The Myth of Luck and Successful Teams

Posted by Lou Bergholz on Oct 14, 2015 9:44:51 AM
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Myth of luck on workplace teams

In this series of blog posts we'll share some of our research and insights into four myths about teaming: luck; weak links; zero conflict; and success is the deliverable. Today, we're talking about luck. Have you ever been on a  team that clicked right away? You may have thought "wow, were we lucky. Not like those poor people who got stuck with a bad team."

Great teams don’t just happen. Like any relationship, there are ups and downs, and the ones that have sustained success learn from the downs and turn them into ups. And while there is science to why and when teams are successful, there are also long held myths that when tested against the science don’t hold up. One such myth is that if you are part of a group that right away teams well, you were lucky.

In reality, luck has little to do with great teaming. Although you may think that it's all about chance, great teams work well because the team members have complementary skill sets, and they've worked to learn how to be on a team in a productive way. On teams that seem to gel naturally, team members, whether they know it or not, have prior experiences they draw upon that inform the success of the group. It takes skills, honed through experience, to team well – listening, patience, and understanding being among them. 

Our growing research on teams shows that the myth of luck can derail individuals when they join other teams. They're looking for the teaming to work organically rather than realizing it requires intention.

When we’re working with clients on teaming at offsites or retreats, we teach that teaming skills may have been learned in a different setting  a large family, a high school sports team, or a prior, unrelated work experience. In each of these instances you are working with people toward a common goal; it's probably the thing that brought you together in the first place. On a team where that common goal may be more difficult to embrace, if your team doesn't click right away the idea that you were "unlucky" can start to creep in.

In order to avoid the myth of luck, make sure you pay attention to the details. If your team is humming on a project, observe the characteristics in the team members that are making it work so you can emulate them in the future. Like the teaming skills your colleagues learned in the past which have made your current project successful, you can learn from this project and bring those teaming skills with you to the next team you're on. And luck will have nothing to do with it.

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Topics: Teamwork