This is the second article in a series where I explore a concept that I call Functional Team Fitness. The concept is analogous to functional physical fitness. It emphasises holistic development in team dynamics, focusing on skills, adaptability, and efficiency to address real-world business challenges. For an introduction to this concept, see here.
As I navigate through this series, each article, including this one, is a step in my journey to explore and refine the Functional Team Fitness model. Similar to specialised physical fitness regimes for soldiers, law enforcement or firefighters, Functional Team Fitness looks at unique team demands in business, with the goal being the enablement of specific capability assessments and improvements.
Functional Team Fitness, as I currently perceive it, encompasses the following key areas:
Thinking & Communication: How teams process and exchange information.
Beliefs & Commitment: The motivational and dedication drivers within a team.
Collaboration & Action: The manner in which teams work together.
Relationship Hygiene: An additional area under consideration, focusing on interpersonal dynamics.
Deep Dive: How Teams Think and Communicate
I want to focus hereon the first factor: How teams think and communicate.
This area is is built upon several factors, each of which I belevie to be crucial for a team’s holistic performance. Here’s a brief overview of these areas, followed by an examination of what good and bad scenarios look like, and their significance.
1. Mutual Trust and Psychological Safety:
The foundation of a team’s capacity for achievement lies in mutual trust and psychological safety. Trust here implies a willingness to be vulnerable, believing in the team’s ability to mitigate risks. Psychological safety means speaking up without fear of reprimand or humiliation. Trust and psychological safety are essential for fostering a collaborative and innovative team environment
Good looks like: members openly sharing ideas, taking risks without fear, and supporting each other.
Bad looks like: a culture of fear and conservatism, stifling creativity and honest communication.
2. Communication Practices:
A blend of formal and informal communication practices forms the backbone of team interactions. Formal practices might include structured meetings and reports, while informal communications cover ad hoc discussions and quick messages. Balancing these practices is key to a team’s identity and function. Robust communication practices are the backbone of team coordination and culture.
Good looks like: a balance between formalised processes and informal, spontaneous communications, ensuring both efficiency and a strong team bond.
Bad looks like: overly bureaucratic communication culture, or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, directionless meetings, regular last-minute urgent meetings, etc.
3. Shared Mental Models
Creating shared mental models relates to the team’s collective understanding of cause-and-effect dynamics about the team’s work and the objectives which are being pursued. This shared understanding, alignment, is critical for maintaining focus and enabling autonomous team operation.
Good looks like: clear direction, collaborative working styles and an understanding of each other’s roles.
Bad looks like: confusion about priorities, duplicate work, and conflicting responsibilities
4. Transactive Memory:
A newfound favourite term, transactive memory, refers to a team’s collective awareness of each member’s skills and knowledge. It’s about knowing who the expert is in a specific domain within the team. Transactive memory is key to maximizing the diverse capabilities of a team.
Good looks like: team members proactively reaching out to each other, roles assigned based upon aptitude and experiences
Bad looks like: misallocated tasks, team member disengaging due to not feeling appreciated
As I continue to explore and define the Functional Team Fitness model, I am constantly learning and incorporating new insights. This is an evolving field, and my aim is to bring clarity and practical application to how teams can enhance their dynamics and effectiveness.
Stay tuned for more articles in this series, where I will delve deeper into other aspects of team dynamics.
Note: It’s always a bit tricky, building a taxonomy and I will ceraitnly revist this one to ensure it’s MECE-ness. I want to acknowledge that much of what I’m writing about is Inspired by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s 2015 publication, “Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science”, the work of Dr. Amy Edminson, as well as from my personal experiences leading and working in transformation teams internationally.