The 4 Easiest Roads to Team Success

Team Success as if it was rugby

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If you are looking for team success, you are in the right place. We will see what team success is, how it differs from individual success, and how you can achieve it. In fact, there are levers that are radically different and that play a role for team success, but not for individual success. You will find all of that in this guide.

What is Team Success?

If you think about it, team success is not that different from individual success. We use the broad term “team success” to define an effective team that gets things done and where everyone works in the same direction. All in all, we can think about the team as a single unit, and team success as the “individual” success of that unit.

There are two ways of looking at this. First, you can think of team success as “when the team accomplishes a given goal”. That is a specific point in time, a milestone, a checkpoint. Did you meet your timeline or not? If you did, that does not necessarily mean you will meet it again for the next project. The other way is more contextual, rather than “team success” is more about “successful team”, or even better “effective team”. If your team is effective, it will address any goal with passion, dedication, and commitment.

If you set the context right, you are up for team success every single time. In other words, do not search for “how do we win the Six Nations?”, but rather, “how can we become a better rugby team?”. Here, we will see how you can become a better rugby team. The goals to which you will apply your increased skills are totally up to you.

The 4 Characteristics of Team Success

Team success is something we can define based on the attributes, parameters, and characteristics of the team achieving it. If you can picture how you want your team to be, getting there will be significantly easier. So, here are the characteristics of successful teams and teammate dynamics.

  • Trust and respect. Each teammate trusts the other and respect their contribution, everyone thinks everyone else is a valuable addition to the entire team.
  • Disagreement. The team does not seek social cohesion: disagreement is accepted and welcomed. Discussions can be tough because everyone wants the best outcome for the group. No matter how heated the debate, it does not erode trust and respect.
  • Ownership. When an individual commits to do something, he then does that something. This builds trust, because if you rely on someone else to get something done, you will know he will get it done for you. And you won’t have to chase him down.
  • Shared beliefs. All the previous points won’t click together unless there are some shared beliefs. Everyone should agree on the “north star” goal, the broader direction your team is moving forward. This is crucial, because it is the only lever you have to build tight team dynamics.

Nothing too fancy, and pretty simple to explain. However, getting there in practice is not easy at all. The next bulk of this guide will focus on how to bring your team closer to team success, with actionable steps.

How to Reach Team Success

Hire Carefully

The first tip for team success is to hire carefully and manage your growth responsibly. Be conscious about the bar you set for hiring, and never lower that bar. This is important, because some key characteristics that lead to team success and personal traits of individuals, and those rarely change.

You can’t teach a person to become an owner, or to be willing to disagree when everyone else seems to have a consensus. Well, you could, but that will take time, effort, and there is no guarantee it will work. So, instead, focus on people with the right attitude right from the start.

If you are forming the team from scratch, this is the most important tip for you to follow. In fact, before you do anything, read our hiring guide to ensure you get the candidates you need.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to this lever. Sometimes, most of the times probably, the team is already there, and you have to deal with the members you have. If that is your case, the next tips to reach team success are for you. Of course, you won’t be able to get to the same extent of success as if you hired the “perfect” people, but you might get 80% there or so. And, quite frankly, it is much better than the alternative of not getting there at all.

Read this guide to hire in the best possible way.

Set Ground Rules

Social norms are implicit yet making them explicit is a great help for team success. In fact, people will have a better time disagreeing and playing devil’s advocate if they know they are expected to do so. Therefore, spend some time to create simple ground rules, just a one-page bullet list should be enough.

Set ground rules for team success, much like in a team sport like rugby
Team success is driven by ground rules, just like sports.

Write down what you expect people to do. Doing so will mean most people, at least if they have the right attitude, will follow through. Present this document to every new hire, and regularly review it and encourage the social norms you wrote down. Some of the important norms you should write down:

  • People are expected to speak up
  • Once we come to a decision, even if you originally disagreed, you commit to it
  • If something has no owner, YOU are expected to pick it up
  • Once you own something, you make it clear for everyone what you own, and you deliver
  • You disagree fiercely, but express yourself politely and respectfully
  • If someone is not following these ground rules, call them out

Of course, you should tweak it for your team’s needs. Yet, those are rules that will work nicely for most teams.

Once ground rules are defined, lead by example by living according to those rules. As a team leader, if someone is not living by the rules, you should call them out and say they should be doing things differently, without fear.

Define Goals with the Team

If the direction is pushed from the top down, people won’t feel they get to shape the future. They will feel just like another cog in the system, and thus tune out and lose shared beliefs. Instead, actively work with your team to define goals together.

Many people often compare team success with a successful rugby team, because of the complex dynamics in rugby
Team Success is about working together, shared understanding, and sharing beliefs.

If people have a say in the goals they pursue, they will commit to that strongly and will deliver more effectively.

Now, sometimes, this is not always possible, because some teams do receive goals from the top down. If that is the case, ensure you – as a team leader – understand the why behind the goal. Dive deep until you find the true reason: you might disagree with it, but at least understand why leadership wanted you to move in that direction. Then, do two things. First, do whatever you can to explain that direction to your team, why it is important, and how these goals align with that direction. Be candidly open about that, it is crucial for team success. If you have doubts, voice them out, and be emphatic.

The second thing you should do, once people have at least an understanding of “we are in this together”, is piecing down the goal into individual units with the team. At least, people will have a say in which part of the goal they contribute to, and this will be great for team success.

Have Feedback Sessions

Team success is all about setting expectations and hoping you will live by them. Therefore, you need to have a process that will consistently check if you are living by the expectations you set. As Seth Godin likes to say, you don’t have to make new promises, you just need to live by the ones you already made.

Team Success is often struggle
Team success is often struggle.

Feedback sessions are the best tool to do so. As a team leader, regularly meet with every team member individually, ideally once per week. This is important to closely monitor everyone’s performance and align that to expectation as soon as there is the slightest hint of deviation.

A 1:1 session with every team member every week for about 30 mins each should be more than enough to drive team success.

Team Success in Summary

Team success is more like a general property of a team rather than a milestone you reach once and stay there. It is something you consistently do over and over, day in and day out. If you make your team behave according to the characteristics we described, you will be up for team success in no time!

Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.
Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.

Alessandro Maggio


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