Have you ever heard the saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”? In many ways, team contributions are like links in a chain. When each teammate produces high quality work on time, the chain is strong. But with the differences in expertise and experience on most teams, the quality of contributions is often varied as well. Perhaps you’ve had a team experience like Tracy’s where contributions from her teammates didn’t adhere to the same standards.
Tracy was in her first graduate class, working with a team of fellow students on the final project. Early on, the team reviewed the project details and made a game plan for working together to get it done. Each teammate was assigned a portion of the work and everyone agreed to deadlines along the way.
As each team member’s contributions were compiled, Tracy noticed the quality of work ranged from exceptional to barely passable. Tracy faced a challenging dilemma as she decided how to handle the differences in quality. The first option she considered was having a conversation with the teammates who submitted low quality work to point out the problem areas and ask them to redo their work to a higher standard. Second, she thought about doing extra work herself to correct the deficiencies and bring the whole project up to consistently high quality. Third, she contemplated sticking to her portion of the project and letting the team take the hit for the weak links, potentially resulting in a lower grade for the project.
On a work team, lower quality work can result in more than a poor grade; it can make the difference between winning a bid or losing a client. Many teams have faced similar scenarios where the success of the project depends on each team member contributing high quality work. Creating a team that consistently produces strong contributions is critical to achieving top performance. Follow these six steps to optimize individual contributions for team success.
- Cultivate a learning culture. Substandard performance may simply signal a lack of skill. Make skill development a priority through both formal training programs and informal learning opportunities. Every team member has room to grow their skills. The whole team benefits from expanding collective expertise.
- Foster an environment of excellence. In the grind of getting stuff done, it can be tempting to adopt an attitude of good enough. Meeting short deadlines with heavy workloads and limited resources can make good enough seem reasonable. However, team performance thrives in an environment of excellence. Fostering excellence means making time to do things the right way the first time by setting realistic timelines and reducing workloads. It also means making sure team members have the tools they need to do their jobs well.
- Define and communicate clear expectations. If you want your team to aim high, make sure they can clearly see the target. Define what high quality contributions look like and consistently communicate team standards. These norms will eventually take root as the way we do things around here.
- Offer encouraging feedback. Feedback comes in the form of honest conversations with team members about what worked and what didn’t, what to do the same and what to change. These conversations are a perfect opportunity to encourage team efforts and reinforce the types of high quality contributions that strengthen team performance.
- Make course corrections. No team project progresses without a hiccup or two. While initial plans made sense at the time, you’ll need to make course corrections along the way. The timeline might need to be adjusted or a work task reassigned for a better fit. The goal is to ensure that team members are equipped and empowered to produce the high quality contributions that team success depends on.
- Celebrate team success. Team members will do their best work when they know their contributions are essential to team success and appreciated by their teammates. Celebrate individual accomplishments so team members know their work is valued. And remember, what gets rewarded gets repeated. When you celebrate high quality contributions, the team is spurred on toward greater success in the future.