Business Teams 101: Definition, Building, & Execution

By Mark Samuel –

Business Teams Meet Frequently

What is a business team?    

A business team is any team that works together for a common goal, typically for a business organization or company.

Business teams aren’t any different from other teams like sports teams or musical groups. When looking at Organizational Development around how to effectively operate as a business team there are however some noticeable differences..

All teams operate the same way. A high-functioning team, whether business, sports, music, or dance based, will utilize the same principles and practices. Let’s dive into how exactly high-functioning business teams operate and dispel some of the myths that might be causing roadblocks in your own business team’s development.

Myths About Building Business Teams

Myth 1: Building business teams starts at the relationship level.

Related article: Diagnose Team Relationship Breakdowns

A lot of leaders believe that team building starts with personal relationships, which includes communication and work styles as well as interpersonal trust. They take their teams to team building events, improv workshops, or escape rooms thinking that team bonding will transfer over to better relationships at work and better business outcomes as a result. 

But this could not be further from the truth. 

While extremely dysfunctional business teams can benefit from traditional team building, the positive effects will only go so far and only last so long.

In business teams, it’s agreeing on where you want to go and how you’re going to get there that holds the team together, builds trust, and creates functional relationships. If there is disagreement on the desired outcomes or means to get there, it will inevitably show up in rocky relationships; it is rarely the other way around. Learn more about how to diagnose your team relationship breakdowns.

Myth 2: Being an accountable business team means keeping promises and completing tasks you’ve agreed to.

Related article: 5 Myths of Accountability

Business Team accountability does not mean being accountable for tasks; it means being accountable for outcomes. It means accomplishing the deliverables and outcomes that the team has agreed to. Many organizations are stuck in busyness that wastes time, energy and effort because the focus is on completing the plan rather than achieving the outcomes.

Being accountable on a team could mean asking for help, surfacing an issue before it becomes a full breakdown, delegating a task you won’t have time for, or offering your help to a team member who needs it. Learn about more accountability myths here.

Myth 3: As long as your functional area is high-functioning, the whole organization will be high-functioning.

 

This is, unfortunately, just not true. While it’s important to get your functional team working well together, unless functional team leaders or middle managers work together under the direction of the executive team, they simply won’t have enough resources or knowledge to get the whole organization to a breakthrough state. Read more about the secret weapon of a middle management team below.

Business Teams communicate well and support each other

How High-Functioning Business Teams Work Differently

Any group of people can come together to form a team, but this doesn’t mean that they’ll be high-functioning. High functioning teams all have the following things in common:

  1. They are accountable to outcomes, not tasks
  2. They problem-solve well together
  3. They surface potential issues before they arise or when there is still an opportunity to adjust and prevent breakdown
  4. They create agreed-upon collective habits of execution
  5. They have a clear Picture of Success that includes their own do-differently behaviors
  6. They are open to change
  7. They know they don’t know everything

Cross-Functional Business Teams – The Middle Management Secret Weapon

 Related article: Building Trust in the Workplace

Cross-Functional business teams are a non-negotiable for successful organizations. Most middle managers work independently from one another, focusing only on their functional areas. Some middle managers even compete with each other for resources from the company and when it gets really bad, openly despise each other.

But in my 35 years of helping organizations achieve breakthrough results, creating a team out of the middle managers or functional leads has been a secret weapon that’s rarely talked about by other consulting groups.

Why middle managers?

Two simple reasons:

  1. Top down change doesn’t work because the executives aren’t close enough to those working in the field.
  2. Bottom up change such as agile methodologies doesn’t work because even though the teamwork is there, the people making the change don’t have the higher vision and direction that the executives do.

Middle management is the missing link.

Too often, functional leads make decisions with only their own department in mind. But this inevitably has an impact on other functional departments who have not been consulted or allowed input. This causes breakdowns, strained resources, and bad blood between teams.

But when middle management comes together as a team under the direction and guidance of the executive team, they can work together to create magic in an organization. With support from the executive team, middle managers can work together to share resources among themselves, problem-solve with each other, and learn each other’s constraints as well as which decisions affect each department and in what way. This makes decision-making easier, reduces breakdowns, and allows the organization as a whole to move toward its goals more quickly and seamlessly.

Business Teams are open to learning and growing

How to Be a Team Player

Part of being on a high-functioning business team is being a high-functioning team player. Below are 4 ways to be a good player on your team.

1) Be willing to participate. There’s nothing more difficult than trying to work with someone who just won’t participate. Being a good participant can look different for different people, though. For one person it might look like speaking up in meetings, while for someone else it might look like letting someone else speak for once. The key is to be engaged, regardless of how you express that engagement.

2) Take accountability for your mistakes. This can be difficult in teams that don’t create the safety to share mistakes and imperfections, but it’s imperative if your team is going to function well together. Humans are, by nature, imperfect. We all make mistakes; there’s no avoiding it. 

But we must surface them to the team so that the team can help us course correct. It’s important to remember that the entire team is responsible for team outcomes; it doesn’t just fall on your shoulders, even if you’re assigned a specific task. If your piece of the puzzle goes haywire, it’s up to the whole team to work together without blame to reach the shared goal.

3) Be open to being wrong and to learning. It’s hard to admit that we’re wrong, but when we want to be right all the time, we become attached to our own viewpoints, even if they’re wrong or limited. This can be a big disadvantage to our team. It is important to hear out other viewpoints and be open to other ways of doing things.

4) Put the team’s desired outcomes above your own personal preferences. We all have personal preferences, but these don’t matter much when it comes to teamwork. Being on a team means there will be some give and take, and the most important thing is achieving your shared, agreed-upon desired outcomes. While it’s okay to have a preference about something and to share that, it’s important that you don’t let your desire for your own preference get in the way of being a good team player.

How to Be a Team Leader

Related article: Prevent Perfection Paralysis 

High-functioning business teams are possibly only with high-functioning business team leaders. Being a team leader is one of the most important jobs on the team. You set the tone for the team, often make the last call on a decision, and help set direction for the team so they know what is important to accomplish. Below are 4 ways to be a good team leader.

1) Forget about getting it right. Team leaders are so often caught up in games of perfectionism, being right, and knowing it all. But that’s not your job as a team leader, and believing that it is will get you in trouble. Remember to focus on movement, rather than perfection, and let your team have agency about the way they want to work together toward their goals. Read more about preventing perfection paralysis here.

2) Be clear about outcomes and expectations. Being a good leader means being clear about your outcomes, not just about tasks or goals. Why? Because everyone on your team has a different idea of what it means to do a task well. If they don’t know the outcome, or what the completion of the goal is trying to achieve, they will make up their own reason for doing their task and complete it based on that idea, rather than what it’s actually for. This can lead to poor outcomes, even when everyone is “doing their job.”

3) Focus on outcomes. There are a lot of traps that leaders can fall into that prevent them from achieving their desired outcomes. These include things like people-pleasing, micromanaging, resistance to being wrong, or even checking out altogether. As a business leader, your goal is achieving your desired business outcomes.

4) Encourage the personal development of your team as well as their professional development. The evidence is in…you can’t reach high levels of professional development without also doing your own personal development. This is important for you as a leader but also for your team. When you haven’t developed yourself personally, taken the time to learn your own areas for improvement and excellence, you can only do so much professionally without getting into habits of blame, shame, and upset.

business teams are accountable

How to Be Accountable as a Leadership Team

Related Article: 5 Myths of Accountability 

Being accountable as a leadership team or any business team is not hard, but it does require some self-awareness. On a personal level, those who are not accountable often respond to a problem by ignoring it, denying it, blaming someone else for it, rationalizing it, resisting it, or hiding from it. But when you’re accountable, you recognize a problem, own your part in it, forgive any judgments you have around it, self-examine, learn, and take action. 

Being accountable as a team means being accountable to each other for your desired destination and how you’re going to get there. Being accountable is never about tasks, but always about reaching the goals you’ve set for yourself as a team. It is imperative to create an environment of safety so that team members feel comfortable surfacing problems for the team to solve and won’t fear punishment or shame from their team members. 

Team Communication & How to Solve Team Conflict

Business teams are just a group of people who are working together toward a common goal. Whenever a group of people gets together, there’s a likelihood that some kind of conflict will arise. This was true in school when we had to do group projects and it’s even more true now as adults with a lifetime of preferences and opinions. 

But just because we have our own preferences and ways of doing things doesn’t mean we can’t communicate effectively, work well together, or solve conflicts when they arise.

Communicating well as a business team requires two keys for success:

  1. Being willing to both listen and to share.
  2. Being on the same page as our teammates.

Being willing to listen and to share requires that we are humble and open to learning. It also requires that we feel safe enough to be vulnerable when we need help or something isn’t going right. Communicating well with our team also means not making assumptions about what the other person is feeling or thinking, which requires checking in and clarifying expectations and outcomes. This leads to the second key to success.

Being on the same page as our teammates is critical to prevent team conflict and communication mishaps. To be on the same page means to have the same end goals in mind as well as to have agreement on the means to get there. This includes coordination, team habits of execution, and recovery plans for when things get off track. So much of team conflict and mishaps in communication come simply from not establishing desired outcomes and the means for getting there.

If you’re still having team conflict even after coming to agreement on the things mentioned above, it might be time to do a style assessment to better understand each other’s preferred method of communication. 

It is helpful both to understand each other’s communication preferences but also simply to understand that we communicate differently from one another and to give each other the benefit of the doubt when it comes to communication. Just assuming good intentions and commitment to the work can eliminate a lot of interpersonal conflict among teams by helping us not take things so personally when they don’t go our way.

How to Deal with Difficult Team Members

Business teams are full of different people with different personalities, backgrounds, opinions, and ways of doing things. How to deal with difficult team members varies depending on the difficulty. If the difficulty arises from personality or communication differences, refer to the section above. 

However, you might find that some team members behave in a way that is not aligned with the team or organization’s desired outcomes, are skeptics or contrarians when it comes to making changes, or simply aren’t doing what they need to do. Below are some methods to deal with these difficult team members.

1) Make sure their voices are being included. Sometimes team members want to be effective players on the team but they haven’t gotten to a place of being able to take accountability for their lack of engagement or contrarian behavior.

When a team is able to work together to create a future Picture of Success and team habits of collective execution to get there, it creates accountability almost immediately because everyone feels that they have ownership over what needs to be done, rather than feeling like they’re just a cog in the wheel of someone else’s vision.

2) Ignore them. Everyone has a different comfort level with change. Many who are skeptical of or contrarian to change just need time to adjust and get on board. They also need to see that the new implementation is working and getting the team where they want to go. When we spend too much time trying to get negative people on board with the team’s direction or trying to convince them, we’re taking valuable time and attention away from actually getting things done.

Most skeptics and negative people will get on board once they start seeing a positive change or even just a commitment from the team. For example, many teams start making changes and then abandon them when the going gets tough. But if you stick with your planned changes and desired outcomes through initial road bumps, those skeptics will see that it’s not just flavor of the month and they’ll recommit.

3) Have an honest conversation with them. We often think of our personal and professional lives as separate, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’re having difficulty with a team member, be vulnerable and have an honest conversation about it. You can let them know how you’re feeling and you can also ask them what’s going on by creating a safe space for them to share honestly.

We never know what’s going on with people, and just because we don’t always talk about our personal lives at work doesn’t mean we don’t bring our personal lives to work. Encourage a culture of honestly and support so people can be their full selves at work.

Team Agreements For Business Teams

Related Article: Team Agreements: What You Need to Know

Business teams are often treated like a group of individuals working together, rather than a cohesive unit. We hope that our individual styles, ways of communicating, work intentions and expectations, and skills will somehow come together to successfully produce the results we’re looking for. 

Unfortunately, hoping that we’ll all agree doesn’t do the truck and it makes being accountable to each other nearly impossible. Teams need to work collectively and cohesively to produce results, and team agreements are a great tool to help teams do that.

Team agreements lay out how the team is going to operate together to produce results. This can include things like how the team communicates with one another, the protocol for resolving interpersonal conflict, how the team problem-solves together, and how to make decisions within the team. 

Team Habits For Business Teams

Team habits are similar to team agreements. Every high functioning team, whether they’re a business team or a sports team or a music group, practices team habits of collective execution. 

However, this is an often-overlooked aspect of team building in business. In business, we focus on individual habits and team relationships, but we rarely focus on team habits. This is a huge mistake, and a missing piece that could be a game changer for any organization or business team.

Why do teams need collective habits? Without team habits, each person defaults to their own personal habits, which may or may not work well with everyone else’s habits. Likewise, personal habits may or may not get the team or business to their desired outcomes. In addition, when there’s no conversation around habits, 

it’s impossible to be accountable or hold anyone else accountable to anything.  But when the team collectively creates and agrees to team habits, holding yourself and each other accountable becomes easy, because you’ve all agreed!

The habits a team chooses to adopt will vary from team to team and should be based in do-differently behaviors. They could be habits around problem-solving, communicating, decision-making, or anything else that is relevant to the team. 

The important thing to remember about team habits is that the entire team must come up with and agree on them together so that each member of the team feels ownership and accountability for adhering to the habits.

It’s also imperative that the team habits reflect the do-differently behaviors the team needs to do in order to get to their desired outcomes. Team habits should not be based on personal preference or style, but should be based on what will get you where you want to go. You can read more about team habits here.

Agile Teams

Related article: How Agile Can Transform Itself For The New Decade

Agile is a great process and tool for business teams in technology companies as well as other types of organizations, creating a way for low level employees to work cross-functionally for higher productivity at the project level.

While the cross-functionality at these project levels and the focus on customer satisfaction is beneficial to companies, the breakdown with Agile occurs because it doesn’t take higher levels into consideration, nor does it create a working organism out of the organization as a whole.

To really achieve breakthrough business results, leaders at the middle management level must work together cross-functionally under the direction of the executive team. While project team members working cross-functionally is beneficial, it’s not the game changing effort that many organizations are looking for. Read more about the pros and cons of Agile. 

Virtual Business Teams

 

Many people, including myself, had doubts about the effectiveness of virtual team building and trainings, but the pandemic of 2020 forced us to explore this new territory. But we have found that virtual teams have their benefits over in-personal team trainings and meetings. Below are 5 benefits of virtual teams.

1) Blending of work and home life. While this might seem like a downside at first, we have found that joining virtual meetings from home actually creates greater immediate intimacy between team members, allowing them to get a greater sense of each other as a whole person. 

This improves the possibility for creativity as well as trust within a team, as we share ourselves more fully with each other. It can also add a great deal of humor and make work meetings feel less stuffy and boring. Just make sure the home life aspect doesn’t become distracting to the point of derailing the meeting.

2) Levels the playing field. In any team there will be different personalities, and in in-person meetings, these will become obvious. The loud people will usually dominate while the quieter or shy people will sit in the back and not say anything. Virtual team meetings level the playing field so that everyone becomes equal. Everyone shares the same sized box on the screen and no one can dominate or hide.

3) Greater privacy when needed within meetings. Breakout rooms provide an excellent opportunity for groups to break up into smaller groups when needed or to create a space for two or three people within a meeting to have a private conversation if needed while the rest of the meeting goes on. With in-person meetings, this is not as convenient, as privacy is limited unless people go into separate rooms and the shut the door.

4) Greater intimacy between the leader or consultant and the team. Virtual team meetings and team trainings provide a wonderful opportunity for intimacy and connection between a team and its leader or consultant.

When in person, the physical distance creates space, while in a virtual meeting, everyone is up close and personal and can see each other’s faces. This allows for more focus as well as more intimacy and connection between the team lead and the rest of the team.

5) Greater safety. Conflict is inevitable, but it’s likely to heighten more in person than it is in a virtual setting. In person, people can get in each other’s faces or express their upset energy more intensely than in virtual.

While we can still feel tension in a virtual setting, we can move on from it more easily, because it doesn’t linger. In addition, everyone knows that they’re safe behind their screen, so there’s no real danger involved.

If you’d like to learn more about virtual teams, you can check out Part 1 of a 3 Part article on the common traps of virtual event creation.

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