Developing Team Working Skills

Team leaders and team members alike need to have a clear understanding of and ability in applying the skills and behaviours required for effective team working. Knowledge which can be useful to teams in managing their team working effectiveness includes:

  • the behaviours which are a help or hindrance to the team when working together
  • planning and problem solving tools and techniques.

Helpful and problem behaviours in teams

Problem behaviours are those behaviours which:

  • create conflict or ill feeling within the team
  • undermine or devalue the efforts and contributions of some team members
  • are counterproductive to the efforts of the team in working together

Helpful behaviours on the other hand are those behaviours which:

  • contribute to overall team effectiveness
  • reinforce and enhance relationships within the team
  • support and encourage full co-operation and participation between team members.

Team members can find it useful when they are given an opportunity constructively to articulate what they find helpful or problematic about their team's overall behaviour. The following exercise provides a useful framework around which to build team discussion of helpful and problem behaviours:

1. Ask team members individually to think through and write down answers to four key questions:

  1. Which behaviours within the team have caused a problem for you?
  2. In what ways do these behaviours act as a barrier to your effective involvement in team working?
  3. Which behaviours within the team have you found helpful?
  4. In what ways do the se behaviours enable your effective involvement in team working?

2. Draw the team together and ask individuals, in turn, to volunteer some of the helpful and problem behaviours which they have listed, and to explain their effects. Emphasize that it is important for all team members to:

  • stick to facts and effects, i.e., what was observed and its impact, rather than what it inferred and how they felt about it;
  • listen openly and objectively to each others' views.

3. Draw the information given together to identify those helpful and problem behaviours which have the most significant impact on the team, and which therefore need to be most actively encouraged or discouraged.

Exposing and discussing the problem behaviours as a team can lead to a consensus and agreement on some 'ground rules' for how team members will interact with one another. Discussing the helpful behaviours is also useful, in that it helps team members to understand what is actually happening between them, when things are going well. This knowledge can be beneficial, in that it enhances the team's ability to interpret and respond to problems in team working relationships, when these occur.

Planning and problem solving in teams

Teams of individuals working together need to have highly developed planning and problem solving capability. This is particularly true of teams which have been brought together to work on specific projects or to manage specific initiatives. There is a wide range of project planning tools and techniques for teams to draw on. Specific training inputs in relation to these tools and techniques might usefully include:

  • case studies and worked examples
  • opportunities to practice using fictional scenarios
  • coached tasks and assignments.

See more on this topic in: Tips and Tools, Volume 3, Issue 6, Training in Managing Small to Medium Sized Projects.

Problem solving tools are equally abundant. Those in most frequent use for team problem solving include:

  • brainstorming;
  • forcefield analysis;
  • process flowcharting;
  • pareto analysis;
  • fishbone or 'cause- effect' diagram.

Again, ability to use these tools can be developed through demonstration, coaching and guided practice.

Team working analysis and diagnosis

Development of team working skills - particularly when related to specific teams in an operational context - will need to be based around a clear understanding of the team's specific characteristics and tendencies. This understanding informs the direction and content of any training inputs, making them relevant to the team and its situation. One approach which can be useful is to 'canvass' individual team members for their personal views and opinions on different aspects of their team's performance. Individuals can be asked to complete and return a questionnaire about their team. Responses can be analysed to create a whole-team perspective of the team and how effectively it performs. Findings from this analysis can be presented as an introduction to planned team development activities.

A suggested list of questions is shown below:

  • How well does your team clarify and demonstrate its understanding of shared team goals?
  • How much trust and openness is there within your team?
  • How well do team members listen to each other?
  • How much attention is paid to process (i.e., the way in which team members interact with each other)?
  • How is the team leadership managed?
  • How are team decisions made?
  • How fully do team members participate?
  • To what extent do team members seem to feel to belong to the team?

The better a team scores against each question, the better it is performing. Team development needs can be prioritized and targeted to those areas in which the team is perceived to score least well. Questionnaires such as the one shown above are also a useful way to analyse the extent to which a team might actually benefit from some fort of development activity. A key aspect of any training and development activity should be its perceived link to an identified development need. Where questionnaires and surveys reveal teams to be performing fairly well, there is a question mark over whether any significant investment in team building and/or team working development would actually be worthwhile. Analysis of survey results can, at the very least, provide training professionals with a clear rationale for any team development activity which they may be planning. Team observation is another practical method for analysing and diagnosing the development needs of any specific team. Teams may request training professionals in their internal consultant role to observe them in action and to give feedback to inform their development.

Observation exercises of this kind can be based around:

  • real team situations such as meetings or problem solving discussions, in which the whole team have a role to play;
  • team tasks designed by the observer, e.g., creating a specific object using a range of materials; moving the team as a unit from point A to point B (often used in outdoor team development activities), solving a particular problem, etc.

Analysis of the team's performance can be further enhanced by combining observation exercises with completion of team questionnaires, such as that shown above. This helps to give a well rounded perception of the team's performance, with both internal and external views being taken into account as part of the overall data used to determine the team's development needs.

For more information...

DBA regularly runs workshops on team working skills for a number of key organizations. If you would like advice about team training in your organization, please get in touch to see how we can help. You can contact us by post, telephone, fax or by e-mail.

© DBA 1998