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The Secrets of Great Teamwork

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Today’s teams are different from the teams of the past: They’re far more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic (with frequent changes in membership). But while teams face new hurdles, their success still hinges on a core set of fundamentals for group collaboration.

The basics of team effectiveness were identified by J. Richard Hackman, a pioneer in the field of organizational behavior who began studying teams in the 1970s. In more than 40 years of research, he uncovered a groundbreaking insight: What matters most to collaboration is not the personalities, attitudes, or behavioral styles of team members. Instead, what teams need to thrive are certain “enabling conditions.” In our own studies, we’ve found that three of Hackman’s conditions—a compelling direction, a strong structure, and a supportive context—continue to be particularly critical to team success. In fact, today those three requirements demand more attention than ever. But we’ve also seen that modern teams are vulnerable to two corrosive problems—“us versus them” thinking and incomplete information. Overcoming those pitfalls requires a fourth critical condition: a shared mindset.
About the Research

Over the past 15 years, we’ve studied teams and groups in a variety of contemporary settings. We’ve conducted nine large research projects in global organizations, undertaking more than 300 interviews and 4,200 surveys with team leaders and managers. The teams involved worked on projects in product development, sales, operations, finance, R&D, senior management, and more, in a wide range of industries, including software, professional services, manufacturing, natural resources, and consumer products. In addition, we have conducted executive education sessions on team effectiveness for thousands of team leaders and members; their stories and experiences have also shaped our thinking.

The key takeaway for leaders is this: Though teams face an increasingly complicated set of challenges, a relatively small number of factors have an outsized impact on their success. Managers can achieve big returns if they understand what those factors are and focus on getting them right.