Good teams don’t fear failure

Good product management skills and the effective application of Agile methodologies are all routes to that most fundamental business goal: the delivery to customers of products they really want and need (even if they don’t always know it at the time). But what about having a good team?

As well as the planning and leadership qualities of any Product Manager, the most crucial element in project management, is the quality of the team itself. Where the attitude and mindset are right, what VFQ Learning calls ‘A Discovery Mindset’, successful outcomes will be the result.

Some would say that discussing whether ideas are good or bad can waste an awful lot of time. Very often, good ideas aren’t always obvious and can be very subjective, they need to be considered and developed. The time would, perhaps, be better spent concentrating on building a good, proactive and productive team; one that can challenge itself and throw thoughts around in an environment that excites and promotes positive thinking.

Nobody is saying that a great idea should be ignored – and some of best can be game changers – but build a good team and it will have a way of working that either improves any idea or takes it in another more fruitful direction. As Ed Catmull, Pixar, once said: “Give a good idea to a mediocre team and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.” What’s important is creating a team that is able to look at intended outcomes and turn any idea into a potentially great product or service, or where, as Aristotle put it way back in 300BC, ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

Unfortunately, in many organizations great teamwork can be elusive or, worse, non-existent and over many years experts have tried to define the key characteristics of high-performing teams. There are some common themes; a shared purpose in a compelling direction, interdependent roles and responsibility supported by an organizational structure, measured performance goals that assess the team not individual. These may seem obvious (but still difficult to achieve in practice). However, there is one other element to consider. Google’s ‘Project Aristotle’, was a study into what made teams great, and even when teams didn’t necessarily have ‘stars’ there was one thing that made a group of people into a great team: psychological safety. It was found that an environment which placed great emphasis on respect and trust, and which removed fear of punishment, rejection and embarrassment made for the best teams. Quite simply, the teams that performed better were the ones where psychological safety was the ‘norm’. It may not always be easy to identify behaviors or ‘unwanted norms’ which get in the way of creating a creative and ‘psychologically safe’ environment, but the results can be just as worthwhile as a truly great idea.

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