3 Keys to Building a Productive Team


We all recognize the importance of teamwork. An effective team can create a great synergy leading to even greater results. A productive team can also increase camaraderie, motivation and encourage more multidisciplinary collaborations. As the importance of collaborations across departments continues to increase, how do we make sure our team is operating at its most productive level? What really makes a TEAM WORK to get those great results?

At Brookings Executive Education (BEE), reducing theory to practice is the goal of all of our courses. In the article “Clues to Create Productive Teams”, BEE faculty member Andrew Knight does just that. The research on why members of a team defer to each other and why it matters uncovered three key takeaways to help leaders manage effective teams.

  1. Leaders of multidisciplinary teams should remain mindful of dysfunctional processes that emerge after the team has been assembled. A team of experts may not function as an expert team if the members defer to one another for the wrong reasons.

The goal of most multidisciplinary teams is to capitalize on one another’s strengths to yield the best end product or results. But what really happens more than not is that team members bypass experience and expertise when practicing deference, and place more importance on friendship and affinity. We tend to yield to the people we like and/or identify with. Although it may make us and our friends feel good, “affinity- based deference” is a sure way to limit the productivity of your team. Recognizing this as a natural possibility is the first step to creating a productive team.

  1. In assembling teams, leaders should strive to select members based on specific indicators of their task expertise (e.g., education, experience) and decrease emphasis on less-relevant and less-productive demographic characteristics (e.g., race, gender). Demographic characteristics can form the basis of suboptimal deference patterns grounded in liking, rather than accurate assessments of task expertise.

When putting a team together, lead by example. You also have to be aware of your own “affinity-based deference”. Objectively review the goals of the team and choose members based on their experience and expertise. Once the group is formed, make sure you communicate the experience and expertise of each member t the team. Everyone should know what areas people excel in so they can have a logical foundation on which to make their deference decisions.

  1. The findings underscore the importance of separating task-relevant decision-making in teams from the informal friendship structure that emerges over time. Deference based in friendship hinders team performance; in contrast, deference based in perceptions of expertise enhances team performance.

The bottom line is that “affinity –based deference” hurts productivity, hurts the team and in turn your organization. Working to educate your team members on what each of them brings to the table empowers them to make “task-based deference” decisions and get the best results from your team to make the team and your organization shine.

The full article appeared in: Academy of Management Journal, 2015, 1, 59-84. Coauthor: Aparna Joshi, Smeal College of Business, Pennsylvania State University

Kimberly Hall is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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