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Effective teams: The keys to great Organizations

July 14th, 2020
Business Analysis

Effective teams: The keys to great Organizations

July 14th, 2020
Business Analysis

What makes a team most effective

Effective teams are the key to great organizations. This is especially true in business, where teamwork merges individual talent into something greater than the sum of its parts, enabling common people to attain uncommon results in the words of US industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Manufacturing companies in Europe and the US began to explore the idea of teamwork in the 1960s and 1970s, in response to the success of Japanese team-based working methods such as kaizen (staff are responsible for a company’s continuous improvement) and quality circles (groups of staff tasked with improving quality). In the 1980s, as many companies adopted “total quality management” (organization-wide quality), teamwork began to spread beyond its genesis in manufacturing. Today, it would be rare to find an organization, of any type or size that did not value teamwork. Today we want to talk about teamwork and important elements of that, stay with us.

The benefits of teamwork

Teamwork has been credited with bringing about substantial reductions in absenteeism, lower staff turnover, significant increases in profit, and improved job satisfaction. In Honeywell’s commercial flight division in Minneapolis, for example, teamwork was credited with achieving an 80 percent market share in flight and navigation systems—and for generating profits that were 200 percent higher than projections. Teams succeed because they provide an environment where weaknesses can be balanced out and individual strengths multiplied. Teams also safeguard against individual shortcomings, such as underperformance and personal agendas. Projects are more likely to stay on track when peers support each other and review each other’s and the team’s work. Teams also create an environment that most people enjoy. The security of a group makes each individual feel less exposed and, in turn, more likely to take risks, be more creative, and therefore be better able to perform.

Storming and norming

Effective teams take time to develop. It is rare that a group of people can come together and begin to perform immediately; most teams go through a series of stages before effectiveness is achieved. Bruce Tuckman, a US professor of educational psychology, described these stages as forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. During forming, the group comes together, and members get to know each other. It then moves into a storming stage, where members challenge each other for coveted group roles, and group processes begin to emerge through trial and error. The middle stage—norming—marks a period of calm, where agreement is reached on roles, processes, and group norms. By the fourth stage, members have become familiar with each other, with their roles, and with the processes involved.  At this stage, team performance hits its most effective level.

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Once their work is done, the group moves to adjourning or disbanding. Businesses are eager for teams to move quickly through the early stages, reaching “performing” as soon as possible. This is why companies invest so much in teambuilding activities, where teams face and solve artificial challenges, often in a different environment. Many companies also use the architecture of their building to encourage team interaction. For example, at Pixar, the movie animation studio based in California, the cafeteria, meeting rooms, employee mailboxes, and bathrooms are located around a centralized atrium designed for collaborative working. The building design and layout encourages members of teams to meet and interact with one another, even when they are based in different departments within the company. Research has shown that teambuilding activities and collaborative workspaces help to improve teamwork because the most effective teams are those where members trust one another, share a strong sense of group identity, and have confidence in their effectiveness as a team.

Effective team building

In 2005, US researchers Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith identified a series of factors that seem to be essential for effective teamwork. First, team members must be chosen for their skills, not their personality. The team then needs to get off to a good start; setting the right tone is essential. The tone should not be too casual—teams perform better when challenged, so a sense of urgency needs to be imparted. The team should agree on clear rules for group behavior and norms, and meet often, both formally and informally. If possible, the team should be allowed to enjoy some early success; a few easy wins early on have been found to boost performance later. Likewise, the group—and its individual members—need to be lavished with praise. Continuing motivation is encouraged by new challenges since they help to keep the work fresh and engaging.

Team roletalentweakness
plantCreative, unconventional thinker who excels at solving problemsNot good at managing (or communicating with) less creative people
Resource investigatorCommunicative extrovert who develops contacts and explores opportunitiesLoses interest once initial enthusiasm has passed
CoordinatorMature, confident person who is able to clarify goals and promote decision makingCan be manipulative and appear aloof
ShaperDynamic, outgoing, highly strung person who will challenge, pressure, and find ways around obstaclesProne to provocation and short-lived bursts of temper
Monitor/ evaluatorSober, strategic, discerning person able to see and judge options objectivelyLacks drive and ability to inspire others
Team workerSocial, mild, perceptive and accommodating, this teamworker averts frictionIndecisive in crunch situations
ImplementerDisciplined, reliable, conservative, efficient person who can turn ideas into practical actionsSomewhat inflexible, slow to respond to new possibilities
Completer/ finisherPainstaking, conscientious person who is always able to meet deadlinesInclined to worry unduly, reluctant to delegate
SpecialistSingle-minded, dedicated self-starter who brings knowledge or technical skills that are in rare supplyContributes only on a narrow front

Successful roles in teams

Individuals offer different talents and attributes, and these need to be taken into account when putting together teams. UK management theorist Meredith Belbin claims there are nine distinct roles within a team that are essential to team success, and that the key to a well-organized team is balance. For example, Belbin found that teams without Plants (creative, unconventional thinkers) struggle to come up with ideas; but if there are too many Plants, idea generation starts to take precedence over action. Similarly, if there is no Shaper (a dynamic, driven person who pushes the group toward decisions), teams lack drive and direction. But in a team with too many Shapers, arguments occur frequently and will lower morale. Now an established business tool, the Belbin Team Inventory is frequently used by companies to maximize team effectiveness. However, many companies make the mistake of using it after teams have been formed; to work successfully, it must be used before creating a team.

Managing talent in teams

Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United, one of the world’s best-known soccer teams, is a master of building winning teams over and again, and his methods can be applied to the business environment. His team was bonded by a strong sense of shared mission—a desire to win. Players were cohesive on the field, because Ferguson demanded cohesiveness off the field. An exceptional team culture ran through the veins of every player and every staff member. Ferguson realized the value of positive group norms. He was, for example, one of the first managers to ban the consumption of alcohol. Moreover, alongside a host of team-building activities—quizzes on the team bus, for example—he demanded ferocious loyalty. Players could expect unfailing public support from Ferguson and the team. Equally, players were expected to observe a code of media silence in regard to teammates. Anyone breaching this team ethic was quickly ousted. Team management often involves dealing with large egos and highly talented people. Ferguson recognized that it was folly to rein in significant talent—players Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo were both encouraged to express their soccer-playing flair—but he also transferred highly skilled players who felt themselves to be more important than the team. Talent management is a source of frustration for many executives.

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