Today’s fast-paced work environment needs to be responsive to changing business needs more than ever. Much like a finely-coordinated Formula One racing pit crew, the intensity of collaboration at this level is felt deeply by team members, which is why cohesive teamwork is essential to survive and thrive. We’ve outlined the six key elements that make a team stronger together, whether on the racetrack or in the conference room:
Understand why your team exists
Every team has a specific purpose and knowing what that is is paramount to team member engagement. Effective teams in high-paced environments must comprehend the scope of the team’s mission and vision in order to respond quickly when necessary. From a team of developers building a website to a pit crew, knowing the ultimate goals helps team members to solve problems and make decisions that bring them closer to their goal. Some teams are formed with specific roles, while others are more freeform with overlapping skills and purpose, which is why it is imperative that each team member comprehends where they fit in within the organization and its vision. Defining the skills necessary for the project and recognizing those strengths within the team helps solidify the team’s collective and individual purposes.
Know your teammates and build a team community
So often team members take one another for granted. In high-pressure environments, knowing everything you can about your teammates’ expertise can make a major difference. Know each teammate’s strengths and experience. The knowledge may be useful in a crisis. Building interpersonal relationships beyond work interaction is an investment in the team. Occasional shared meals or activities help build a rapport that comes through during key crunch periods. Building relationships within and beyond the confines of the office is the cornerstone to understanding what motivates teammates outside the team’s purpose.
Clearly define roles and responsibilities for each team member
Detail the responsibilities and parameters of each role and who is the go to person for specific resources or tasks. This saves time on overlapping or redundant tasks as well as duplicating efforts. According to a 2012 Harvard Business Review article, “collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood — in fact, when individuals feel their role is bounded in ways that allow them to do a significant portion of their work independently. Without such clarity, team members are likely to waste energy negotiating roles or protecting turf, rather than focusing on the task.” Understanding your own and each other’s roles can only strengthen teamwork. This is the case for pit crews and corporate crews alike. Each member of any team must be willing to follow and trust fellow teammates. This is at the core of the group’s chances of success. If team members regularly second-guess or question every step of a teammate’s process or approach, the work will be delayed or suffer because members will feel hindered. In Robert Baird’s 2013 book, The Four Components of a Fast-Paced Organization: Going Beyond Lean Sigma Tools, he states that “with team members confident and reliant on each other’s abilities, the team will achieve the expected extraordinary results of teamwork.” He goes on to warn, “Without individual trust, the team will not function as a team and results will be pedestrian.”
Be aware of the project scope and focus on actionable goals
Acknowledge the volume of work involved and map it out. This will prevent being bogged down in a chaotically structured project or task. Start by breaking down the tasks that work toward the overall project completion or use a Gantt chart. Instead of trying to mentally keep track of things or have your office wall covered with notes, embrace project management software and plot your team’s individual and collective approach to the work. The more complete the planning, the fewer issues and surprises later. Milestones are the multiple steps leading the way to the ultimate goal. Creating project milestones and celebrating the small wins not only maintains focus, but also motivates the team on long-term projects. Choosing a milestone should be determined by a particular event along the project timeline that can be successfully reached and recognized at that time. All the milestones together pave the way to the completion of the project. Milestones should be chosen at particular intervals for fairly consistent frequency to build momentum. Each team member needs to be part of the path to each milestone as well for accountability and transparency of the collective work it takes to reach it.
Make the work your priority
It is key for the team as a whole and as individuals to make the project tasks the priority. Avoid distractions, say no to multitasking, and skip tasks that draw you away from your project. If it doesn’t contribute to your goal, make a note of it for later and keep going. Reduce external distractions and resist social media. Be prepared for potential setbacks or issues and have a plan to resolve them swiftly so your work doesn’t suffer. Make small steps to remedy the setback, adjust your approach, and get your work back on track.
Keep resources & communications flowing
Be aware of available resources and allocate them wisely. Some things, such as time, are limited, while others are easily replenishable. Recognize the influx of resources and at what intervals so the team can incorporate this into the overall project plan. An informed team is a unified team. Stay abreast of each other’s progress. Effective handovers and strong communication are essential, while focus and silence is often helpful during crunch times. The applications are extensive as noted by Dr. Marc de Leval who, according to The Wall Street Journal, “saw that pit-stop handovers were successful precisely because of an obsession with tiny mistakes.” He explored this concept further in his 2000 paper for The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery when he focused on the importance of collaborative communication and effective handovers within a team and between teams.
A well-executed pit stop can make or break a race, just as any collaboration within your own team is vital to overall project success. Dan Sanker summed it up perfectly in his book Collaborate: The Art of We when he states that “The experience of functioning as a pit crew demonstrates how well the team can perform when they function as one unit.” When a team is well-choreographed and working in unison, the project will experience fewer errors, streamlined non-overlapping effort, and greater productivity especially when it matters. Is your team ready for a fast-paced environment or project crunch time?