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Better Team Dynamics

By Sasha Ganeles, Planner

Today, teams are more important than ever. One study, published in The Harvard Business Review last year, found that at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues. And thanks to the psychologists, statisticians, and sociologists working across academic and corporate spaces, there is perpetually new data about everything from email patterns to team compositions (Google’s People Operations department even explored how often certain people eat together).

There are, of course, many different approaches to building a strong team. Every business has varying requirements, and thus different needs for a team to fulfill. But the primary goal of optimizing team dynamics is to figure out how to make employees into faster, better, and more productive versions of themselves. Because in an age where software and tools are both widely available across businesses and constantly updated, people are the uncontrollable variables in the business setting.

There are limitless dynamics out there. We’ve pulled together some examples of team structures that were developed to solve for particular business problems, the result of careful research, or a guiding company mission. Which one is the most effective overall? That depends on each businesses’ needs. And whether the team has great jackets.

1. Greater than the sum of its parts

Google, being Google, can’t just take a normal approach to team building. To better understand and improve their team dynamic, they launched an entire initiative called Project Aristotle, studying 180 Google teams over the course of more than two years. The conclusion found that the overall team dynamic is the most important factor for success, not necessarily having the most skilled person for each role. The study determined five key overarching characteristics of high-performing teams:

    1. Dependability.

    Team members get things done on time and meet expectations.

    1. Structure and clarity.

    High-performing teams have clear goals, and have well-defined roles within the group.

    1. Meaning.

    The work has personal significance to each member.

    1. Impact.

    The group believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts the greater good.

    1. Psychological Safety.

    A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions. A culture where managers create safe zones so employees can let down their guard. Google found that teams with psychologically safe environments had employees who were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately, who were more successful.

The emotional connections amongst the team are also paramount.

Everyone should talk roughly the same amount among each other-- no one should dominate the conversation, even without any one person having to monitor and control the dialogue. This distribution of "talk time" happened naturally in effective teams. All of the team members also had a higher than average ability to read other people's emotions based on their facial expressions.

Google found that teams with these qualities worked more efficiently and productively, and had happier employees and better retention rates.

2. All-star team

An oft-noted quality in a candidate is whether or not they’re a ‘team player’. But according to workforce consultant and author Glenn M. Parker, there’s actually more than one way to be a team player - four ways, to be exact. Parker says being an effective player on a work team means much more than just getting a job done. Each employee brings different gifts and talents to the table in an effort to achieve a common goal. It involves the active creation and exchange of new ideas delivered through different work styles.

  1. The contributor

    Contributors tend to be task-oriented. Their strengths lie in sharing information with the team and making sure every aspect of a project is taken care of. Contributors are thorough and detail-oriented.

  2. The collaborator

    Collaborators are highly goal-oriented and know how to keep their eyes on the prize. They see the vision, mission, or goal of the team as paramount but are flexible and open to new ideas.

  3. The communicator

    This team player is dedicated to ensuring effective process management.

  4. The challenger

    Challengers dig deep and are reluctant to take things at face value.

However, Parker notes that the one key characteristic for all team members is flexibility. In the imperfect business world, there will be times when you must collaborate with people or organizations that operate very differently than you. Parker predicts this will be become more of a reality as more companies choose to use a distributed or virtual workforce.

3. Tunnel vision

When Julia Beizer took over the product team at HuffPost, there was no question of the team members’ qualifications or even their dynamic. She realized that a cumbersome structure and process were making it difficult to produce quickly and nimbly.

So she reorganized the team into four distinct product groups, each with a specific focus. For example, one group focused on monitoring metrics that affect revenue from page views, while another was free to experiment with new story formats like HuffPost’s “storybook” feature.

Part of the rationale behind the setup is that it better aligns the engineers’ schedules with new products’ timetables. By scattering engineers across various groups, their workflow and availability becomes more stable and productive.

By splitting the team into groups, HuffPost minimized superfluous communication that used to occur when product teams were organized around technical subgroups. Because of the reorganization, Beizer said HuffPost can now roll out new features faster, which has helped increase its video views and completion rates.

4. Crush & Lovely

And what about our dynamic team? As you may know (especially if you’ve been to our office lately) Crush has been experiencing a period of significant growth. With a rush of new business opportunities within a relatively small company, the extra work can make it easy to fall into panicked hiring to supplement the team and meet demands. “Growing has to be done intentionally,” says Lauren Schofield, Crush’s Director of Talent & Culture. “We’re forced to think carefully. Every person has massive impact on the culture and environment.”

Even in smaller numbers, It’s not about finding people who fit in with the existing structure. “We’re not just mimicking people who are here already, but looking for ways to diversify the voice and our work structure,” says Schofield. “We don't want to only hire people who sound and think like we do. We seek out diversity of opinions and voices in our own team so we can think and create in an inclusive way for our clients.”

It’s also important to hire people who can bring different experiences to the table. This diversity is crucial in an environment where everyone is a problem-solver. “We don’t have one way of solving problems; we want different perspectives and interpretations,” adds Matt Blanchard, our CEO and Cofounder.

Crush has grown because of how it has built teams around best addressing client needs. We started as a company that specialized in websites and have taken on more and more challenges over the 13 years we have been in business, responding to the needs of our clients and developing work units that have made Crush & Lovely into the full-service company that it is today.

We do more by building a team of individuals who go deep (not wide), in their expertise, and by fostering a culture of outstanding communication and full project ownership.

You don’t need to lean on one or two all-stars if your team dynamic is healthy. Pay attention to the way your teams work together and we guarantee you’ll see more individuals succeed.