A few years ago, I was part of a team that was starting to work together under very difficult circumstances: We had to finish a showcase in the Industry 4.0 area within just six weeks. The task required a truly cross-functional team, not only to create software components, but also to solve challenges in the areas of mechanics, sensors and electronics. Since the team consisted only of software developers, we had no choice but to develop the missing competences within a very short time.
Despite the challenges, we finished on time. We delivered a result that not only met expectations, but even exceeded them. And without too much stress at all. It was an exciting, creative time and we all learned a lot of amazing new things. Even the high time pressure, a big stress factor at the beginning, proved to be helpful, as it had prevented us from getting distracted.
The right boundary conditions were essential for this success. First of all, we were not only focused on delivering results, but also took the time to acquire the missing skills. Another important point was the clear and transparent goal that motivated the whole team.
But above all, we had been successful as a team: We had implemented a few elementary success factors which are key to teamwork – and which, unfortunately, are still far too often underestimated: We solved the task in real teamwork, with joint responsibility for the goal, and over the course of the project we developed into a real cross-functional team that was able to cover all necessary competencies on its own. In the following, I will shortly explain which factors enabled this in our case.
Curiosity. From my point of view the most important point. Only with the appropriate curiosity was it possible for us as a team to find solutions in technology areas that none of us really had experience with.
Openness. If all members approach a matter openly, this means that internal team communication is much more transparent and risks and possible difficulties are not postponed to the end of the project but are addressed and resolved early on. Because far too often we avoid clearly addressing sensitive points and foreseeable problem areas (“Nobody says anything about it, then I’d better not start this topic…”). In this way, many teams accumulate a mountain of hidden problems that loaf unsolved. The earlier problems are addressed, the sooner good and creative solutions can be developed.
Courage. Above all, the courage to simply try out new things, not to be afraid of failure. This led to novel and creative solutions. The courage to criticize existing solutions and then improve on them considerably. And, the courage to venture into new, unknown topics.
Heroes. It is a myth that in an equitable team there should be no leader. Why not let Mr P. drive the solution for this problem in an area he is particularly interested in? Or trust T. and her creativity when it comes to particularly tough challenges? It is important that the rest of the team supports these initiatives and trusts its “temporary leader”. And of course, “temporary” is the magic word: if the same people always have the lead, the team will not grow together.
Enthusiasm. Who says that you can only do good work with a cool head, as objective and sober as possible? In our team back then, we were united by a passion for the shared goal. And the enthusiasm for the various technologies was also there quickly after the first fears of getting started had been overcome. It was particularly helpful here that the team colleagues gave each other support.
Agree on small goals. For a great collaboration it is particularly helpful to agree on clear, small-step goals, such as: Where do we want to stand by the end of today? This also makes it easier to remain transparent when it comes to assessing progress: the result is a clear, small-step goal: Have we achieved our “daily goal”? Are we on the right track? Have we gotten distracted somewhere? Do we have to change anything? And so, the achievement of these small goals can also be an important driver for motivation in the entire team.
Error culture. You can’t mention it too often: Don’t be afraid of mistakes! Mistakes help. Mistakes are providing new insights – the least of which is a way that doesn’t work.. Mistakes are the chance, to become smarter and to learn.
If I learned one thing from this project, it is this: Real teams are an unbelievably powerful booster for better results. And the prerequisites that are enabling this all, are determined by the environment within which a team works. This is what finally made the above points possible. In his entertaining and informative video (http://bit.ly/2pmEmwn) Daniel Pink describes the 3 factors for motivation: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. These three factors were all given in our case. The team had full autonomy in designing the solutions. There was – despite time pressure – enough freedom to learn new things and to grow personally and as a team. And there was a clear, common and meaningful goal around which the team could gather.
It is therefore worth investing in the right conditions for real teamwork. Have fun!