How to Unleash the SUPERSTAR Potential of Your Team!

Andrew Carnegie once said that teamwork allows common people to attain uncommon results. But not every team is able to be exceptional. How should we go about unleashing the full potential of our teams, to be more effective and create more value for the organization? Margaret Neale, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, tells us how.

  1. The ability for different people looking at the same things to think about different ideas, is an organizations’ incredible resource — to be creative and to adapt. We need to train ourselves to look at differences and conflict as a resource. It is the team leader’s role to realize this, and seek to harness this information and expertise of the team members, in a way that creates synergy and generates process gain, instead of a process loss (when more heads lead to less work being done).

  2. We are too good at reaching agreements — sometimes too quick, and too early. We humans dislike conflict and differences so much that we naturally suppress them as soon as we can. People are social creatures, and we always want to be included in a team. If teams tend to form around similar people, team members will also try to suppress their differing opinions just to assure themselves of a position within the team.  We fear exclusion from teams. Think of the times you were a kid in elementary school, when you did things that you didn’t like, but still did them anyway just because everyone else was doing it and you wanted to be part of the group. Peer pressure is a strong outcome of us fearing exclusion from social groups. Similarly, teams with members who fear exclusion will eventually lose the motivation to raise differing opinions, and lose the capacity to learn from divergent views.

  3. Team formation must be an active process. If left to happen ‘naturally’, we will lean towards forming teams with people “who are like me”. Homogenous teams are much more efficient in getting to solutions quicker, and gets things done fastest. They also have less conflict, but also minimises information diversity of the team. Comfort will lead to resistance of opposing arguments within the team, and possibly even from outside sources. Choose your team members for their skills and expertise instead of how similar they are to you. (read more about the importance of heterogenous teams here)

  4. Diversity does not directly lead to better performance. The correlation exists, but the key to this cause-effect relationship, is the presence of conflict in between. Diversity must lead to conflict, before it can result in improved performance. It is the way the group is able to handle the conflict, which allows the team to perform. Differences are not sufficient — they need to be surfaced and addressed before they can lead to improved outcome.

  5. Creating homogeneity of goals will facilitate diversity. We want to encourage conflict that arises from the diversity of the team, but specifically only informational dispute. We need to consciously steer away from the more obvious surface diversity, such as ethnic, gender and social diversity. Instead, focus on what the different expertise, experience and perspectives of the members say about this solution to this problem. Dig deeper into information diversity, the differences in the ways team members think and process information. But before we can achieve that, we need to first create homogeneity of everyone in the team, and make sure everyone has the same goal — why are we here? This common goal will develop a sense of benevolence. By knowing that everyone has good intentions and the same goals, will make it easier to listen to differing opinions.

  6. Contrarian roles need to be changed regularly. Do you want to be right or effective? If one person is always the contrarian in the team, sooner or later, he will become marginalized. Thus even if there is one particular member who loves to be the contrarian, the leader needs to rotate contrarian roles regularly within the team to maintain a healthy relationship.

  7. Large teams need buzz groups. Spectators arise in a team for many reasons. this includes them feeling there is insufficient air time to share their opinions amongst all the team members, or they don’t feel motivated to speak up and are able to fade off into the background. The number of spectators increases with team size. Creating buzz groups will reduce the number of spectators, and increase the amount of air time that is shared amongst the team members, thus stimulating more intellectual input from all team members.

Consolidating the above pointers, here is a simple 7-step rule for you, as a team leader, to create the more efficient and productive team:

  1. Choose your team for their skills and expertise (informational diversity)

  2. Set the common ground (goals)

  3. Assign (and rotate) roles and responsibilities (particularly the contrarian role)

  4. Define task as a problem-to-be-solved, rather than a decision-to-be-made

  5. Encourage participation from all team members

  6. Set up norms that facilitate task conflict

  7. Hold second-chance meetings

Stimulate divergence of intellectual input, then strive towards convergence to one final solution.

Margaret Neale, is a Adams Distinguished Professor of Management at the Stanford Graduate school of business. Her research focuses primarily on negotiation and team performance. Her work has extended judgment and decision-making research from cognitive psychology to the field of negotiation. In particular, she studies cognitive and social processes that produce departures from effective negotiating behavior. Within the context of teams, her work explores aspects of team composition and group process that enhance the ability of teams to share the information necessary for learning and problem solving in both face-to-face and virtual team environments.



10 qualities of a truly great team


What makes your team great? Or if you’re forming a team, what qualities do you want in your team? Here we suggest 10 top qualities that a truly great team should possess.




  1. Trust. Everyone in a team has a different role, but every role comes together towards a single goal of the team. As such, everyone directly or indirectly depends on the other team members on producing work. But, if a team member does not trust another to produce the work, and starts breathing down his neck to make sure things get done, he is displaying distrust that his team member is capable of achieving, and there goes trust, respect and joy in the team. A truly great team is made up of team members that completely trust one another to get things done. If you can’t trust a particular team member, change your mindset or let him go.

  2. Embraces different ideas and opinions. Diversity creates ability. We mentioned in our earlier blog post about how a heterogenous team generates the best ideas. But besides having a diverse team, the team has to embrace the differences for the benefits to shine. Friendly disputes are healthy, so embrace them!

  3. Is not afraid to challenge. Fear is the biggest obstacle to creativity and growth. It is the cancer of a team, don’t let it grow! Be particularly attentive to members who either suppress others, or members who are to express their opinions. Strive to create a fearless team, challenge everyone to challenge everyone else.

  4. Cooperates. A team that doesn’t work together, is not a team. It is merely a group of individuals.

  5. Contains no procrastinators. Even though it’s not a crime to be a procrastinator, it’s something we don’t really want in a truly great team. The reason being, procrastination spreads easily, and if the team relies on work generated from each other very heavily, efficiency of the entire team can be affected by having just one single procrastinator. So procrastinators are not too desired on a team striving to be productive.

  6. Is committed. Being committed goes a long way. Motivation, drive, support etc all rise from being committed. If your team members are all committed to the company/team, there will be no problem getting them motivated, and no problem getting things done, because everyone has the same final goal of bringing the company to success.

  7. Is respectful of one another. Respect one anothers’ different backgrounds, personalities, cultures and preferences. Watch your language, and remember that even if you don’t mean it, sometimes it sounds more than what you meant to another person. A great team cares for their members’ feelings, and always thinks from their point of view before saying or doing anything, to make sure everyone feels respected. Being respectful is the first step to a happy team.

  8. Supports each other to get things going. We all face bottlenecks all the time at work. Sometimes, a particular part of the pipeline gets clogged up and all work is limited by how quickly that person can clear his/her work. The best team is when all other team members come together to offer help in loosening that bottleneck when they realize assistance is needed there. They don’t care about losing their “free time” that they could otherwise have, they care more about working together, as a team, to get things done and move things forward. That, is what we call teamwork.

  9. Shares openly and willingly. A team is a team for a reason, and we have to share our resources and ideas with our team members to make things work. A truly great team needs to have members that share openly and willingly, without having to fear their ideas or credits getting stolen by another team member. This, of course, requires trust first, as we mentioned right at the start of this list.

  10. Knows other team members beyond a professional level. Admit it, we are social beings, and we cannot work like robots. Besides work, we also like to talk about our hobbies, families, partners, kids, holidays, personal goals, etc. Making an effort to know your team members would go a long way in helping the team gel together. A well-bonded team could easily achieve all the above 9 points.

Five tips for on boarding a distributed team member

Being in a distributed team is not always easy, but joining one as a new member without prior experience is the hardest. To help you help your new team members settle in as quickly as possible, we suggest here some tips for on boarding a distributed team member. We understand that the strategy will vary between teams, but here are a couple guidelines to start you off when enrolling a new distributed team member:


1. Officially introduce the new member to the team – an introduction email is great, but why not also set up a team video conference? Instead of a general welcome email, why not also explain what the new member will be working on specifically?  

2. Create knowledge spaces where the new member can go to for information, including technical, and procedural. If your distributed team uses a particular set of tools for communicating and collaborating (e.g. dropbox for file sharing, skype for calling, asana for project management), let the new member know up front, so he/she does not have to email the team to find out which specific tool(s) is(are) needed for which circumstances. Similarly, let the new member be aware of various procedures in accomplishing various tasks, especially when decision making is to be done by the manager of the team, and when the member can use his/her own discretion in deciding. A simple orientation like this helps the newbie settle in much more smoothly. This tip is probably also useful for all kinds of teams, distributed or not, but yet many teams don’t bother with this essential piece of information.

3. Have sync up meetings regularly. Meet once a week (+/-, depending on your team’s needs) to help with any immediate questions and give guidance on next steps. Don’t let matters drag on until they are discovered. Efficiency is something that distributed teams sometimes struggle with, due to trouble iterating quickly, so extra effort has to be put in to actively work towards optimal efficiency. Having regular meetings also helps ensure consistent motivation amongst team members.

4. Encourage new member to have one-on-one meetings with each team member. This is a great way for the new team member to get to know everyone on a personal level, as well as gain a deeper understanding of who is responsible of what tasks. Social interaction is limited in a distributed team, leading to a slower build up of team bonding and familiarity. Having one-on-one meetings with team members will help kick start the process.

5. Communicate the team’s culture. Even a distributed team has culture. But this culture is going to be more difficult to grasp for the new member, when there is minimal (or no) face time with the team. Henceforth, as the manager, you should clearly articulate the team’s culture to the new member right from day one. Be clear about expectations, how work progress is tracked, how self motivation plays a role in the team and whether feedback is an option. No detail is too detailed.


Most importantly, TRUST each other.

Any other tips you have? Share it with us!

Margaret Neale on Team management, team performance and innovation

While we were students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, we were fortunate enough to have Margaret Neale, distinguished professor, to teach us how to negotiate. Besides negotiation, her other primary research area includes team collaboration.

She gave a very insightful talk on the power of teams and the psychology of teams, available here. It’s an hour long, but definitely worth it. But, we understand that you are all busy people, so we’ve created a list of takeaways from the lecture! 🙂

Our 6 Major Takeaways from her lecture on team:

  1. Teams will only do better than individuals if the right (heterogenous) team comes together to experience synergy. A good team leads to having more perspectives of the same problem — generating innovation and creativity. It drives the interpretation of data, removing the rate of being blinded by our own theories, by listening to others’ competing theories. HOWEVER, we don’t like to learn, and we don’t like to think, which leads to a tendency to find like-minded individuals to form a team, instead of forming a team with a wide range of expertise. We thus have to consciously and actively seek team members that have a heterogenous experience and personalities. With minorities in the group (i.e. heterogenous team), final decisions are better, and ideas have greater complexity. It does not matter if the minorites’ ideas were kept in the end, but they still contribute significantly to the complexity and quality of the final ideas.

  1. Process loss (unable to tap into the intelligence of the team) happens most often when the expert team member is female. This could be due to either self-censorship, or the female expert spoke but no one listened.

  1. Teams get frightened of conflicts — leading to a tendency to suppress differences, rather than embracing and resolving them. Having similar team members amplifies the desire to suppress differences, while having obvious heterogeneity through minority group members can reduce this tendency, generating a healthy group conflict culture. This supports the first point that having minorities within a team is beneficial. Also, assigning “contrarian” roles to certain group members, may facilitate discussions by reducing the stress of raising up opposing opinions.

  1. The first team meeting is the most important. Team culture is set in the very first meeting. Structure the team such that each team member understands how and when they should talk, and how the responsibilities and roles are distributed.

  1. Low status people in the group should speak first, high status high influence people should speak last. Because first speaker / first mover makes the biggest influence. Having this structure would balance out the influence of each team member.

  1. Being a great team member/leader requires preparation, connectedness and strong emotional maturity. Having this kind of leader encourages the team to commit to the team enough to want to engage in conflicts and tough discussions.

Margaret Neale, is a Adams Distinguished Professor of Management at the Stanford Graduate school of business. Her research focuses primarily on negotiation and team performance. Her work has extended judgment and decision-making research from cognitive psychology to the field of negotiation. In particular, she studies cognitive and social processes that produce departures from effective negotiating behavior. Within the context of teams, her work explores aspects of team composition and group process that enhance the ability of teams to share the information necessary for learning and problem solving in both face-to-face and virtual team environments.