vii) Teams - Useful Technique in the Transition Process


Today teamwork has become a catch-phrase for almost every kind of management that seeks to differentiate itself from the hierarchical, "command and control" variety

Organisations seek the greater creativity and productivity that teams offer, individual employees want to be treated as team members, rather than as mere staff. Yet few teams live up to their potential.

An effective team requires 3 essential elements (commitment, competency and a common goal)

1 Commitment

The essence of a team is shared dedication to the achievement of specific performance goals. Commitment comes from a shared sense of ownership of what the team hopes to accomplish. Teams that arise from the minds of senior managers rarely elicit extraordinary performance from people.

But how do you know when a team has real commitment, instead of just paying lip service to unrealistic goals? Analysing the language used by team members can help to uncover whether true commitment exists. Authentic commitment may be missing, for example, when team members use the passive voice or third person pronouns to describe what they're doing, such as

"...that objective has yet to be realised..."

" will get that new product out this year..."

Another sign of trouble is the use of vague identifiers to describe people, such as

" wants us to do this..."

When team members are generally committed, they reflect this fact by a personalised language that they use, eg

"Kerry's really happy with what we've done so far!"

In contrast, when

" members talk as "I", "My" and "Yours", and not "We" and "Ours"..."

A problem is being reflected. On the other hand, any team member's problem should be regarded as a whole team problem with everyone willing to help to solve it.

Use of a "team talk audit", that involves helping a team to understand itself better by monitoring the language it uses, can help reduce misunderstanding caused by differences.

Commitment to a team tends to decrease as the number of people in the team increases. Ideally the number of participants is 10 or fewer.

Commitment tends to increase with co-location ‐ having team members working in the same geographic place, ie shared space, and the importance of physical contact (face to face) as against relying on the technology (such as media conferencing and Email).

Another way to build commitment is by allocating rewards and recognition based on the team's effort and not on individual performance.

2 Competence

The core competencies of team members are a critical determinant of how effective a team can be. Too many organisations make the mistake of basing membership not on skills, but on formal titles or the position someone holds in the organisation.

There are 3 sets of skills or competencies required for a team to succeed

. Technical - do the sales staff understand their customers?

. Problem-solving - lateral and creative thinking so that thinking outside the "box" occurs

. Interpersonal - able to communicate the insights from, for example, a technical background to members from other disciplines and contribute positively to a joint effort

There is a misconception that effective teams are characterised by "chumminess". Teams with diversely competent members embrace conflict as the price of synergy and set good ideas against good ideas to arrive at the best. This can be highlighted by considering: compromise is a proposition that 1 + 1 =1.5, while synergy is a proposition that 1 + 1 = 3

3 A common goal

Teams need to have a common purpose which focuses on the particular work they share. A team's goal is different from the organisation's mission and the sum of individual job objectives.

Even though management can help with the direction, the teams need to spend much time, etc agreeing on a purpose that belongs to them both collectively and individually, ie shared. This purpose must be measurable and attainable and should require roughly equivalent amounts of work from all team members.

(source: Harvard Management Updates, 1996-1999)


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