Five Ways to Lead a Productive Team

No one really willingly leads a team that is unproductive. Creating cohesive teams that consistently come up with clever solutions causes leaders a great deal of difficulty. However, despite having the best intentions, many of the methods used by leaders to enhance teamwork are not very successful. Leigh Thompson, a management and organisation professor at Kellogg and a leading authority on collaboration, provides Five Ways to Lead a Productive Team:

1.Control Your Team Size 

Business leaders frequently fall into two traps when forming teams: they make the group too big and too uniform. Being overly inclusive inevitably results in a team that is too big. One method of controlling team size is to just consult experts when their knowledge is needed.  

According to Thompson, “We discovered that changing the composition of a team—removing one person and adding a new member while maintaining everything else constant—actually leads to an increase in creative idea development.” The so-called “cognitive arthritis” that develops when static teams start to think in well-worn mental ruts is also avoided by this procedure. However, the Forming process is also in play and must be managed.  

2. Set ground principles without restricting originality.  

Finding the right balance between granting flexibility and imposing structure is never simple for team leaders. 

Spending time creating ground rules may seem like a drag on innovation, but teams who have a clearly written plan perform better in the long run. The team’s objective, the rules of operation, and the division of duties are all stated in this document. 

Thompson believes that “Teams that develop a charter end up being nimbler, having more proactive behaviour, and achieving their goals more than teams that don’t bother.”  

3. Quit the pride talk 

Corporate retreats frequently involve celebration. Managers emphasise accomplishments and honour yearly employees. Such adulation seeks to serve as a sort of cultural glue, bringing together teams via a sense of hope and accomplishment. 

Thompson conducted a number of tests in which some teams were instructed to report successes while other teams were instructed to reveal embarrassing moments. To her astonishment, Thompson discovered that the team members who shared an unpleasant experience in future brainstorming sessions produced more ideas. Not pride, but embarrassment inspired innovative and successful teamwork. Vulnerability can be a catalyst.  

4. Be smart about cutting meeting time 

Meetings should, in theory, boost team productivity, but this is rarely the case in reality. Shorter meetings are frequently just as effective. It is preferable to hold four one-hour meetings as opposed to two two-hour meetings. Shorter meetings can promote greater focus and meaningful interaction.  

What can meeting organisers do to maximise the time available? She advises a facilitator to seek comments relating to the agenda beforehand to act as the beginning point for discussion in order to maximise meeting time. 

Promoting active involvement is another duty of facilitators. A team’s diversity, after all, is only valuable if it is acknowledged. One or two team members will frequently speak up to 70% of the time when there are eight individuals present, according to studies. 

To incorporate the entire team, Thompson suggests “speed storming”—”imagine it as brainstorming meets speed dating.” For brief discussions and ideation sessions, this exercise pairs up members of the team. People switch seats and start over with a different partner after a brief period of conversation in pairs. 

5. Agree to keep disagreeing 

Teams can avoid groupthink by managing disagreement well and exploring the advantages and disadvantages of any concept. The main difficulty for leaders is to foster constructive disagreement, which entails fostering an atmosphere where everyone feels at ease expressing their own beliefs and criticising those of others. Also, there must be no personal assaults during the disagreement. Psychological safety is paramount to team success as many studies have shown.  

Team members should submit written versions of their suggestions and opinions rather than verbal ones. According to studies on brainstorming, teams frequently never advance past the second idea before repressing their reservations. But when ideas are contested without being attacked, this frequently leads to extremely brilliant ideas. 

Thompson adds, “When team members are thinking through different possible courses of action, then everybody can be writing cards that talk about a pro and a con. This helps build a balance of feedback. Let’s talk about the positives; then let’s talk about the negatives.” 

Need assistance leading your team? Let’s discuss. 

Adapted from: Kellogg Insight| 5 Strategies for Leading a High-Impact Team | Leigh Thompson