Why It’s Less Important That Team Members Like Each Other

In one of my latest posts, I explained why you’d want to Select Team Members for Commitment, Not Skills.

This might feel counter-intuitive at first, but if your team comes together over commitment, skills will follow.

Another thing that might sound counter-intuitive: teammates don’t have to like each other.

You’ll achieve better cohesion when the group outcome is aligned — how the individual team members get along should come secondary.

Many teambuilders start their work by thinking. “I need to get the team members to like each other better so they’ll be a better team.”

Investing in team members’ attractiveness to each other is not my first strategy. A better strategy is to encourage affinity to a shared task (project, initiative, objective, etc.) instead of affinity to each other.

That has proven to be the fastest and surest way to create strong group cohesion. But how does this work in practice?

Instead of using techniques and exercises to promote friendship, work to get everyone to adopt a common focus so that each team member sees good reasons to work with others.

Free market economics teaches us to act in our own self-interest. Many team experts teach that individuals must subordinate their own interests for the sake of the group’s success. I see a few problems with this:

  1. It’s contradictory (and therefore unrealistic) to expect people working in competitive cultures to subordinate their self- interests to the group.
  2. And secondly, there’s no necessary or logical connection between subordination and successful, powerful teamwork.

A more effective practice is to use people’s self-interest to seed powerful teamwork.

For each individual, discover how she can win when the team wins. The easiest and best way to do this is to ask. When you align individual and collective outcomes in this way, you will have true collaboration.

Once that is done, see if team members don’t like each other better.

Get Started With This 5-Minute Practice Tip

Think of a teammate with whom you have often felt competitive and ask yourself this question: what could we pursue as partners that would increase the likelihood of each of us reaching our desired outcome?

And here is a challenge for the whole team: begin a group discussion with the question, “What is our team’s task?” Make sure people are clear about the task and that everyone is committed to achieving it.

In the future, when conflict or interpersonal tension arises, have everyone revisit this conversation to seek realignment.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Teamwork on 07/21/2014 10:59 am
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