Why a “happy” team isn’t enough for your startup to be its best

Startup team

Teams that focus their attention purely on relationships may look good on the surface, however, they fail to deliver, end up disbanded or fired.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but one team I worked with, the Joy Team, focused on being jolly all year round!

The Joy Team were living in a bubble of surface happiness; they were having fun, they socialised together and they achieved very little.

They were failing to deliver results and were all at risk of being fired!

But they were happy. Or were they?

  • The loved their leader, except for when they didn’t;
  • They got on well, except when anyone disagreed with the group; and
  • They played nice, except when team members played outside the firm’s unspoken boundaries they had created. This resulted in water cooler complaining sessions that created cliques and added to disrupting work getting done.

George, the leader of the Joy Team was baffled because when he first met the team he felt really good about leading them.

However, this was not so much the case as time progressed!

He found them hard work, and complained that they whinged a lot and took up so much of his time. Meetings flew by with laughter and merriment, with no decisions being made and a scramble to cram the agenda in the last five minutes when the team realised that they were running out of time.

What was going on with the Joy Team?

The focus for the Joy Team was on getting along well; high engagement was their key metric so they did everything to maintain a positive and happy environment.

To fit in in this team you had to nurture relationships.

Well, that doesn’t sound too bad does it?

Relationships are important, and a key component to developing sustainable high performing teams. The problem is that focusing purely on relationships is ineffective.

High performing teams also focus on output – on the stuff that needs to get done. They create an environment where the tough conversations can happen without becoming personal or personalising.

In the Joy Team, you are expected to run with the pack and you are are not allowed to rock the boat.

There was a culture of “that’s not how we do things here”, which was quickly communicated to newer team members when they brought in new and diverse thinking and operating rhythms.

The major gaps with the Joy Team included:

  • Constructive interaction – this was avoided at all costs and seen as argumentative;
  • Being honest and having the conversations that needed to happen – they didn’t;
  • It was a team that did not tolerate any form of disagreement – this was seen as not being a team player; and
  • No diversity in thinking. Well there was no diversity of anything in the Joy Team because they recruited in their image and quickly froze anyone out if they didn’t agree with the majority or if they opposed or presented other alternatives.

What else do you think may be going on in the Joy Team?

Yep, passive aggressive behaviours and passive aggressive humour.

The Joy Team are not looking so joyful when you look under the hood. Their roles were at risk, and their reputation in the organisation had long past being at risk.

To help the Joy Team move to become a high performing team we worked on:

  • Decision making frameworks to improve the flow and efficiency of how the team made decisions. We looked at how they avoided decisions and accountability;
  • Structured and focused meetings. Reducing their 1.5 hour meetings to 40-minute meetings, with a commitment and accountability to start on time and end on time. Lunch and breakfast all had to be digested prior to the meetings. If team members were late they entered without the drama of why they were late, which minimised the impact and derailing of the agenda/meeting. The team introduced walking and standing meetings to mix it up a bit; and
  • Creating a culture where honest adult-to-adult constructive conversations were a normal part of the team culture. This significantly reduced conflict longer term and also saved the team hours per day as they no longer had to spend time in the drama of their unresolved, unspoken conflicts.

In what ways is your team like the Joy Team?

To see a related article go here.

Pollyanna Lenkic is an author, coach, and speaker who works with leading organisations. To work with Lenkic visit to her website.

This article was originally published on SmartCompany. 

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Pollyanna Lenkic is an author, coach, and speaker who works with leading organisations. She is an expert in building high-performing teams. Her structured approach delivers an uplift of 25% in team performance.