4 Essential Skills for Team Success

In the end, team success isn’t about the abilities of the individual team members — it’s about how well the team members can work together to leverage each other’s abilities. And, for team members to work together well, they all need to be experts at four skills.

team success

There are four skills that every team member needs for the team to work together effectively — four skills that allow teams to achieve those synergies we keep hearing about, the synergies that make a team “more than the sum of its parts.”

What’s interesting is that, as human beings, we’re already pretty good at these skills…until we’re under stress. Once we start paying attention to these skills because we really need them, we start to screw up. The reason is that, for each of these skills, we have a fundamental misunderstanding that prevents us from executing well.

It’s this failure to use these skills when they are most required that leads to teams that seem to be working well together to suddenly fall apart under stress. But even when there is no stress on the team, without these skills, teams never achieve the synergies they’re capable of.

1. Conflict Management/Resolution

We’re all pretty good at both managing conflict and resolving the conflicts we have with others — many of us go weeks at a time without actually throttling anyone we work with. Yet, some conflicts don’t get managed well and blow up into full-scale wars; some conflicts never get resolved and the resulting resentments damage the ability of the team to create synergies.

The fundamental misunderstanding is the belief that there is only one way to resolve a conflict.

In fact, there are five ways. You can:

  • Walk away (“This isn’t worth my time”)
  • Grab everything you want (“I want the best deal I can get”)
  • Give everyone else what they want (“Right now, making you happy matters to me”)
  • Find some “meet-in-the-middle” compromise (“Let’s not argue — how about we just split the difference?”)
  • Work with the other person to find a solution that you both like (“Let me understand what matters to you and what we can do together”)

Everyone will tell you that the last strategy is the “best” one for the team And it is…in many cases. But if I’m trying to resolve some conflict with someone external to the team that we’ll never do business with again, the best choice for the team may be the “grab everything you can” strategy. When developing your relationship with rest of the team is what matters to you, the “give the other person what they want” strategy may be your best choice. The key to success here is recognizing that you have options and that you should pick the one that matches your goal.

Not realizing your options is only the beginning, by the way. For five more common beliefs that can sabotage conflict resolution, see Tammy Lenski’s blog post.

2. Negotiation

If you do decide to follow the “work with the other person” strategy, you’re entering into a negotiation. Here again, we negotiate all the time and do it very well…though we often don’t realize it. For example, many parents don’t recognize how often they negotiate with their kids (“Can I stay up to watch…?”).

The fundamental misunderstanding we often make here is that we negotiate as if the goal was to figure out which person should get some specific thing.

That may be a good conflict resolution strategy (in some scenarios), but it’s not a negotiation. Nor is a compromise (“let’s split the difference”) a negotiation — in fact, compromise is a way of giving up on negotiation so you can get a fast solution.

A negotiation occurs when two or more parties explore all the ways that the parties involved can benefit each other. It may turn out that the parties can’t benefit each other which is something worth knowing (I discussed this in an earlier post on how there are no failed negotiations). One thing is certain: starting from a fixed position with the goal of either getting that or nothing isn’t going to lead to the synergies that make a successful team. Exploring for potential synergistic solutions (which is what a negotiation does) will lead to a successful team.

3. Communication

Either when we’re in conflict or when we’re negotiating with other team members, we’re communicating. When it comes to communicating with others, we probably do recognize that we do a “good enough” job in our day to day life. But when we really need to communicate effectively, we often fail.

The fundamental misunderstanding here is that we believe that great communication consists of knowing what we’re talking about so that we can use clear, precise, and terse language to create a package to be delivered to the other person’s brain.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When we listen to others we pick and choose what we pay attention to, based on our own value system. We also apply our understanding of the world to the words (not the thoughts) of the other person that we pay attention to.

The people listening to us do the same thing. If you want to communicate effectively with the other person you first need to understand the other person. After that, you need to evaluate what you want to say in terms that make sense to the other person. Often, for example, when speaking to someone else, we start with what’s important to us and, as a result, lose the other person’s attention long before we get to our primary message. Communicating isn’t about “knowing what you’re talking about,” it’s about “knowing the team member you’re talking to.”

4. Emotional Intelligence

As I discussed in an earlier blog post, the common strand running through all of the previous three skills is the fourth one: emotional intelligence.

The fundamental misunderstanding here is that emotion has no place in business or professional relations.

After all, we think, conflict is the result of inserting emotion into the problem; we think that good negotiations are “professional,” not “emotional”; we believe effective communication is dispassionate and fact-based, not emotionally-charged. Except that:

  • Emotion is a critical part of any conflict and pretending otherwise is foolish
  • Negotiations are based on how important we feel about one thing is, compared to another
  • Communication includes understanding how the other person will react to our statements

The emotional problem is twofold: Failing to communicate your emotions denies the other person information and failing to understand the other person’s emotions denies you information. Since lack of information reduces your chances of making good decisions, it’s not surprising to find that studies have shown that removing emotion prevents people from being able to make any decision at all. Emotional intelligence addresses incorporating emotions into teamwork through recognizing your own emotions, recognizing the other person’s emotions, and ensuring you express your emotions effectively.

The problem with emotions in a professional environment is not that they’re present — it’s that they are expressed badly, misunderstood, or ignored. Emotional intelligence addresses those issues.

I’m sure you’re not surprised that Learning Tree has one-day virtual courses on communicating effectively with othersconflict resolutionleveraging emotional intelligence in the workplace, and negotiation skills in a project context. That’s not an accident: These courses exist because these skills are essential to team success. When a whole team takes one of these courses together it’s been a fascinating experience for me seeing team members discover new ways of working together. That, in turn, allowed the team to do more than they could do individually. Which, of course, is why we have teams in the first place.

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