What makes a successful project team?

By Brittany Jack

Nature provides many brilliant ideas for modeling high-functioning teams. For example, team behaviors could be modeled after ant colonies, or could take cues from a flock of chickens. Or perhaps offices could be redesigned to behave like coffee shop environments to create a sense of community. These models may help find formulas to create teams that have the perfect balance of functionality, creativity, and productivity.

I’ve had the opportunity to be a member of a few different teams here at Fidelity Labs. While I don’t know the secret formula, I have learned a thing or two about what goes into creating and maintaining successful incubator teams. Here are some of my observations:

Creating the team

Roles ideally should be established based on the scope of the project’s needs, rather than on preconceived notions of which people should be on a team. That being said, on my last project team, some of us had worked well together on a previous project, and our rapport enabled a quick formation of a new high-performing team for an entirely different project. No matter how the teams are formed, the goal is to create the smallest team with the greatest range of skills, with only the essential ‘cooks’ in the kitchen.

Getting in the groove

Once the team members are gathered, it’s important to get to know each other and better understand each other’s approach to communication—especially around conflict. Being aligned is critical because working in close quarters together in a project room for 8+ hours a day is bound to stir up disagreements.

Team members should take the time to have candid conversations about their individual roles, so they can get a better sense of how they can meaningfully contribute to the team and project outcome. Each team member should also acknowledge their different working styles, traits, and personal/family lives. Why? Because aligning these styles establishes a mutual trust and respect among the team members. If you can’t trust each other, how can you solve a problem or create something awesome?

Establishing trust in the first week of a project gives a strong foundation, and provides opportunities to grow closer and stronger from that point on. It establishes a feeling of psychological safety, where people can be vulnerable, be willing to have difficult conversations, and can approach conflict from the perspective of trying to reach consensus rather than trying to “win.”

Maintaining high-performance

This is how modeling a flock of chickens is brilliant: There is no pecking order. Set each other up to succeed rather than to steal the spotlight. Individual successes should lift the team, rather than making others feel worse by comparison. Make sure you spend time together in the field, either as an entire group or as a combination of dyads during research and synthesis.

Amplifying Joy

The little things—having team nicknames, doing morning stokes, building a funny quote board, and having stress-relieving finger rocket wars—can make a significant impact. Acknowledge when you are feeling stressed, needing help, needing a break, or are feeling stuck. Also, creating rituals and celebrating milestones—both personal and project highpoints—amplify joy that propels people forward.

Fidelity Labs is full of innovators with a myriad of specialties and personalities. Collaboration is essential to our incubator’s success and is the glue that keeps our teams together and functioning at a high level. These insights are part of how we do it.