10 Lessons learned studying a high-performing team

Written by: the Officevibe Content Team
Published on December 15, 2016 | Reading time: 8m

As many of you know, I recently came back from Prague where I was working on a truly impactful project with an amazing team.

After witnessing the energy and vibe that our team had, I made it my personal goal to discover what it was that was making us work so well. My goal was to discover what the secret was, in the hopes of bringing back those lessons for our team at home.

I’ve had a few days to reflect since I’ve been home, and now I think I have the answer.

I want to share some of my key learnings in the hopes that every manager reading this will implement these things into their workplace.

As a manager, if you ever wished you had a team that actually worked well and got along together, this post is for you.

I’m sharing secrets that every manager either can’t see or is too scared to actually tell their higher ups.

This is deep stuff.

I hope everyone reading this takes notes or sends this to any decision maker they know.

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First, some background

First, some background on my team.

I think it’s important to understand the structure of the team to see what made us work so well together.

The makeup of our team was such that everyone was really empowered to use their expertise.

We were working on a project called CultureFest MTL, a conference about company culture taking place in Montreal on April 12th.

Here’s how our team was broken down:

  • Max (marketing)
  • Alex (sales)
  • Simon (growth hacker)
  • Sam (developer)
  • Emie (designer)
  • Catherine (event management)
  • Me (content)

Everyone had their clear expertise and was both accountable and responsible for doing what they do best.

This is important, because we knew that each person was the expert in their field. We all put an immense amount of trust into each other that each person knew what they were doing.

Imagine, even if we weren’t sleeping well, weren’t eating well, tired, people were sick, etc., we were pulling things off that I never thought possible.

I can promise anyone reading this, that these are the keys to having a good team.

10 Key lessons learned

After spending two intense weeks, living and working with an incredibly talented team, here are the lessons I learned.

1. Trust is the key

I can’t stress this enough. The difference between a high-performing team and an underperforming team is trust in one another.

Very often, that lack of trust stems from fear, it’s usually nothing personal, but it ends up happening regardless.

Try to do whatever you can to build trust on your team. Open communication, brutal honesty, getting to know each other personally, and showing trust first are all ways to build trust.

2. There was no boss

This helped tremendously with that fear and nervousness.

There was no micromanagement, no one to impress, no politics, no nonsense. We were all just working towards a common mission. We were doing it for the greater good of the project.

I often say that one of the most important ways to increase employee engagement is to remove the fear. I’m starting to realize that an easy way to do this is to literally remove yourself from the team. People need autonomy.

3. There was no fakeness

Often in corporate environments, again, because of the politics behind work, people are fake with each other.

On this team however, there was no fakeness. No one had any reason to be fake with each other, we weren’t trying to impress anyone.

Stop beating around the bush with your teammates, just speak the truth and keep it real.

4. There was Tons of respect

I think this was because there was one person dedicated to their task.

Our designer is talented, our developer was obviously the best one there, so this led to a lot of respect on the team.

That respect meant that we could trust each other with decisions. We didn’t have to have meetings about design where everyone pitched in and told the designer what to do, she did it herself and everyone trusted and respected what she did.

5. Everyone was empowered

Lack of empowerment is such a serious problem on almost every team I’ve been on, spoken to, or watched.

Employees want to grow, they want that chance to challenge themselves and get better.

In order to do that, they need that autonomy. Most of the time, people have quasi-autonomy. They’re not able to see their project all the way through and on their own.

For example, Alex was in charge of sales. I’d never question him, ask him for daily updates, nor would I go and pick up the phone to start making sales. If he needed help he could have asked, but I knew he was doing a good job, so we all left him alone.

6. Fun is important

It’s important that everyone on the team gets along well and has fun. Team building activities are great for this.

This is easier said than done, but ultimately it’s possible. I truly believe that a lot of the reasons this doesn’t happen is because of the reasons listed above.

There’s so much fear that people become political. This ends up creating fake friendships, making it harder to build those relationships on the team.

7. There was no fear

This one is related to the fact that in Prague, we didn’t have a boss. There was no one to watch out for and you didn’t feel like anyone was judging you.

As a simple example, if someone were to call me out in front of my boss, I’d be embarrassed and nervous that it was affecting their view of me, whereas if I was called out there, there was no fear.

Everyone on the team was fine with being called out, because it felt more genuine and less political.

8. We communicated politely

Team communication is so important.

We used Slack to communicate, and this actually makes our communication challenges even harder.

It’s no secret that social media makes us more depressed, and using Slack takes a lot of those negative aspects and brings them into the workplace.

Plus, sometimes it can feel like someone is calling you out in front of everyone if they post a mistake you made in a public channel and everyone jumps in to voice their opinion. Again, this is all related to that fear, stress, and pressure (all unnecessary) that exist in most workplaces.

Praise publicly, criticize privately.

I think one of the ways to solve this issue is to be polite and friendly in your communication. Communicating virtually is tough because there’s no tone or facial expressions to interpret the message. We all need to be mindful of this.

9. Celebrate small wins

One key thing that I loved that we did when we were in Prague was every small achievement was greeted with a small celebration. High-fives all around, kudos and telling each other great job was helpful in keeping motivation high.

It’s important that you’re mindful of what people are working on and that you try to create a culture of recognition on the team.

10. We Vs Me

I was having a chat with one of my teammates one night in Prague, and he pointed out something subtle, but pretty remarkable.

Whenever we would talk about a task (completing it or the status of it), we would use the word “we” instead of “I”.

We just put the website up, we contacted these people today, we created the emails, etc.

This made all of us feel like much more of a team.Everyone was working together towards a common purpose.

An open letter to the Officevibe marketing team

To my beautifully talented teammates, I ask that you read this blog post carefully.

This will make us an unstoppable team.

Many of our competitors have teams that are twice or three times the size of ours. We need to work smarter, not harder.

Recently, I’ve been getting the feeling that we’re not as strong of a team as we could be. After my research, I think I understand why.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re an incredible team. Some people have legitimately asked me if we’re a 60-70 person team when in reality we’re 7 (for a long time we were 5). There have been times where I’ve been unbelievably impressed with our team and it seems like we’re flowing so well, but lately, I haven’t been getting that feeling.

We recently set ambitious goals for ourselves. I believe this led to an unusual (and unnecessary) amount of stress, fear, and nervousness on the team. I completely understand why this happens, and it’s normal, but we’ll never hit our goals this way.

If I can ask one thing of our team, it would be for us all to trust and respect each other. Trust that we all individually know what we need to do. Trust that we all have the skills required to do our jobs properly, without interference. Trust that we all want the best for the team and each other.

I say this because I want the best for us.

I know this is easier said than done, but just relax. Seriously, we’re an amazing team, and when we work well together, we pull off an impressive amount of high quality work.

There’s no need to be so nervous.

Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Quality over quantity, always. We need to get our focus back, but if I can ask just one thing, it would be for us all to trust and respect each other.

I’m confident that if we can harness that energy that I experienced when I was in Prague, we’ll be able to do some pretty amazing things.

With Love,

– Jacob

What makes a good team to you?

What do you think? What have you noticed are the things that make up a good team?

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