The Five Variables That Determine High-Performing Teams
Ten years after I completed research through Taproot Foundation about teamwork and the elements that make teams successful, Google completed teamwork studies. Not surprisingly, we both discovered a few key conditions that make teams successful. As it turns out, there are five key variables that determine the performance of teams in a variety of settings. Without these five elements, teams are not successful - no matter the level of talent on the team:
- Psychological safety
- Structure and clarity
Once identified, the challenge for organizations is to manage the five variables and ensure psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact for teams. Right now, the systems most companies have established around team management focus on dependability and structure and clarity. In most organizations, not much is done to ensure psychological safety, meaning, and impact.
Recently, I discussed the importance of effective teams in a webinar, How to Drive Organizational Growth Through Teamwork and Purpose. The following is a recap of some the main points of that webinar. If you want to hear more, you can view the webinar in its entirety here.
Giving people a sense of purpose and meaning
At Taproot, we found that people get a sense of purpose or meaning from different things. Through our research, we identified nine psychological drivers that determine what brings people together for work. What we found is that things that are meaningful for one person may not be meaningful for another. We also found that the key to high performing teams is ensuring that each individual has a sense of purpose and that the team as a whole establishes a culture which feeds into the needs of the individuals on that team.
We designed three key questions to identify individual motivators and core beliefs:
- Who does the person want to impact?
- individuals – change begins with the individual. I can improve people’s lives by helping directly meet their needs and overcome their challenges.
- organizations – by enabling an organization, team or community to succeed, I am able to touch the lives of many.
- society – we need to change the game to address the scale of challenges and opportunities. Even a small change at a systemic level has a massive impact in the world.
- Why do they work?
- karma – a moral foundation based on liberty and personal responsibility
- harmony – a moral foundation based on care and interdependence
- How do they solve problems?
- human – we can create breakthrough solutions to any challenge or opportunity if we start with empathy and understanding the human and environmental context
- community – if we build strong communities who feel ownership over the problem and solution, they will rise to the occasion every time.
- structure – we are able to achieve unimaginable things when we have the right structures in place to support us – from goals to roles to training
- knowledge – knowledge is the key to unlocking change. Curiosity will uncover the answers we need to solve our greatest challenges and realize our most exciting opportunities.
When you combine these three aspects, you can create an archetype of purpose that helps your teams develop meaning and purpose.
Team members may have different desired levels of impact
Assuming that all people on a team have the desire to impact the world and their work in the same way, creates a barrier to truly engaging people and motivating them at a core level.
For example, some team members may find the most meaning when they’re helping individuals. They need to feel like their work actually matters to people. They need to feel like they’re making an impact on someone’s life. Unless they feel they are making a tangible impact on people’s lives, no matter how big the impact is, it feels a little shallow to them. Members who want to impact people’s lives they need proximity to the results their work has created for individuals.
Impacting the organization
To be fulfilled, other people may need to feel like they’ve built an organization or contributed to an organization or team. They feel like they’re able to create more value and have more power when they are agents of change. Unlike their team counterparts, these people want to quantify their influence through the changes they see around them.
Finally, a third group of people want to make an impact on society as a whole and to move the needle on issues. As part of a team, people who want to influence society will want to feel like everything they’re doing is somehow connected to a broader change, a broader trend. Being part of social change is what gives these team members a psychological sense of meaning.
Establishing the team impact culture
The challenge for managers is to make sure that every individual on a team, commonly comprised of people with diverse impact needs, has a sense of purpose. To meet that challenge, we’ve recently developed what we call an “imperative”, a model for establishing team purpose.
We begin with generating a team purpose profile. To construct the profile, we conduct 10-minute individual psychological assessments. We collect the results and based on what we know about teams and what we’ve discovered about the individuals on your team, we predict what your team is going to need to be able to become a high performing team and have all five of those Google dynamics. It’s the only tool that really focuses on the purpose of a team, really focuses on the modern positive psychology science around what really motivates people. And it’s radically changing the way organizations are thinking about teams.
Once we’ve established the individual preferences around impact, we identify the culture of the team. We’ve found that there are three different impact cultures of teams and these cultures have a significant influence on how the team operates and their ultimate success.
Three team cultures:
- Values- Driven: For values-driven teams, it’s always about doing the right thing. Even if doing the right thing sometimes causes you to not do something the way you want to, or to not have the impact you’d hoped for. What’s most important is that the team is doing the right things.
- Craft-Driven: A craft team cares a lot about how the work is done. They care that the work is done well. They truly value that the process is right, they value that they are doing work they’re proud of and that’s paramount to them.
- Impact-Driven: An impact-driven team doesn’t really care how they get to the end goals. They’re purpose is to measure their impact against initial goals. They want to know that the team has had the appropriate level of impact.
By identifying and knowing the team culture, managers can start to define roles in the team using purpose. You can add members to the team based on knowing the culture of the team and the individuals and either add members who are similar or more diverse. You can create opportunities for people on teams based on their purpose. Once the team culture has been established, it’s easier to communicate with other organizations within the organization to help them understand the purpose of the team.
Establish a team mission and convey it to the rest of the organization by stating:
- The team purpose and culture
- The value the team brings to situations
- How the team works
- What others can expect from the team
Teams with purpose celebrate wins
Once you know what your purpose is, it’s much easier to celebrate wins. You’ll know what to celebrate because you’ll celebrate when you achieve that purpose. You can plan and engage in team building activities that are much more powerful. And you can accelerate effective new team member onboarding. When a new member joins the team, you have all the data and the analysis to effectively bring them immediately into the norms of the team. Immediately, everyone on the team understand how they’re going to impact the dynamic of that team. It really becomes the backbone of how to manage a team.
Organizations participating in the Imperative program send two of their leaders, typically in HR, for a four-day intensive training with other companies. During the training, they learn about the science of purpose from the perspective of individuals and teams and also around recruiting, volunteering, and organizations. Once they complete the training, they pilot projects using our tools over the course of that year and become real certified experts on purpose. To become the go-to experts on purpose in their organizations, they partner with a success manager on our team to make sure they always have a coach there helping them. Finally, they're part of a network of amazing other purpose-driven leaders.
Research has shown the benefit of purpose-oriented organizations and individuals. Purpose-driven organizations have 600% higher performance over 10 years than the S&P 500. Individuals experience a number of benefits, including:
- A sense of fulfillment
- A feeling of making an impact
- Developing stronger relationships
- Longer life spans
- Higher psychological safety
- Greater dependability
- More stability
- Increased meaning
- Authentic impact
There's just really no reason not to embrace purpose. It's so clearly now the way in which you go from having teams, having individuals, to having high performing organizations where people are truly thriving personally and professionally.
During the webinar, I discuss the research we’ve done at Taproot Foundation to identify the dynamics of groups and to enable managers inside for-profit organizations to be able to use intrinsic motivation to create truly high performing teams. To learn what we’ve learned in the last 10 years at Taproot, view the webinar in its entirety, here. Read more about Imperative's Certified Purpose Leader Program here.