Building Effective Teams

By Ranjit Singh Malhi, Ph.D.

Introduction

Organizations are increasingly becoming team-oriented in structure; teams are the waves of the future. Envisioning tomorrow’s organizations, Peter F. Drucker mentions three characteristics: fewer layers, information-based, and structured around teams.1 Teams typically outperform individuals when the tasks being done require multiple skills, judgement, and experience.2 The most popular types of teams are cross-functional and self-managed teams.

Effective managers demonstrate team leadership. As defined by William G. Dyer, “Team leadership is the welding of individuals of diverse backgrounds, experience, and personalities into a productive working group.”3

What is a Team?

A team is essentially a group of two or more individuals who work together to attain a common goal. The two major elements of teams are interdependence and shared goals. In the words of Glen M. Parker, “A team is a group of people with a high degree of interdependence geared toward the achievement of a goal or completion of a task.”4

Benefits of Teamwork

  • Enhances organizational productivity.
  • Enhances quality of decision making.
  • Builds up trust, sense of commitment and interdependence.
  • Aids establishment of positive norms for work behaviour.
  • Enhances creativity and innovation.
  • Increases employee motivation.
  • Facilitates handling of cross-departmental problems.

Types of Organizational Teams

  • Problem-Solving Teams. Problem-solving teams are groups of 5 to 12 employees from the same department who meet for a few hours each week to discuss ways of improving quality, efficiency and the work environment.5 A good example of problem-solving teams is the Quality Circle which was very popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Typically, problem solving teams have no power to implement changes or decisions; they make recommendations to upper management.
  • Cross-Functional Teams. Cross-functional teams are composed of employees from about the same hierarchical level, but from different functional units (e.g. marketing, finance, and human resources), who come together to accomplish a task. Cross-functional teams are based on assigned rather than voluntary membership.
  • Self-Managed Work Teams. Self-managed work teams are groups of employees (normally 10- 15) who are responsible for a process that delivers a product or service to an internal or external customer. Typically, self-managed work teams assume duties that used to be performed by their supervisors such as planning and scheduling of work, assigning tasks to members, making operating decisions, and taking action on problems. Fully self-managed teams set their own goals, prepare their own budgets, select their own members, and have the members evaluate each other’s performance.

10 Distinctive Attributes of a Productive Team

  1. Clear and shared goals. All members have a clear understanding of the common goals and are committed toward attaining them.
  2. Open and honest communication. Team members openly express their thought and feelings. There are no hidden agendas; everything is above board.
  3. Appropriate and shared leadership. The formal team leader has the skills and desire to develop a team approach and allocates time to team-building activities. Team members are given the opportunity to exercise leadership when their skills are appropriate to the circumstances and needs of the team.
  4. Role clarity. Roles and responsibilities of members are clearly designated.
  5. Mutual trust. Team members enjoy a climate of mutual trust, respect and cooperation.
  6. Sound operating procedures. A productive team has appropriate ground rules which specify how team members will behave, participate and interact, and how meetings should be conducted.
  7. Constructive conflict. Conflict is confronted in a direct, supportive and calm manner. Problem solving techniques are utilized to reach the best solution.
  8. Consensus Decisions. Decisions are based on careful evaluation of input from all members. The final decisions are accepted by all members of the team with no reservations.
  9. Suitable membership. Team members are individually qualified and contribute to the mix of skills and characteristics that provide an appropriate balance.6
  10. Periodic evaluation. Periodically, the productive team evaluates its own effectiveness.

Trust: A Key to Team Effectiveness

Teamwork is greatly dependent on trust. As stated by Dale E. Zand, trust is the key to establishing productive interpersonal relationships.7 Trust is essentially a belief in the integrity, character, or ability of others. The key dimensions of trust are integrity, competence, predictability (consistency), loyalty, and openness. Managers play a critical role in creating a climate of mutual trust. 

10 Tips on Building Trust

  1. Honour promises and be predictable. Do what you say you are going to do. 
  2. Maintain open and honest communication. Keep people informed of important decisions and policies related to their work; provide accurate feedback; explain the rationale for your decisions; and be candid about problems.
  3. Avoid formation of cliques or subgroups.
  4. Demonstrate technical and professional competence.
  5. Treat people with respect and fairness. Listen to others and act on their meaningful ideas. Avoid favouritism and give credit where it is due. Be objective and impartial in performance appraisals.
  6. Be open about your own mistakes and vulnerabilities.
  7. Show concern for subordinates as people. Be approachable and coach them towards enhancing their work performance.
  8. Encourage discussion of key problems and issues.
  9. Delegate responsibility with adequate authority.
  10. Ensure subordinates complete assignments within deadlines.

12 Guidelines on Building Effective Teams

  1. Decide on the type of team and get to know its members.
  2. Define the team’s purpose and goals. Establish challenging and realistic goals which are verifiable and time-limited.
  3. Involve team members in establishing goals, developing strategies and solving problems.
  4. Maintain concern for both task and social process.
  5. Facilitate establishment of good interpersonal relations among team members.
  6. Try to match tasks to team members’ strengths and interests.
  7. Encourage frank and open discussion. Don’t berate unconventional ideas. Share information fully.
  8. Emphasize facts over opinions.
  9. Clarify team members’ roles and responsibilities.
  10. Establish norms and standards of behaviour for the team such as honouring commitments, maintaining confidentiality, allowing disagreements, and helping out each other.
  11. Determine action plans to ensure successful attainment of the team’s goals.
  12. Share the limelight and reward team players. Acknowledge team results and give recognition to individual team-player contributions. Emphasize team-player skills as an important factor in the organization’s reward system.

Notes

1. Cited in Robert Kreitner, Management, 7th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998), p. 308 
2. Cited in Stephen P. Robbins, Organizational Behavior, 9th ed. (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2001), p. 257. 
3. Cited in William D. Hitt, The Leader-Manager: Guidelines for Action (Columbus, Ohio: Battelle Press, 1988), p. 68.
4. Glen M. Parker, Team Players and Teamwork: The New Competitive Business Strategy (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990), p.     16. 
5. Dave Francis and Don Young, Improving Work Groups: A Practical Manual for Team Building (San Diego, California: Pfeiffer &     Co., 1992), p. 47. 
6. Ibid. 
7. Cited in Kreitner, Management, p. 437. 


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