Teams in the Workplace: What exactly is a team?
A team, as a noun, is defined variously as a group of ‘players’ or participants who form one side in a competition or sport; or as a group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project. As a verb, the word team means to come together to achieve a common goal. The key to all definitions is that a team will share a common purpose or goal to which everyone is committed.
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The development of teams can be a complicated business. Theorists tend to talk about the formation of teams as though all teams are put together from new, and yet in most cases, teams in the workplace are already in existence and new managers inherit them. Belbin for example, famously described nine roles that he believed contribute to a successful team. If as a manager it was possible to create a workplace team from scratch, Belbin’s model would be an excellent place to start. A manager could choose the roles they desired and search for the people who fitted those roles. Unfortunately, for the manager inheriting a ready-made team, there is little opportunity to newly blend these roles with fresh personalities and different strengths.
Nonetheless, it is vital to bear in mind that every team needs synergy and the manager must work towards that. Synergy comes about when the team is greater as a whole than the sum of its parts. The manager, and the team as a whole, needs to capitalise on existing strengths and skills within the group and minimise the negatives, by delegating, coaching, mentoring and training. Everyone in the team should be encouraged to get involved in up-skilling, reskilling, cross-skilling and multiskilling.
Teams in the workplace need common goals and aspirations and it is the manager’s job to oversee the formation of these, and to encourage communication and co-operation to those ends. The team could be encouraged to create a charter that will clarify assumptions and expectations, articulate codes of conduct and ensure that the goals are transparent, achievable and yet challenging.
As teams in the workplace evolve it becomes necessary to avoid the problem of ‘groupthink’. Groupthink occurs where dominant members overshadow others, and silent members are assumed to give consent when this may not be the case. Stronger members of a team can be overbearing and exert pressure on others. Elsewhere if a team has been largely successful they may become complacent and assume they are making the right decisions without fully exploring all possible solutions to a problem including the advantages and disadvantages.
Motivating teams in the workplace
Too many times people are put together as a team, but in reality they often remain a group of individuals, simply bound by the fact that they are managed by the same individual or share an office. Sharing an office does not a team make.
However, conflict should be allowed as long as it can be handled constructively by the team itself. It is important not to let conflict fester uncontrolled. Depending on your leadership style you could allow the teams to look at conflict themselves and address the issues that come up. Allowing the team to negotiate and compromise in an open forum will motivate them and help them accept responsibility and accountability for the challenges they are facing. It may also improve group cohesion and reduce hidden sources of stress. Teams do need to feel that they can exert some influence or they will rapidly lose interest and become demotivated.
What makes a team great?
The main benefit of having a great team in the workplace is that it does away with overt management and allows an organisation to have a leaner, flatter and more democratic style of leadership. Used in the right way teams ensure that members feel empowered, because they are more involved in what is going on.
Within teams, individuals who are encouraged to be open, honest and value the opinions of others, will be readily able to bounce ideas off each other, and this will facilitate greater creativity and innovation. In order to reach this stage, a team needs to really work at being flexible and responsive and to respect others. This should be supported by the policies and procedures of the organisation at large of course, and every team should have ample access to the skills and resources it requires to do the job properly. All members of the team should be accepted and accepting, and the manager should nurture a warm environment where people can be themselves.
A workplace team can be great if everyone takes it upon themselves to motivate develop and mentor other members of the team. Everyone has something to offer, and everyone, including the manager, has something they can learn. Learning should be an on-going process, something that is valued and positively encouraged, because the more knowledge team members have about different areas of the business, the more open and adaptable they will be new ideas and new methods of doing things. Every manager desires a team that will embrace the exploration of the unknown.
What makes a team poor?
A team in a workplace that undergoes numerous changes in either personnel or managers will always struggle to maintain cohesion and a sense of purpose. Tuckman and Jenson have described the process of ‘adjourning’ in their five stage theory of team development (forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning) as one where people mourn for the loss of a member. It is advisable to avoid this happening too frequently because it means the team has to go through the storming phase whenever a new member replaces one who has departed. The upshot is, of course, that you may end up with a team that is always in conflict and is never able to produce results because they cannot get to the performing stage.
Existing teams that have been highly effective and committed will not respond well to a new manager who has a directive or dictatorial style of management. Conversely, a brand new team may need more direction and guidance, so a new manager should consider his or her strategies carefully to avoid alienating a team in the early stages. The new manager should manage individuals as much as he or she manages ‘the team’ for the simple reason that all employees will respond in different ways and a one size fits all approach will rarely work. Individual members have differing needs: some may need more recognition than others, come may want to have their contribution recognised in different ways; all will want feedback and all will want to feel included, to be respected and safe.
The benefits of a good team in the workplace
The benefits of a fostering good teamwork in the workplace will vary individual to individual, team to team and throughout the wider organisation. Teams that work hard to build morale and who support each other through the highs and lows of business life are a positive boon to any workplace. Every team will differ in its make-up: its variety of personalities, characteristics, methods of working, knowledge and idea creation, but by having this variety and through celebrating and supporting this diversity, overall performance will improve exponentially.
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