Working in a Team

Working in a Team

A team is considered to be a group of individuals who come closer for working together for achieving a common goal. In an organization team is understood as group of employees who has some collective tasks. The team members in such a team normally are authorized to regulate mutually the execution of these collective tasks. Teamwork is essential in today’s competitive world. In today’s corporate world individual perfection is not as desirable as a high collective performance level. In knowledge based organizations, teams are the norm today.

Teamwork

Teamwork is a set of activities of the group of individuals, which includes effective communication/interaction amongst the team members for knowledge sharing, understanding each other on personal level, helping others in achieving a level of perfection, building a sense of unity in the team and working towards common objectives. It is difficult to arrive at a single definition of teamwork. Several concepts exist and researchers in the field differ in their view of what teamwork actually means.

Teamwork is generally defined as a cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons working together for a selfless purpose and acting together as a team in the interest of a common cause and working for a higher cause. Teamwork is also defined as a joint action by a group of people, in which each person subordinates his or her individual interests and opinions to the unity and efficiency of the group. This does not mean that the individual is no longer important. But effective and efficient teamwork goes beyond individual accomplishments. An effective teamwork is produced when all the individuals involved harmonize their contributions.

Teamwork is the co-operative effort to achieve a common goal. Achievement is usually measured by some kind of performance indicator (eg: customer satisfaction, sales growth). It is different than the group work which is defined by a common task needing interdependent work and successive or integrative action. When group members change their behaviour then they form a team and their performance improves. A distinctive feature of teamwork at an assembly line is successive work actions to assemble different parts of a product. On the other hand, where the goal is to improve the production process, teamwork is much more about complexity, communication and integrative work.

Various organizations use teams for wide purposes such as quality circles, cross functional teams, self managing teams and so on. Many times teams are made to achieve specific tasks. Organizations also provide these teams with varying degrees of autonomy.

Today there is no organization that does not talk about the need and value of teamwork in the workplace. Applied to workplaces, teamwork is a method that aligns employee’s mindset in a cooperative and usually selfless manner, towards a specific purpose. While the concept of teamwork and its benefits are well known, it is rare to see it being practiced truly in reality. It is often noticed that what appears outwardly as teamwork, is not really teamwork.

In order for teamwork to succeed everyone in the team is be a team player. A team player is one who subordinates personal aspirations and works in a coordinated effort with other members of the team for the purpose of achieving a common goal. Organizations often spend resources on team building exercises in an attempt to get employees to work as a team rather than as individuals.

Skills needed for teamwork

Apart from needed technical knowledge, a wide range of following skills is needed for successful teamwork.

  • Listening – It is important to listen to other team member’s ideas. When team members are allowed to express freely then their initial ideas produce more ideas.
  • Discussing- Discussion of the ideas with team members is important until agreement is reached.
  • Questioning – It is important to ask questions, interact, and discuss the objectives of the team.
  • Persuading – While working in a team, individuals are encouraged to exchange, defend and rethink their ideas.
  • Respecting – For success, it is important to treat other team members with respect and to support their ideas.
  • Helping – It is crucial to help other team members, which is also the normal theme of the teamwork.
  • Sharing – It is necessary to share the information and other details with the team members in order to create an environment for teamwork.
  • Participating – For successful achievement of the goals, all the members of a team are to actively participate in the activities of the team.
  • Communication – In order to work effectively, it is essential that team members acquire good communication skills and use effective communication channels between one another.

As size of the teams grows larger, the skills and methods that people require need change since more ideas comes into play within the team. Organizations are to adopt and maintain a spirit of teamwork change. The intimacy of a small group is lost, and the opportunity for misinformation and rumors grows. Organizations find that communication methods that once worked well are now impractical with larger teams.

Team role analysis

Team role analysis approach is needed for effectiveness of the teams in solving problems. However team roles are not designed for high stake decisions. There are nine team roles for the teams to function effectively:

  • Coordinator- Coordinator has a clear view of the team objectives and has skills to get the contribution of team members for the achievement of these objectives. The coordinator is not only to be self disciplined but also he has to apply this discipline to the team members. Coordinator is usually confident and mature and is prepared to take decisions on the basis of views of the team members.
  • Shaper- Shaper is full of drive for making things to happen and ensures that things are moving forward. He pushes his own views, does not mind being challenged and is always ready to challenge others. The shaper studies the pattern of discussions in the team and tries to pull things together into something feasible which the team can get to work on.
  • Plant- This team member is the most likely to come out with original ideas and challenge the traditional way of thinking. He sometimes becomes so imaginative and creative that the team cannot see the relevance of what he is saying. However without his new ideas the team often finds it difficult to make headway. The plant’s strength is in providing major new insights for changes in the direction and not in contributing to the details of what is needed to be done.
  • Resource investigator- This team member is with the strongest contacts and networks, and is excellent at bringing in information and support from the outside. He can be very enthusiastic in pursuit of the team’s goals, but cannot always sustain this enthusiasm.
  • Implementer- The implementer is well organized and effective at turning big ideas into manageable tasks and plans that can be achieved. He is both logical and disciplined in his approach. He is hardworking and methodical but may have some difficulty in being flexible.
  • Team worker- The team worker is most aware of the others in the team, their needs and their concerns. He is sensitive and supportive of other member’s efforts, and tries to promote harmony and reduce conflict. Team workers are particularly important when the team is experiencing a stressful or difficult period.
  • Completer finisher- Completer finisher is a perfectionist and often goes extra mile to make sure everything is right. Things he delivers can be trusted to have been double checked. Completer finisher has a strong inward sense for accuracy, rarely needing any encouragement from others because his own high standards are what he tries to live up to. He may frustrate the teammates by worrying excessively about minor details and by refusing to delegate tasks.
  • Monitor evaluator- Monitor evaluator is good at seeing all the options. He has a strategic perspective and can judge situations accurately. He can be overcritical and is not usually good at inspiring and encouraging others.
  • Specialist- Specialist provides the skills and knowledge and has a dedicated and single minded approach. He adopts very narrow perspective and sometimes fails to see the whole picture.

Team building

Team building or team development is a coverall term given to the methods for developing an effective team. The methods of doing this vary widely and include:

  • Simple social activities – To encourage team members to spend time together.
  • Group bonding sessions – Activities sponsored by the organization for team members to know each other.
  • Personal development activities – Personal change applied on team members, sometimes physically challenging.
  • Team development activities – Group dynamic games designed to reveal how individuals approach a problem and how the team works together.
  • Psychological analysis of team roles, and training in how to work better together.

Team building activity is normally between the theory and practice of organizational development. Good teamwork does not necessarily require good interpersonal relationships or friendships. Rather what is required is behaviour that results in better team performance. A successful way of improving teamwork is to apply the principles of performance management to the group’s behaviour. This involves the following basic steps:

  • Identifying what teamwork behaviour will lead to better performance (the target behaviour).
  • Assessing which teamwork behaviour is currently being used (the current behaviour).
  • Undertaking a gap analysis between target and current teamwork behaviour, and taking action to bring current teamwork behaviour closer to the target behaviour.

The target behaviour varies from team to team. For example, the behaviour that leads to success for the control room of a blast furnace is very different to that of an advertising agency; the former needs to follow the procedures, whilst the latter has to be continually creative. The target teamwork behaviour is to be collected from the team members, peer groups, staff, customers, senior management and others who can provide their views on what can make the team successful. This information enables the team to:

  • Identify and manage conflicting expectations of them.
  • Take a wide perspective when setting behavioural goals for themselves, which should improve the quality of those goals.
  • Facilitate a dialogue within the team and with others outside the team on how to improve performance.

Current behaviours are influenced by the following factors:

  • The organisational culture
  • The preferences of team members
  • Current circumstances
  • Feedback from people outside the team
  • And many other factors

One way to identify current behaviours is by identifying the roles the team members are currently performing which can be aggregated to show the collective team behaviours. Once the target and current behaviours have been identified, the team members need to work out how to change their current behaviours to be more in line with the target. This involves assessing the behavioural gap and producing an action plan for the team to implement. In industry, the use of small teams is rapidly becoming seen as a panacea leading to certain success.  Following are some of the basic points that are to be taken care of by the team members:

  • Roles and responsibilities- Each team member is to understand that he carries certain responsibilities. His role is important in keeping the high spirit of the team, in helping the team in its forward march and in resolving any problem that can hinder the progress of the team. The team member is to understand the tasks that need to be carried out in order to ensure smooth operation of the team. He is also to hold himself responsible for the things that go wrong with/within the team and is to take necessary steps to avoid such situations.
  • Common goals and objectives- Each team member is to be aware of the objectives and common goals that are to be achieved. He has to always try to achieve the same.
  • Communication and interaction- This important point can help in bringing out a solution to any problem the team may face. Effective communication is very important amongst the team members. The team member must be able to communicate his views effectively to the other team members. Interaction between the team members helps bringing them close on emotional level and also helps in creating bonds between the team members so that the team members look at the team as a family.
  • Leader-Though all the team members in the team are capable and can handle a group, yet if every team member starts thinking that he is the leader and starts taking decisions then only confusion will prevail. Hence the team members are to come together and decide objectively the team leader. In turn the team leader, who has decision taking power, consults the team members before taking important decisions. The leader must welcome a good advise and clear any doubt in the mind of a team member. The team members are to obey the decisions taken by the leader.
  • Trust among team members- The success of a team depends on the level of mutual trust amongst the team members. Each member is to think about the team’s advantage first and then to think of himself.

Difference between a team and a group

The success of a team depends on the intellectual level of team members and their understanding. In fact none of us is as strong as all of us. Not all groups in an organization are teams, but all teams are groups. The difference between a team and a group is that a team is interdependent for overall performance. A group qualifies as a team only if its members focus on helping one another to accomplish organizational objectives. An organization is to recognize the differences between an individual working as part of a group and an individual working as part of a team. An individual working in a team has the following attributes:

  1. Individual works interdependently and works towards both personal and team goals since these goals are achieved better by mutual support.
  2. Individual feels sense of ownership towards his role in the team since as a team member he has committed himself to the team goals.
  3. Individual collaborates with team members and uses his talent and experience to contribute to the success of the team’s objectives.
  4. Individual relies on trust and encourages all team members to express their opinions, varying views, and questions.
  5. Individual makes a conscious effort to be honest, respectful, and listens to the point of view other team member.
  6. Individual is encouraged to offer his skills and knowledge, and thus each team member is able to contribute to the team’s success.
  7. Individual sees conflict as a part of human nature and he reacts to it by treating it as an opportunity to get new ideas and opinions. All team members desire to resolve problems constructively.
  8. Individual participates equally in the decision making process and team members understand that the team leader has to make the final decision if the team does not come to a consensus.

On the other hand an individual working in a group has the following attributes:

  1. Individual work independently and he is not normally working towards the goal of the organization.
  2. Individual concentrates on himself since he is not involved in the planning of the objectives and goals of his group.
  3. Individual is given his tasks or told what his duties/jobs are and suggestions are normally not welcomed.
  4. Individual is cautious about what he is to say and is afraid to ask questions since he is not fully aware what is happening in his group.
  5. Individual does not trust other’s motives because he is not aware of the role other members play in the group.
  6. Individual may have a lot to contribute but is held back because of closed relationship with other group members.
  7. Individual is worried by differing opinions and disagreements because he considers it as threat. There is no group support for resolving of the problems.
  8. Individual may or may not participate in group decision making process, and conformity is valued more than positive results.

In today’s quickly changing environment, teams have emerged as a requirement for organization success. Therefore the successful organizations constantly try to help groups become teams and facilitate the evolution of groups into teams.

Characteristics of an effective team

The following are the eight characteristics of an effective team:

  • Clear goal – Team goals must be for a specific performance objective and must be expressed in a manner that everyone knows when the objective has been met.
  • Result driven structure – The team is to be allowed to operate in a manner that produces results. It is always better to allow the team to develop its own structure.
  • Competent team members – The problem to be solved by the team must be such that the team members are in a position to tackle with their present knowledge base.
  • Unified commitment – Team members are to direct their efforts towards the team goal. If an individual’s effort is towards his personal objectives, then the team will confront this and resolve the problem.
  • Collaborative climate – It is a climate of trust produced by an honest, open, consistent and respectful behaviour. With this climate teams perform well and achieve success.
  • High standards – Team members are to know what is expected from them individually as well as collectively. Vague statements like positive attitude and demonstrated efforts etc. do not contribute towards team success.
  • External support and encouragement – Encouragement and praise motivate teams as it does with an individual.
  • Principled leadership- Team members are to be aware that the team leader is in the position because he deserves it. The team members are not supportive if they feel that the team leader forces himself above the team for achieving personal recognition or for getting benefitted from the position.

The characteristics of a good teamwork are shown in Fig 1

characteristics of a good teamwork

Fig 1 Characteristics of a good teamwork

Stages of team working

It is important to understand that teams just formed can not start working immediately together to accomplish great things. There are actually stages of team growth and teams must be given time to work through these stages and become effective. Team growth can be identified into four stages:

  • Stage 1 – This stage is known as ‘Forming’. When a team is in this stage, team members cautiously explore the boundaries of acceptable group behaviour. They also search for their position within the group and test the abilities of the leader to lead. During this stage team makes only small progress.
  • Stage 2 – This stage is known as ‘Storming’. Storming is the most difficult stage. Team members often become impatient about the lack of progress. They are still inexperienced to work as a team. In this stage they argue about the actions they are to take because they are faced with the ideas that are unfamiliar to them and which are outside their comfort zones. Much of their energy is concentrated on each other during this stage instead of achieving the desired goal.
  • Stage 3 – This stage is known as ‘Norming’. In this stage team members accept the team during and begin to reconcile the differences. Emotional conflict is reduced as relationships become more cooperative. The team is able to concentrate more on their work and start to make significant progress.
  • Stage 4 – This stage is known as ‘Performing’. By the time this stage is reached, the team members have discovered and accepted each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and learned what their roles are. They are open and trusting other members and hence many good ideas are produced because they are not afraid to offer ideas and suggestions. They are comfortable using decision making tools to evaluate the ideas, prioritize tasks and solve problems. Much is accomplished at this stage and team satisfaction and loyalty is high.