7 Building Blocks of Effective and Creative Teamwork

Effective and creative teamwork are two different things, but they rely on the same 7 building blocks.

In his bestselling book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni connected productive teamwork to trust. In his bestselling book The Speed of Trust, author Stephen Covey linked trust to credibility. In my own (not yet bestselling...) book Un-Kill Creativity, I linked team creativity to trust and respect. In reality, the model has multiple layers that build on each other. Here are those elements and layers that lead to effective and creative teamwork.

1. Competence

At the lower foundation are two elements. The first is competence. Competence includes two of Covey's credibility core elements: capabilities and results. The relevant type of competence is technical competence. This includes a person's talentsattitudes, skills, knowledge, and style, but also track record, performance, and ability to get things done. You will never respect someone who doesn't know what he or she is doing, or that doesn't get things done. Competence can also include their creativity, as they developed it themselves.

2. Shared Values

The second element in the lowest foundation is Shared Values, which includes Covey's other two cores of credibility. It's "walking the talk," being congruent, inside and out. It includes the motives, agendas, and the behaviors that result from them. Some values are universally wrong (at the extreme: disregard for human lives). However, others are simply different between people (for example, the importance of being on time). We may not share values, yet still hold valid values separately. To the extent our values are shared--respect can evolve. However, if our values collide, as valid as they might be individually, so will our personalities and interactions.

3. Respect

Respect is built upon those first two elements, competence and shared values. Those are the things we must respect in each other for trust to eventually emerge. If you don't think I'm technically competent, and/or don't share the same values with me, you will never respect me. Without respect, trust will never develop between us.

4. Time together

Respect will develop into trust, but not instantly. When others are not predictable, you can't trust them. Predictability comes with time spent together. I developed a formula for the amount of time required to develop predictability and trust. It is based on the amount of time spent on interaction, multiplied by the intensity (face-to-face is the most intense, followed by conference calls, and finally by email)," multiplied by the type of experiences shared (positive vs. negative). The higher those are, the shortest time is required to increase that predictability, and inherently trust.

5. Team-building

Sharing life-altering events does a lot to build trust. One of the reasons why Israelis build so many successful startups is because many of them (us...) served in the Israeli Defense Forces (military service is mandatory in Israel), and shared life-altering experiences, and developed bonds that could rarely develop otherwise. The closest alternative is in the form of team-building activities. The more intense those activities are, and the more trust they require, the more effective they are in building day-to-day trust among team members otherwise. With increased emphasis on cost-cutting, team-building activities is frowned upon. It is considered a waste of time and money. It is not. The impact of shortening time-to-trust and thus time-to-productivity is significant.

6. Trust

Trust is defined as "the safety in relationships." Lencioni wonderfully described it as what will allow you to be vulnerable with other team members, be willing to ask stupid questions, and be willing to be told that they are such. It also includes the confidence in providing such feedback to other team members. Finally, trust allows you to use humor and sarcasm in meetings, and science shows that those help increase your creativity as well.

7. Constructive Conflict

There are three possible types of conflict. One end of the spectrum has Conflict Avoidance. That's when we hold a politically-correct debate. We avoid controversial issues. We focus on saying the right things over reaching the right conclusions or making the right decisions. We hold "the meeting after the meeting." Decisions are made outside of the meeting room. That is what happens when there is lack of trust, and we don't know how debating an issue would be perceived by the other side, so we would rather avoid it altogether. On the other end of the spectrum is the Destructive Conflict. This is when everything turns from being issue-based to emotional and personal. It's not that your idea or question are stupid. YOU are stupid. We look at each other as extensions of inflexible positions rather than rational human beings that could be persuaded to change their minds. And we are not willing to change our own minds. That happens, too, as the result of lack of trust, and typically lack of respect. When you don't respect your counterpart to an argument--it doesn't matter what they say. They simply can't convince you. Finally, in between the two, is the Constructive Conflict. It is when you trust the others enough to be vulnerable and confident at the same time. Constructive Conflict allows for an issue (not the people) to be "attacked" from multiple directions, and to reach the most creative and productive solution or decision.

The model in summary

Competence + Shared Values = Respect

Respect + Time = Trust

Time = Amount, Intensity, Type of interactions

Time can be shortened through team-building activities

Trust leads to the selection of Constructive Conflict over Conflict Avoidance and Destructive Conflict

Constructive Conflict leads to Creative and Productive Teamwork.

This article is an adapted excerpt from my two year research, From Startup to Maturity, and my latest book, Un-Kill Creativity: How Corporate America can out-innovate startups.

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