Tips on Team Building


Introduction

Teams are groups of individuals who need to work together to achieve shared objectives. Teams are everywhere: in work, sport, music and entertainment, the military, social life and, of course, the family. As society increases in complexity and we become more and more interdependent in every aspect of our lives, so the ability to work in teams becomes ever more important. In the world of work, managers like to see their staff demonstrating team work and Managing Directors sometimes go so far as to describe their entire organizations as teams. The spontaneous give and take found in good team working is crucial to organizational effectiveness because it is impossible to specify all the reciprocal needs and responsibilities of each person in the modern organization. The organization's ability to adapt and change depends increasingly upon the ability of people from its different parts to work effectively together in project teams across organizational boundaries. Individuals may find themselves working in many different types of teams, sometimes working in several simultaneously while maybe leading one and being a member of another.

 

It is very natural for humans to work in teams to accomplish the things which would otherwise be beyond them. We recognize and admire good team work and have a shared sense of the nature of team work that comes down to us particularly through sport and military examples. However, it is unfortunately very clear that teams often do not work effectively together and that team working does not develop automatically. Getting a group to work as a team can involve hard work. The ten team-working tips below are a checklist of actions a team leader can take to speed up team development and improve team effectiveness.

  1. Check first whether the group in question really needs to develop into a team or not.
    Some groups do not need to operate as teams. For example, a group of sales staff who cover different geographical areas may not need to be a team if they work in parallel and there is no interdependence between them. Team building will impose obligations upon them but yield few benefits. A second situation in which team building is pointless is when a group will work together for only a very short time. A third situation is when team building strengthens one team but damages performance because it weakens other teams, or draws people's loyalties to the team and away from the organization as a whole.

  2. Ensure the right people are in the group.
    As Belbin,i Mottram and their colleagues found, teams comprising gifted individuals are outperformed by teams of more modest abilities who work well together. Belbin argued that people's personalities equip them for different "Team Roles." This implies that team leaders should select team members with a range of personality types. In fact, getting the team composition right is so important that it is well worth considering using a psychometric test such as "Quintax"ii to aid team selection. If the team is already working together, much can be gained through team-building activities which show members each others' personality types and encourage them to develop working practices that build on their various preferences.

  3. Identify and neutralize forces which interfere with team working.
    Managers often inadvertently encourage competition between their own staff as well as against external competitors. Company values and promotion and remuneration policies which reward individual performance encourage individualism rather than team focus. But organizations, by definition, thrive on co-operation not competition, and the same applies to teams. The team leader needs to examine their behaviour to ensure it supports collective team performance and does not reinforce individualism.

  4. Ensure team members are genuinely free to contribute to the team.
    The leader of a team made up of members from different parts of the organization will need to ensure that team members' line managers fully understand and support their staff's involvement in the team. If line managers do not fully support their staff, team members' loyalties will be divided between their "day jobs" and their team commitments, and both will suffer.

  5. Provide training.
    Ensuring that individuals are properly trained tends to be seen as the responsibility of the line manager, not the team leader. However, leaders may need team members to possess skills beyond those identified as necessary by the line manager. So they will need to be prepared to organize whatever training is needed to enable members to deliver an effective contribution to the team.

  6. Build the Team - Level 1.
    If you are starting from scratch, organize a special team launch event for the team's first meeting together. This should focus on identifying the team's objectives, project planning, and encouraging members to get to know each other. In the Tuckmaniii model of "forming storming, norming, performing" this is the forming stage. Team leaders should also set aside time for re-forming when new members join the team. Occasions like this in which the team focus on themselves as a team are most productive if they are facilitated by someone outside the team. This enables the team leader to focus on the team and their role as its leader. Too many project and other teams are expected to hit the ground running without having time to focus on themselves.

  7. Build the Team - Level 2.
    The next level of team building is to create the team's operating procedures. Teams have different tasks and therefore need to determine the right procedures for handling such matters as the allocation of tasks, communication outside team meetings, conduct of meetings and discipline. This last item - discipline - should not be ignored.In the team context it refers to issues such as breaking promises made to the team, the provision of misinformation and undermining the work of the team. Agreeing a team contract covering what is acceptable and what is unacceptable is a useful contribution.

  8. Build the Team - Level 3.
    The third level of team building is to take advantage of the diversity within the team by helping members to get to know each other better and align the way the team operates to the strengths, preferences and values of each member. Psychometric questionnaires help members to get to know each other better. They are also invaluable because they provide a non-judgemental vocabulary for describing behaviour. This makes it easier for team members to begin to give each other feedback about the things they value and the things they would like others to do differently.

  9. Build the Team - Level 4.
    Identify and address the performance issues. Team performance can be damaged by many issues such as poor communication, poor decision-making, rivalry, disloyalty and reluctance to air disagreements. Teams and their leaders often put up with these issues rather than face up to them. This may be the choice of comfort but it means they are settling for mediocre rather than high performance. It also means they are missing an opportunity to develop themselves as individuals. Moreover their colleagues in the wider organization are suffering from their mediocre performance. The team leader should not allow this.

  10. Keep the focus on performance.
    The most effective teams keep working to improve their performance. They do this principally by reviewing their performance regularly and by changing what they do. The team leader should seek feedback from the group about their leadership, and should promote a climate in which team members give each other feedback. The leader should also seek regular feedback from the team's customers. Teams can create their own questionnaires for evaluating their performance regularly, or they can adopt one of the many team-review questionnaires on the Internet.

Teamwork makes demands on individuals but can contribute much in the way of support and development. Team members and team leaders can both benefit from teambuilding development opportunities. If we can help with your team building needs or any other associated area, please contact us on 01706 659299.


i Management Teams: Why they Succeed and Fail. Belbin, R Meredith, 1991.
ii For information about Quintax, refer to www.sr-associates.com.
iii Tuckman, B.W. "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups," Psychological Bulletin, vol. 63, 1965, pp. 384-399.