6 strategies for building out-of-this-world teams

Six men and I sat atop 4.5 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 and we didn’t work together, we might not make it home.

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 followers. Many of the skills I learned about teamwork are applicable to any group working together to accomplish goals.

Everyone has been a part of a team at one time or another — whether it be on the playing field, at work, in volunteering or at home. Good teams don’t happen by luck. There are strategies to choose team players, mold them into great teams, define their goals, motivate them, deal with outliers, and learn from failure and success. Here are some of the specifics.

1. 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.

2. 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. Each has a role to play. It’s up to you to learn the competencies and capabilities of each and put them to the best use to accomplish the work that needs to be done.

3. Defining team goals

Your team will only be effective if there are clear-cut, well-defined goals that all of the team members understand and are willing to work toward. The role of your management or team leaders is to state these goals precisely and make sure the team understands and is on board with achieving them. Your leadership should take responsibility for monitoring progress of the group and each individual. Should the goals of your team change, all team members must be briefed so there is clarity going forward.

4. Recognizing what motivates your team

It is imperative that you understand what motivates the people on your particular team. For some team members, it’s learning new skills, a sense of accomplishment or a feeling of success that will be the best motivators. Others may value the opportunity for advancement or recognition. Financial rewards, raises or prizes may work in your office. 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.

5. 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 standard you have set and expect? What about negative reports from co-workers? A frank in-person discussion about these issues is crucial, and it’s imperative you solve the problem or let the person go so as not to poison the morale of the entire team.

6. Practicing and learning from failures and successes

When things go wrong, it is imperative that you seek to learn all the causes and immediately fix them. Make sure team members learn from failures 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 team members who made significant contributions to the achievement.

Teams of all sorts are ubiquitous. Undoubtedly, you have been a team member and perhaps a team leader. Great teams that produce superior results are built following 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

Follow these strategies, and you’ll build a team that is out of this world!

Dr. Rhea Seddon is an 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, health-care executive and entrepreneur. Dr. Seddon speaks to audiences of all kinds on the topics of teamwork, leadership and taking advantage of opportunities. To learn more, visit astronautrheaseddon.com.

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