by Ruth Wageman on

We at 6 Team Conditions often get into conversations with teams and team leaders about the 6 Conditions framework and what it takes to have a great team.  There are many different ways to talk about the framework, and about “conditions thinking” as an approach to teams.  One that comes up a lot is using a metaphor, such as “what does it take to have a great garden?” or “what do you absolutely have to have in order to sail successfully?” (to pick a couple of pastimes of our colleagues).

The idea of these metaphors is that there are certain things that must be present to garden or sail at all.  You have to have seed, water, light, to have a plant that grows.  Without any one of those, there is no garden.  To sail, you have to have a vessel that floats, a sail, and something to hold the sail to catch the wind and move across water. And you don’t make the plant grow—you sow a seed in fertile matrix, provide what it needs to grow, and it grows itself.  You don’t make the vessel sail: you orient it against the wind, and it catches wind and slices across water.

Let’s take the metaphor to teams.  Are there features you absolutely have to have for a team to accomplish anything?  Turns out there are three: The 3 Essentials.  In our research on a whole range of teams—orchestras, patient care teams, leadership teams, sales teams, service teams, and many more—three basic design elements have to be present and in good shape for teams to accomplish anything together at all.  First, if you want a great team, you have to have a Real Team (where people genuinely need to exchange resources and information to get a shared piece of work done, where members know who is and is not on the team, and are together long enough to accomplish something together).  That team needs a Compelling Purpose (one that is clear enough that members can head in the same direction, challenging and consequential enough to elicit their best effort), and the Right People (the member have the basic skills, including teamwork skills, to fulfill the purpose).  To accomplish anything at all as a team, these three have to be present and in good shape.  If it’s not a Real Team, people don’t work together.  If there’s no Compelling Purpose, energy dissipates in fragmentation and demotivation.  If there aren’t the Right People, all the effort in the world won’t produce excellent performance.

The Essentials are the fundamental building blocks of teams: if you can’t get them in good shape, you’re better off figuring out how to get the work done without forming a team.  But the good news is, that like a garden or a sailboat with the basics in good shape, a well-designed team takes off on its own steam.  There are more things that can help accelerate its development into something really amazing (more on The Enablers next time)—but the momentum and positive trajectory are already there when the Essentials are in good shape.  Get those right, and everything else we do to help the team succeed, whether we are team members, leaders, or coaches, already has the wind in the sails.  And small, well-aimed course corrections can really make a powerful difference.