Decades ago some big organisations introduced teams into their production processes and it made news because no one else was doing it. In today’s organisations, it’s the opposite, if a business doesn’t use teams to at least some extent, they are the odd one out.
Evidence suggests that teams typically outperform individuals when the work being undertaken requires multiple skills, judgement and experience. Teams can also be more flexible and responsive to change and due to the nature of a ‘team’ situation, they can facilitate employee participation in decision making.
So now that teams are an integral part of how businesses operate and achieve their goals, how do we ensure our teams are operating effectively? In addition, how do we objectively measure a team’s productivity?
The key components of making up effective teams cover four general categories – context, composition, work design and process:
All work teams rely on resources outside the group to sustain it. These resources can include having the right information when needed, the necessary equipment, adequate staffing, and administrative assistance.
Leadership and structure is also important as team members must agree on who is to do what and where possible ensure all members contribute equally. Before even starting the ‘assignment’ that the team has been assembled to work on, the team needs to determine when they will meet, what skills need to be developed, how the group will resolve conflict and how it will make and modify decisions.
Team members must trust each other and their leader. This facilitates cooperation, reduces the need to monitor other’s behaviour, bonds members and encourages them to be willing to accept and commit to the leader’s goals and decisions.
Individual-oriented performance evaluation and reward systems must be modified to reflect team performance e.g. group-based appraisals and small-group incentives.
Three different types of skills are required for a team to perform effectively – technical expertise, problem solving and decision making ability, and interpersonal skills.
Teams that are higher in levels of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience and emotional stability tend to perform better. People should be selected for a team to ensure that all the various role ‘types’ are filled. Individuals often play multiple roles and managers need to understand the individual strengths that each person can bring to a team.
When a team is diverse in terms of personality, gender, age, education, functional specialisation and experience there is an increased probability that it will perform more effectively.
The most effective teams have fewer than ten members which prevents group think (i.e. agreeing with the consensus rather than putting your true thoughts forward) and mutual accountability, and eases coordinating efforts when time pressure is present. Effective teams have members who can complete each other’s tasks if necessary, making it less reliant on any single member. High performing teams are likely to be composed of people who prefer working as part of a group.
Effective teams need to work together and take collective responsibility to complete significant tasks. This requires the opportunity to use different skills and talents, the ability to complete a whole and identifiable task or product, and working on a task or project that has a substantial impact on others.
Effective teams have a common and meaningful purpose that provides direction, momentum and commitment for members. Translating a team’s common purpose into specific, measurable and realistic performance goals makes for a more successful team. Effective teams have confidence in themselves. Teams that have been successful before tend to feel positive about their future success.
Conflict can actually improve team effectiveness as long as it is disagreement over task content rather than relationship conflict, the latter is most often dysfunctional and not conducive to team effectiveness. Sometimes individuals can hide inside a group and effective teams undermine this tendency by holding themselves accountable at both the individual and team level.
Teams differ in form and structure and the purpose for which they were formed in the first place. The extensive use of teams creates the potential for an organisation to generate greater outputs with no increase in inputs. The key word here being ‘potential’. There is nothing inherently magical in the creation of teams that ensures the achievement of this positive synergy, but ensuring the elements detailed above are incorporated when setting up a team will go a long way to ensuring its effectiveness.
To really get the best from a team situation, take time to consider what you want as an end result and the specific expectations that you have for the team that you are engaging to achieve your goal. When considering building teams (long term or short term), think about whether the task/project is better suited to a team or an individual; think about the composition of your team – what skills, experience, knowledge and abilities would be needed for the group?; focus on the personalities of the proposed team, will they be able to function well or will dominant individual’s take over?; and determine how you will measure the success of the group, what accountabilities will you put in place? Finally, how will you reward the team based on their achievement of your desired goal?