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The Importance of Team Vitality at this time

A team is vital when there is a clear link between its performance and the success of the organisation (or some part of it).  However beyond ‘performance’ and ‘success’ there is another important dimension of being a ‘vital team’ that is easily over-looked, especially in these challenging times.

When it comes to team performance, how effectively the work gets done is obviously paramount*. However, look more closely at those most effective teams and it is clear that sustained high performance is related to another more ephemeral quality – the health or vitality of the team.

Team Vitality

Hopefully, you are lucky enough to have worked on a team that ‘just clicked’ – where:

  • The sum is greater than the parts and the team achieves way more than individuals could hope to achieve alone.
  • People pull together in pursuit of a shared purpose and set of priorities or results.
  • It is a supportive environment, where interactions between team members are positive and people bring out the best in each other.
  • There is a sense of pride and belonging …an ‘esprit de corps’ where people are pulling together in pursuit of a shared purpose.
  • People feel that what they are doing matters and that it makes a difference.
  • People feel both empowered and responsible – that they are making progress and overcoming obstacles.
  • Going to work is rewarding (perhaps even fun).  It is a ‘thriving’ workplace where people can:
  • There is a healthy work-life balance – where individual wellbeing is not sacrificed by long hours or high levels of stress.

The above factors are all elements of team vitality.  However, such experiences of healthy and effective teams are out-numbered (perhaps even 5 or 10 to one) by experiences of the opposite.  So, healthy teams are not the norm!

There is a mistaken believe about healthy teams – that they are comfortable or easy.  Healthy teams need challenge to ensure their vitality – after all, nothing unites a group of people like a shared challenge.

Vital teams are not just ‘nice places to be’ – rather they must:

  • Continually balance tension and cohesion, as well as excitement and adrenaline. 
  • Constantly align and re-align individual and team priorities or goals. 
  • Continually review how they are working together (e.g. is the team focused on the right result, doing the right work, are people in the right roles, etc.). 
  • Be constantly aware of the dynamics within the team – levels of trust and respect, the effectiveness of communication, and so on. 

In short, team vitality is not a static state – it requires ongoing work.

Teams Lacking in Vitality

Unfortunately, the greater part of our working lives will likely be spent working on teams that are lacking in vitality.  That is where:

  • The sum is less than the parts with politics and personalities often getting in the way of doing the work. 
  • People pull in different directions, putting their own interests ahead of the team.
  • Interactions among team members are often strained or tense.  The balance between tension and cohesion is off.
  • Some people do most of the talking and others choose to stay silent because saying what you really think isn’t rewarded.
  • Some members of the team are ‘run ragged’ with mounting pressure to meet targets and deadlines.  People routinely work weekends and don’t take their holidays.

The above conditions describe the opposite to a vital team or healthy environment.  They are likely to be detrimental to sustained performance, promoting individualistic (often short term) performance over the collective long term good. 

Such an environment is likely to promote silos and heroic solo-runs, where internal competition distracts from external market shifts and real competitive threats.

Business risk is likely to be intensified by the hoarding of information and the prevalence of groupthink as people stay silent rather than draw attention to blind-spots or impending threats.

When it comes to attracting and retaining talent an unhealthy work environment puts an organization at a disadvantage.  In such an environment most people are likely to work considerably below their full potential. 

Low vitality can hamper innovation as it represents an environment that may not conducive to taking risks or being creative.  The dominant motivation is likely to be ‘play it safe’ and ‘don’t rock the boat’.

Why does Vitality Matter?

First, let’s answer this question by reflecting on the type of team you would like to be a part of.  Is it the healthy or unhealthy one?  Which team do you think would deliver the best results and enable you to perform to your best?  The answer is obvious – the team that is vital and healthy.  It represents the optimum performance environment.

A vital team is one where the team is realizing more and more of its full potential – to the benefit of its members and it’s various stakeholders (as well as the broader organisation).  It is the ideal environment for people to stretch themselves (and each other) – for peak levels of performance, agility and innovation.

Ok you may be thinking: ‘What about all the teams that are unhealthy but at the same time successful?’  Well, imagine what would be possible if these teams were not only successful, but healthy too.  They would certainly be a force to be reckoned with!

A team that is performing but has health issues, may not be able to sustain performance into the long term.  It is at risk of team members:

  • Becoming disaffected or disengaged, even leaving
  • Being burn-out or illness due to overwork or stress
  • Staying silent because it is not ‘safe’ for people to speak up.  This can result in such organizational blind-spots and groupthink as tumbled giants such as Nokia or Enron
  • Prioritizing short term results ahead of long-term performance and innovation.

These are just some of the ways in which the health of the team and the wellbeing of its members is important to sustained performance.

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