Six men and I sat atop four and a half million pounds of explosives waiting for the fuse to be lit to begin our flight on the Space Shuttle Discovery. We knew that for the next seven days our lives would depend on our acting synergistically. If anything went awry during the flight, if we didn’t work together, we might not make it home safely.
How did we come to that moment in time? We had been selected for the Astronaut Corps and this particular flight because we had proven track records of being good team players, both as leaders — and as followers — and had the requisite skills to accomplish a variety of space missions with varying payloads. Many of the skills I learned about teamwork are applicable to any group coming together to accomplish their goals. Here are some of the specifics.
Everyone has been a part of a team at one time or another whether on the playing field, at the office, or even in your own home. Can you recall a mediocre team, a terrible one, or a lazy disorganized one? There are strategies to choose team players, to mold them into a great team, to define their goals, to motivate them for success, to deal with “outliers” and to learn from failure — and success.
Choosing and Developing Team Players
When you are considering putting a potential team together or adding new members to a current team, the interview process is crucial. Do applicants have the requisite skills or must they be trained? You should consider whether each of these people has experience working well with similar teams. Can he or she give examples of types of projects those teams have worked on and how success was achieved? Also be sure your current team feels comfortable with this candidate.
Molding a Group of People into a Team
Not all groups of people can come together to form a great team. You’ll find natural leaders, potential leaders, and excellent followers who will carry the ball down the field for the rest of your team. Each of them has a role to play. It is up to your leadership to learn the competencies and capabilities of each one of them and how to put them to the best use to accomplish the work that needs to be done.
Defining Team Goals
Your team will only be effective if there are clear cut, well-defined goals which all of the team members understand and are willing to work toward. The role of your management or team leaders is to be able to state these goals precisely and make sure the team understands and is on board with achieving the goals. Your leadership should take responsibility for monitoring progress of the group and each individual. Should the goals of your team change, all team members much be briefed so there is clarity going forward.
Recognizing What Motivates Your Team
It is imperative that you understand what motivates the people on your particular team. For some team members learning new skills, a sense of accomplishment, or a feeling of success will be the best motivators. Others may value the opportunity for advancement or recognition. Financial rewards, raises, or prizes may work in your company. Often the praise of their fellow members is sufficient. Have you considered a little friendly competition? Only by asking the team members will you find out.
Dealing with Outliers
What if one of your company’s team members is not performing well or is ill-suited to the team, making the workplace uncomfortable and jeopardizing success? Can you show data that his or her performance is not up to the standards you have set and expect? What about negative reports from coworkers? A frank in-person discussion about these issues is crucial and it is imperative you solve the problem or let the person go so as not to poison the morale of the entire team.
Practicing and Learning from Failure — and Success
When things go wrong, it is imperative that you seek to learn all the causes and fix them right away. You must also be sure that team members learn from the failure so the same mistakes are not repeated. Never forget that learning from success will make your team and your outcomes better, too. Incorporate processes or procedures that worked well in the past and be sure to recognize those team members who made significant contributions to the achievement.
Teams of all sorts are ubiquitous. Whether at a work site, on a sports team, in a nonprofit organization, or in a hospital operating room (or in today’s world, virtually or in-person), teams are everywhere. Undoubtedly you have been a team member and perhaps had the opportunity to be selected or hired as a team leader. Great teams that produce superior results are built following these simple principles that lead to outstanding teamwork. You must:
• Choose and develop great team members
• Mold them into the best team for your organization
• Define your organization’s goals
• Motivate the team appropriately
• Deal with problem team members
• Learn from success and failure
You’ll find you have built a team that is out of this world!
Dr. Rhea Seddon is a renowned speaker, astronaut, and the author of “Go For Orbit”, a memoir about her adventures spending 30 days in space aboard the Space Shuttle. She is also a former surgeon, healthcare executive, and entrepreneur. Dr. Seddon speaks to audiences of all kinds on the topics of teamwork, leadership, and taking advantage of opportunities. For more information, visit www.RheaSeddon.com.