Building a high-functioning search team

First of all, why a search team? Team members work together toward a common goal. They hold a shared understanding of how to reach that outcome, and each team member contributes in defined ways such that the whole of the team is more than the sum of its parts. Given the importance of the team’s purpose, the members’ collaboration is very intentional and regular and there is a point person who guides the process. Committees and/or groups do not meet all of these criteria, or they do so to a lesser degree.

What, then, makes for the most effective teams? Let’s start with what doesn’t. In the groundbreaking work Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005), Patrick Lencioni lists the biggest pitfalls for teams:

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results

The highest-functioning teams reverse these dysfunctions.

  • Building trust. Team members are willing to risk vulnerability to know and be known by one another so that they can bring their whole selves to the process at hand.
  • Engaging in healthy conflict. Conflict is simply a difference of opinion. In healthy conflict, team members are able to separate ideas from the people who hold them so that the full range of options can be considered.
  • Committing to the team and its actions. There is agreement up front about how the team will work together and regular checking in to ensure all team members are on the same page. Every team member has input into and thus ownership of actions.
  • Holding one another accountable. Team members assume the best about one another’s intentions and capabilities, making it possible for them to hold each other to high standards. There is clarity around responsibilities and progress checkpoints.
  • Keeping team goals at the fore. The team is clear about its goal and subgoals as well as the milestones that will indicate progress toward them.

Each step builds on the preceding ones, so there is no skipping.