaries and resources is particularly important as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. With many teams being forced to work remotely, collaborative technology became the primary means of working together. As collaborative technology continues to evolve and provide more immersive experiences—and organizations have teams work across vast distances—distributed teamwork will continue to improve. Being co-located or operating in a shared space, however, remains most effective for many team activities.  

High-performing teams need specific resources regardless of where they work. How you answer the following six questions can help make decisions about the physical workspaces and technologies your team needs to perform well.  

Organizational Boundaries

1.    Activities: What kinds of coordinated activities are preferred and needed for achieving goals?
2.    Access: How easily should non-team members have access to the team and their activities?

Functional Boundaries

3.    Who: What part(s) of the organization do team members represent? 
4.    How long: Will the team be enduring with multiple goals and ongoing tasks, or will the team cease to exist once a specific project is complete?

Geographical Boundaries

5.    Where: Are team members fully dispersed, partially dispersed, or operating in a shared space?
6.    When: Are team members’ activities mostly synchronous (simultaneous) or asynchronous (performed separately)?

Boundaries can be roadblocks to team resources and activities, or they can protect them. We envision a future where team members have access to both the right collaborative technology, and the right technology-enabled workspaces that fit a team’s needs. When, where, and the kind of work done will be specific to each team.

The list below outlines the workspace resource considerations and collaborative technology that will help teams navigate and negotiate the boundaries they work within.

Workspace Design Considerations
Organizational Boundaries

Activities: All teams inform, connect, think, and do. One collaborative mode may be preferred, but all teams will engage in all modes to some extent. As culture shifts, preferences shift.
Access: Adjacencies and barriers manage the range of access from private, insulated to public, uninsulated.

Functional Boundaries

Who: Branding, team’s specific tools, and storage signify both team and member identity.
How long: Permanence of furniture features and equipment range from fixed to flexible.

Geographical Boundaries

Where: Provide optimal conditions for a team’s synchronous activities and accommodate all team members.
When: Frequency and duration of synchronous (simultaneous) activities indicate whether the team workspace is dedicated to one team or shared.

Collaborative Technology Features
Organizational Boundaries

Activities: The ability to dial in the right amount of information with a singular shared experience of team content.
Access: Assigning varied permissions manages access to team content.

Functional Boundaries

Who: The ability to track authorship for multiple perspectives.
How long: Creates indefinite record of content and activities with access via personal and shared team devices.

Geographical Boundaries

Where: Closes gaps in physical distance.
When: Coordinates synchronous and asynchronous activities.

What a team produces often reflects the way in which the members interact—and interactions are influenced by boundaries and resources. Give teams what they need to get to their highest performance for the goals desired. 

Fundamentally, members of high-performing teams know how to work together effectively. They are cohesive, interdependent people who quickly and successfully work alongside one another to reach or exceed goals.

To manage a high-performing team well—so they can do their best work—we recommend they have goal clarity, a safe space to develop and function as a team, and expertly negotiated boundaries that provide the right resources wherever and however they do their work.

For additional information on collaboration, employee engagement, flexibility/adaptability, and other related topics, visit Haworth’s Research page.  

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