“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”
That quote from American businessman Henry Ford might be almost 100 years old, but it remains as relevant today, if not even more so. With many of us having settled into a hybrid way of working – according to Accenture’s 2021 Future of Work study, 83% of people would prefer a future hybrid working model – leaders need to find new ways to motivate, engage and support teams.
After all, as Ford understood, business is a team sport. When we’re aligned, people, teams and organisations are all at their best.
While many organisations invest in running programmes for individuals, taking time to focus on teams and what makes them work well together is less common beyond quarterly away days. But teams are essential to the success of any organisation. In fact, 37% of people say that working with a great team is their primary reason for staying in a job.
A high-performing team is one that is ‘in flow’ – that’s in the ‘zone’, fully immersed and using their strengths and skills to the utmost. Being in flow is linked to higher performance, greater wellbeing and even improved quality of life.
So how can we help our teams reach this state of both performance and wellbeing? The answer lies in nature. If you’ve ever observed a murmuration of starlings, a swooping, swirling mass of thousands of birds moving in concert in the sky, then just take a moment to consider how powerful it would be if our teams could work in the same way.
There are three key conditions that enable such seamless activity, and which can – with a bit of work – be replicated in your (we assume human) teams. Read on to find out more…
In the starling flock, each bird flies individually to remain alert and able to react to danger. While our organisations are – hopefully – a bit less risky than the open skies, a team is nonetheless made up of individuals with their unique strengths, skills and motivations. Team leaders need to recognise this and take the time to get to know everyone’s strengths. Each team member needs to be given the space to perform.
When focusing on separation, we need to consider three further conditions required for teams to thrive and flow: unique contribution, clarity of expectations and being safe to stretch. The first two require every individual to understand and have clarity on what they bring to the team (including having awareness of their strengths), their role and what’s expected of them. Being safe to stretch requires a psychologically-safe environment where people feel able and encouraged to push themselves and to try and suggest new things.
High-performing teams are made up of individuals all pushing in the same direction towards a common goal, just as the starling flock stick close together and remain in constant contact. Alignment means the team feeling part of something special, working together towards achieving something meaningful.
Again, there are three conditions needed for alignment and therefore team flow: having team goals, being on track and having team motivators.
Having team goals gives clarity on what success looks like for the team, how that is measured and how it connects to overall organisational strategy. Being on track and reflecting that in our communication enables teams to stay focused, with wellbeing and goals monitored and a clear sense of how people’s individual contributions are stacking up to meet team goals. This leads to a positive ebb and flow of energy and quickly allows teams to realign focus where needed. Finally, team motivators bring more meaning to the team’s work, with an understanding of individual intrinsic motivators and how the work of the team contributes to the overall purpose of the organisation.
Those starlings are all flying at the same speed, but in different directions, creating that ebbing, swirling effect that is so mesmerising. In a business, cohesion means teams and team members understanding how they fit into the bigger system and purpose of the organisation. In a hybrid world where people are potentially spending less time collaborating in-person, leaders need to be intentional about providing opportunities for human connection and space for cohesion.
For teams to achieve peak flow, cohesion requires three elements: respectful relationships, platforms for connection and powerful communication. Relationships are critical to creating flow beyond the individual and for allowing meaningful collaboration. Building flourishing respectful relationships requires time and space, with safe platforms for open and honest conversation and an embracing of inclusion. With technology use on the rise, think about if the tools you use as an organisation allow people to connect on a human level. How can you encourage and enable the use of platforms for human connection rather than just task completion? Powerful communication is communication that takes a strengths-based approach. Honesty and transparency is important, but so is praise and active listening.
Focus on creating these three conditions and your team will be able to thrive and flow together, working as seamlessly as a murmuration of starlings at dusk.