As we get stuck back into work and business for the new year, it’s time to take a look at the current set up and whether things need to be shifted around.

There is no ‘I’ in ‘T-E-A-M’. Teams are made up of people with complementary skills, committed to a common purpose and performance goals, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. They may be established ad hoc as project teams or as more permanent work groups. Although most teams can outperform individual people, it’s the ‘people issues’ that cause most of the problems. So when you believe a team is required in your workplace, consider these points…

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1. Establish clear, achievable goals.

One of the main reasons for the failure of teams is that they don’t know where they’re going or why they’ve been formed. A team works best when members clearly understand its purpose and its goals.

2. Set a clear plan.

Having formed a team for a specific purpose and made that purpose clear, the next step in the process is to ensure that the team is not left to ‘muddle through’. Help the team determine what advice, training, assistance, materials, and other resources it may need. Develop a flow chart setting out the steps of a project and the resources required, and list any training and budgetary considerations.

3. Define roles clearly.

Effective teams empower members and require contributions; performance expectations are essential. Focus attention on ‘who’ is to do ‘what’. Shared roles, too, need to be clearly stated. An added advantage of ensuring clearly defined roles is that it limits the possibility of the same people getting stuck with the same tedious tasks.

4. Insist on clear communication.

An effective team is interdependent: each member makes significant contributions, and each depends on the other. In the team context, good discussions depend on how well information is shared by its members. Insist that members communicate clearly, listen actively, explore opportunities rather than debate them, and share all information.

5. Encourage team behaviours.

‘T-E-A-M’ means ‘Together Everyone Achieves More’, so make sure the climate of your workplace encourages all members to use their skills to make work an even better place to be. Behaviours will include initiating, seeking information, suggesting procedures, clarifying, elaborating, summarising, compromising, and recognising the contributions of others. Collaboration replaces competition as the team’s modus operandi. Set clear boundaries so that teams are aware of any limits to their autonomy.

6. Agree on decision-making procedures.

Ultimately, a team will have to make decisions, and the way it goes about that will be an indicator of its effectiveness. (For group decision-making, see topic 270.) Be prepared to intervene in any group process and provide the required leadership. You might even include yourself as a member of the team.

7. Increase awareness of group processes.

If individuals are to become fully-functioning members of a team, they must be aware of group processes – how the team works together. You need to demonstrate the important role played by group dynamics, to draw attention to nonverbal messages, and be aware of changes in the group’s behaviour.

8. Expect participation.

Teams provide opportunities for people to be involved in problem-solving and decision-making – especially where the outcomes are likely to affect the members. Most people are goal-directed, social beings; so all members should participate in discussions and decision-making. They should commit themselves to any project’s completion; but participation will be balanced according to a variety of factors – such as knowledge about the topic under discussion, investment in the outcome, and the level of commitment a person is prepared to make. People who are not prepared to participate should not be considered for a team project or work team.

9. Establish ground rules.

Have the team set rules or norms for what will, and will not, be tolerated in the group. It’s too late to consider ground rules after the team has been operating for some time. For starters, teams should expect to encourage each other, listen well, share resources, pitch in, cooperate, take responsibility for their own actions – and have fun.

10. Insist on the best available information.

Good data makes problem-solving and decision-making much easier; failure to find and use quality data will seriously compromise acceptable outcomes. Strong opinions – dominance even – are quelled by the presence of data. So opinions should be supported by, or at least defer to, such information. An added advantage is that reliable data will reduce the possibility of group disagreements.

 

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