Teamwork is a word that is hard to avoid nowadays. We hear constantly about the importance of team- building and about the vital role that teams play in empowering people and gaining the competitive edge.
In organisations much of the work will only be accomplished through teams, so it is essential that the goal of improving team effectiveness be an objective of every manager and leader. Indeed, the quality of your team’s performance will ultimately reflect your leadership ability, your motivational understanding and your knowledge of how teams work.
So in this series of posts we want to help you;
• understand why teams are important;
• identify the key determinants of effective teams;
• identify the stages in team development and the ways in which you can influence enhanced performance; and
• understand the nature of the roles that individuals have within the composition of the team, and how these roles can be managed and balanced for greater effectiveness.
John Adair believes that a body of people can be called a team when it possesses most of the following:
• a definable membership (collection of 2 or more people);
• members think of themselves as a group, have a collective perception of unity;
• a sense of shared purpose;
• interdependence – members need each others’ help to accomplish a purpose;
• interaction – members communicate with one another – influence/react to each
Thus a collection of people cannot be described as a ‘team’ unless they are aware of one another, interact with each other, have a common purpose etc. But common objectives and group interaction are not enough on their own to make people form themselves into an effective team. First and foremost, people have to see themselves as members of a defined group. That’s why it is important to give teams an independent identity, or better still, to allow them to develop one of their own.
What Do Teams Do?
The highly competitive business environment has forced most organisations to rethink what they do and how they do it. A key element of their strategy has been the implementation of more efficient approaches to achieving their objectives. The increasing use of teamwork goes hand in hand with changes in the way that larger organisations are structured and managed. Those that are leading the way in getting the best out of people and in staying adaptable tend to be structured around performance for the organisation.
What teams do depends largely on what they aim to achieve and who is involved in them:
• ‘functional teams’ are formed to allocate, manage and control the work of a business area.
• ‘self-managing teams’ are set up so that members can organise themselves, make their own decisions and solve their own problems.
• ‘quality circles’ – teams that are set up to identify opportunities for improving the quality of an organisations products or services.
• ‘cross-functional teams’ are formed to allow members of different sections to communicate with each other and to work together.
• ‘project teams’ are created for specific tasks so their life span is limited.
What Can’t Teams Do?
It would be wrong to run away with the idea that teams are somehow a panacea for all organisational problems or that all tasks lend themselves automatically to a team approach.
Also, there are many organisational problems that cannot be attributed to poor teamwork. It would be wrong to prescribe teamwork as the solution to a bad safety record or poor productivity, for example, it may point to a need for training or for improved performance monitoring and feedback.
The teamwork approach is just one of many tools that are available to organisations. Where a teamwork approach is relevant, managers should be striving for team effectiveness as this can help people achieve their potential and contribute to the organisations goals.
Benefits of Effective Teams
Effective teams provide the means to systematically increase efficiency in relation to an organisation’s objectives. Teams are extremely important in that they can impact on a range of factors and attitudes across the whole organisation. In an organisation effective teamwork is an essential component of the delivery of key performance indicators and the key to providing the best value for money.
Some of the obvious benefits to the organisation of effective teams are:
1. They can produce outstanding results.
2. They can deal with complex cross-functional issues.
3. They can develop a synergy, which can create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
4. They can satisfy employees’ motivational needs to be valued and recognised.
5. By increasing the depth of knowledge and information brought to a problem, effective teams can reach better solutions.
6. In the long term, effective teams can assist the process of cultural change in an organisation. They encourage employee commitment where compliance was the previous order.
7. Teams can encourage a more pro-active involvement in meeting the organisation’s, objectives and goals.
8. They can provide a greater level of service to all internal and external customers.
What Makes a Successful Team?
In an increasingly complex managerial environment teams, suitably supported by senior management, can greatly enhance organisational effectiveness and efficiency.
Not all work groups are teams nor, depending on the circumstances, do they need to be. Equally, not all teams are effective. Effective teams have to be developed, monitored and sustained.
Generally, a team is successful if it has an effective leader, and its members feel highly motivated and involved. Success may also be attributed to people’s ability to monitor what they do objectively, and plan how to improve things. It is certain that good teams always have a very clear sense of purpose.
Think about effective/successful teams in which you have worked in the past. What characteristics did they have in common?
Your answers will reflect the situational nature of the team’s activities and tasks, but will probably have included factors such as:
• good communications
• mutual support
• good working relationships
• good team spirit and trust
- managed conflict
• good use of team resources
• good working environment
• agreed objectives
• balance of skills
• good leadership
• a history of success
• a sense of identity and purpose
• good planning and organisation
• clarity of roles and responsibilities
Now think about your own team and assess them against the characteristics identified in the list above. Make a two-column list of Good Characteristics and Bad Characteristics. Look at your list and identify what must improve.
Your answers to the above may have concluded that your team is only partially achieving its potential. So the key question is how do we develop effective teams.
A most important characteristic of successful teams is the clarity with which they work to achieve agreed objectives (the achievement of such objectives within an organisation’s overall mission and goals). A primary function of team leaders is to ensure that the team is constantly made aware of how and where their efforts dovetail into wider organisational goals. The other critical element to successful teams is regular feedback on performance against agreed objectives – more on this in a later post.
Few sports teams are successful if the vital element of teamwork is missing. The quality of working relationships is a critical success aspect in all teams. This does not simply mean that people ‘get on well’ together, but implies a much deeper understanding of individual members’ strengths, weaknesses and contributions to the team’s effectiveness.
Your responses to the above will probably have mentioned leadership as a key factor in team success. Skilled leadership, which seeks to balance the demands of task completion, team cohesion and individual needs, enhances team performance. Leadership and the need to recognise what motivates individual members have been discussed above. It is, however, worth restating that teams are made up of people who need to be led and have to be motivated and encouraged to produce outstanding collective results.
A final factor about successful teams is that they tend to have a strong sense of identity, and even a common culture. The skilled leader will seek to foster this sense of togetherness and sharing of common values.
A team develops a ‘culture’ in the same way as an individual develops a ‘personality’. The task of the leader is to ensure that the ‘culture’ of the team is developed to achieve the wider organisation’s needs and does not simply concentrate on its own internal needs. It must also be understood that team effectiveness does not happen immediately. As individuals go through a number of stages of development in their lives or careers, so do teams.
In the next post we will examine the various stages a team goes through in its life time.