As Computers Express Ltd. moves into a new phase of growth and expansion, we believe it is important that every member of our staff become familiar with team concepts. Team-working is a critical part of what not only made this company what it is, but also what continues to drive our progress forward. As you will be working together on various upcoming projects over the 12 months and beyond, we want you to understand every facet of team-working and why it is necessary to help us achieve our goals. To use a recent sporting analogy, you only have to look at Leicester City’s accomplishment last year in winning the Premier League title to see the power of good teamwork.
Individually they were not the most talented team in the league. Far from it, in fact, yet collectively they forged a spirit of camaraderie and collaboration, a perfect chemistry, that was irresistible and impossible for their opponents to deal with. Sometimes the pieces just fit, and we at Computers Express are continually striving to find the right combination of these pieces so that we too may continue to thrive and evolve as an organisation.
A team is a group of two or more people who work together for a common objective, bringing their own unique perspectives and skillsets together in order to achieve that objective. They are distinct from a group, which is simply a gathering of people with no unified purpose. Teamwork within an organisation is crucial because it creates a certain synergy, whereby individual limitations can be transcended and a collective sum achieved which is greater than the team members could ever manage by themselves. The team collaborate in a spirit of inter-dependence while functioning in specific roles. Creativity is encouraged, ideas are generated and problems are solved. While individual skills and qualities are highly valued, individualism is not, as commitment and contribution to the team ethic is all that counts.
Another of the benefits of team-working within organisations is that it tends to foster strong bonds between employees, which in turn promotes high morale and better communication in the workplace. This can only be beneficial for an organisation’s productivity. The following are 5 advantages of working within a team, followed by 5 disadvantages.
(1) They say a camel is a horse designed by committee, but in most cases the collective makes better decisions than the individual. Individual members don’t even necessarily have to be all that smart or knowledgeable to collectively reach a wise conclusion. When the individual members are highly competent and the conditions are right, there is potential for outstanding results. However, in his book, “The Wisdom of Crowds”, James Surowiecki (2005), who is a firm believer that groups of people are typically smarter than any one individual, nevertheless argued that team members must retain some individuality in order for the team to avoid falling into “group-think”, which will be further discussed later on in this manual.
(2) A more diverse array of skills and knowledge is applied to work situations, leading to a higher standard of output as the individual strengths of each member are brought to the table. For instance, one member of a team might have a keen eye for detail, which is a highly valuable skill as he/she may be able to spot something crucial that the other members have missed. Another member could be adept at bringing people together and building a strong team spirit, while another member might be a jack of all trades who can do most things to a good standard.
We feel that this wider range of perspectives and expertise can lead not only to more creative solutions to work-based problems as they arise at Computer Express, but also swifter and more efficient completion of tasks and projects.
(3) Increased job satisfaction is common among members of teams, as they tend to feel more valued and that their opinions are being listened to. It can provide them with a sense of belonging and importance within the organisation. There is also the view that employees feel a greater sense of accomplishment when contributing as a vital cog of a successful team project as opposed to working solitarily, as they’ve come to realize that what they’ve contributed to could never have been achieved by one person.
Computer Express will benefit from this as our employees begin to think of the collective good, as opposed to maintaining a tunnel-visioned focus on their own individual duties and problems. Research has shown that increased morale within the workplace typically leads to a lower turnover for organisations and we believe strongly in this positive way of working.
(4) Enhanced learning and knowledge among team members is common as individuals are continually exposed to the diversity of ideas and opinions within their team. Younger or less experienced members of the team might especially benefit, as the more experienced members of the group impart their knowledge onto them on a regular basis. There is also the thinking that working with a team can engender a curiosity for learning that one would not necessarily develop working by themselves.
We believe that information sharing in this way can only be advantageous to our organisation a whole, as it comes to imbue the staff with improved problem solving skills and a more varied approach to work tasks in general, leading to improved productivity.
(5) Improved communication within organisations is an inevitable by-product of strong team structures within the workplace. Putting employees in team situations is extremely beneficial for the shyer and introverted workers who, although they might be highly competent at the technical aspects of their work, will feel deeply uncomfortable in group situations. They may lack the ability to trust their fellow workers, and if that is the case, they will be less than forthright with their opinions.
That is not to say that being introverted is necessarily all negative. Introverts can be highly perceptive and are often adept at observing little nuances that others may have missed. Nevertheless, through the process of being exposed to team situations day after day, and being encouraged to voice their opinions without judgement, these team members will grow in confidence and we believe communication within our organisation will thrive as a result.
(1) Unequal participation is a common problem within team situations as one or two members may contribute more (or at least, perceive that they are contributing more) than the other members. They may feel that the other members are lazy and not pulling their individual weight. This can obviously lead to tension and resentment, if not properly addressed.
(2) A combination of contrasting approaches and personalities will inevitably lead to conflict with a group. Power struggles can result as the more assertive members vie for dominance over the rest of the team. Some members may consider their opinions more valuable than others and will try to bend the discourse to his/her will. This can obviously be damaging for morale within the team and lead to a less efficient working process, especially if the more assertive members are the least knowledgeable and organised of the team.
Having said that, conflict can also be a positive thing, as challenging of assumptions and opinions keeps team members from becoming complacent in their work. Progress is important to us at Computers Express, and to that end we encourage reasonable (and non-aggressive) conflict as it tends to open minds not only to new ways of resolving conflict and solving problems, but also in terms of generating new ideas. The hope is that this will help our organisation to embrace change and prevent stagnation.
(3) Sometimes in a team situation, there is a risk that the members will get along almost too well. Too much socialising and chattering among the team can lead to procrastination and a working environment which is generally not conducive to productivity.
We strive to create the conditions for a positive and sociable atmosphere in our organisation, as we believe a mutually supportive and friendly working environment is key to unlocking the potential of each of our employees. We understand that this can have its drawbacks, but we believe that continued fostering of team unity and empathy will have far more positives than negatives for our overall health and future. The impact of this approach can be felt in the tackling of “Social Loafing”, which will be discussed in the following example.
(4) Some people prefer working alone and are not comfortable in team situations. This is not necessarily because of introversion, but perhaps simply because they find it easier to gather their thoughts when free from distraction. “Social Loafing” is a term used to describe when a team is less productive than one person working by themselves. An individual may perceive that his/her contributions are not valued by the rest of the group, and thus will retreat into their shell and the individual contribution of that member will sharply decline.
In his work, “Social Psychology Alive”, Steven Brecker (2005) argues that the more a team member engages and identifies not only with team mates and work friends but also with work processes and objectives, the less likely he or she is to commit social loafing, as they will feel motivated to perform well for themselves, their co-workers and their employers.
As a result, we at Computers Express believe an improved focus on team co-ordination and motivation is the most effective way to prevent social loafing among team members.
(5) Team situations obviously require a larger amount of resources than an individual working by themselves. These resources could be manpower, time, money, equipment, all valuable assets within any organisation. Time especially can be eaten up as team situations typically require longer decision making processes than a person working alone, in addition to the numerous stages of development a team must undergo before they complete a task. (This will be discussed in more depth later on in this manual)
As part of our continued expansion, we will look to introduce formal resource allocation plans for each team, which will enable us to better ascertain which tasks should be prioritised and where funds/equipment should be allocated.
Team situations are the prevailing mode of working within nearly every organisation. Individuals are grouped according to their complementary skills and backgrounds, and these teams perform a necessary function for the continued existence of the organisation. In this section we will list various types of teams you would typically find within a workplace and give examples of same.
Working teams are the basic teams within any organisation. Examples of this could be the marketing department, finance department, human resources, or any permanent team within an organisation. These teams are formed from workers with similar areas of expertise and are highly efficient ways of operating a business. Each member of a work team typically has their own specific duty within their department yet they work together with the other members of their team towards a shared organisational function. Additionally, leaders within these teams are typically experts on this specific function.
A multi-functional team is a team that gathers together members of individual departments (e.g. marketing, finance, engineering etc…) within the same organisation to work together towards a shared outcome. Sometimes an organisation requires a varied set of skills and attributes for a task, a more varied set of skills and attributes than could be obtained from any individual employee or department. This is where a multi-functional team comes in, with each member providing their own individual expertise and perspective for the common good. Some advantages of this approach:
- Improved communication within the organisation. Individual teams becoming isolated within an organisation is never a positive thing, and can ultimately lead to ineffectiveness and decreased productivity if not properly addressed. Multi-functional teams are an excellent way to encourage inter-departmental relationship building and consensus by building trust and confidence among employees of different backgrounds.
- Enhanced productivity. Since each member is bringing a unique perspective and skillset, the diversity of approaches can often lead to enhanced creativity and improved problem solving.
- Broadened knowledge among members. By bringing their own individual expertise to the group, members are imparting their knowledge onto the other members, and vice versa. Through frequent communications with members of the group of different specialisations, the member is able to learn about and gain and understanding beyond their own limited experience and knowledge.
A virtual team is a team that is geographically scattered and generally collaborates with each other through a variety of electronic means. This could be via email, video conferencing, teleconferencing, instant messaging, any form of electronic communication. Team members will rarely meet face to face but all will possess complimentary skills and will share a common purpose. Among the advantages of virtual teams:
- Physical location no impediment to employment. Virtual teams enable employers to retain their most gifted and valued employees, regardless of their geographical location. Also, in the event that an organisation wants to expand their operations into a foreign market, virtual teams give them the option of hiring a skilled, experienced worker from that country, which can prove valuable.
- Increased productivity. Since commuting time is a non-factor, there is more time available to work on projects. Also the increased flexibility makes for happier employees, and happier employees are typically productive employees.
- A 7 hour workday effectively becomes a 24 hour workday, which enables faster implementation of ideas and response times to emerging problems in an ever-changing worldwide market. A group of workers in one time-zone can work towards the implementation of a project that was conceived during the working hours of a group in a different time-zone earlier in the day, so in essence the organization never stops moving.
There are some drawbacks to virtual teams too. Not everyone is necessarily suited to being in a team where he or she rarely meets in person with their teammates. These people might find it difficult to fit into a team dynamic which lacks any real social and bonding aspect. They might also be uncomfortable with certain technology and electronic media which makes co-ordinating communication and work with the other team members an ordeal, though obviously this does not really apply to us! Additionally, stressed workers may feel as if they’re never really outside the zone of availability for their employers or colleagues.
Special purpose teams (or temporary teams) are teams that are set up for one specific purpose, before disbanding. This could be a team that is formed for problem- solving purposes, the launch of a new product, or perhaps even for organising a workplace Christmas or birthday party. Once the objective of the task is accomplished, the team dissolves and the individual members resume their normal duties. According to Richard L. Daft (2008) in his book, “New Era of Management“, a special purpose team is still part of the formal organisation and has its own reporting structure, but members perceive themselves as a separate entity.“
One such example of this type of a team would be the Senate Watergate Committee, officially known as the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, created by the United States senate in 1973 to investigate the break in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington. The team was bi-partisan, with members of both sides of the American political divide (4 Democrats, 3 Republicans) and its efforts ultimately led to the impeachment of the then president, Richard Nixon.
Self-managed teams essentially organise and co-ordinate their own work. They have a larger degree of autonomy than other teams and perform their work with little or no managerial oversight. The following is a case study of a typical self-managed team from a paper by The Institute for Leadership and Management and QMD Ltd, published in 2006:
A tool-making, plastic moulding and sub-assembly company in the West Midlands produces plastic components for a major manufacturer, the brand leader in domestic showers. The team producing the components is well on its way to being self-managing, as is its customer’s assembly team.
The team on the customer’s assembly line decides what parts it will
need to produce the items its company wants. These are ‘phoned
through to the plastics company, where the team set up the machines
and produce them.
These are delivered and the delivery driver records what has been
sent. This information is then passed to the accounts and production
planning department. Managers only know what has been produced
after the team has produced them. The team co-ordinates its own
An advantage of this type of team is the feeling of self-confidence it gives each member, as they feel trusted to do their job with minimal supervision. There will also be faster, more efficient decision-making in general, as there will be considerably less time spent deciding on the right course of action when approaching a task, meaning far less potential for conflict-induced stagnation. This approach might also suit creative, introverted types who feel more comfortable working by themselves, and who might perhaps feel too self-conscious to produce their best work under the watchful gaze of management.
One disadvantage of this approach is that the high degree of autonomy might lead to a team member taking an unnecessary risk in his/her work without consulting the other members of their team, and without considering/being aware of the wider implications of this risk.
In the 1970s, Dr. Meridith Belbin, having done extensive research on the different types of personalities that comprise teams, developed what he called “Belbin’s Team Roles Theory”. In it, he defined a team role as “a tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way” (Belbin et all, 1976) and detailed nine types of team personalities in a typical team. Each member of a team will have one of these as their primary personality plus a secondary personality, along with elements of some of the others. He then categorised these nine personalities into groups of three: action orientated, thought orientated and people orientated. We will now explain these categorisations and give examples of the team personalities Belbin discussed in his research.
Shapers are the extroverts of a team. They thrive on pressure and have no problem making the tough decisions often needed within a team situation. They will be unhesitant to speak their minds and this can be a positive thing for a group as they will challenge the opinions of others, which guards against complacency and stimulates conversation. Of course, given the sometimes abrasive nature of a shaper, there is also the potential for conflict and resentment within the team as other members may feel slighted by the shaper’s disregard for social niceties. A shaper will often quickly assume or be assigned a leadership role within a team, as their ambitious and driven personality manifests itself.
Implementers are the members of the team who turn thoughts and plans into action. They are sturdy, disciplined and efficient team players who will help the team to knuckle down and focus on the task at hand. They have a talent for differentiating the essential elements of a task from the trivial, and as a result are commonly highly productive members of a team or organisation. However, implementers, because of their rigid and somewhat conservative natures, can sometimes be closed off to new ideas or anything that deviates from the agreed plan.
Plants are the creative, imaginative, free spirits of the team. They are adept at coming up with creative solutions to problems and are extremely useful to have within a group as a means of coming up with new ideas and stimulating discourse. They are often the instigators of forward progress within a group. However, because of their individualistic nature, they are often quite introverted and lack social skills, which can create problems in terms of communication within the team. They are also prone to playing by their own rules and neglecting the practical duties of a team, which can irritate the more conservative members who are used to working in a more orthodox fashion (e.g. monitor evaluators, see below).
Monitor evaluators are the logical, hard-headed team members, who are good at utilising their considerable critical faculties to organize the thoughts of the other team members, especially the often disorganised and unorthodox thoughts of plants, into a more coherent form. They will take an analytical approach, carefully weighing up the pros and cons before reaching a conclusion. These members, because of their dispassionate and dry nature, are typically not seen as charismatic or leader-material by other members, despite their assiduousness and reliability. The less patient of the team members may even find their style of working to be a grind. However, monitor evaluators are essential to the functioning of almost every team.
Team-workers are the glue in every team. They are typically popular members and are therefore good at bringing people together and helping the team to become more cohesive. They are generally perceptive, sensitive and diplomatic, which makes them proficient at mediating and resolving conflict between members. For example, a plant might have great ideas, but due to their introverted nature, they feel cowed by the more assertive or disruptive members of the group. A team-worker would then be extremely useful in smoothing out relations between the members and encouraging the plant to express himself/herself. One of the drawbacks of these members is that, in their willingness to maintain harmony with the group, they tend to be easily persuaded and lose their own individuality as they are consumed by the whole.
The point of this analysis and the reason Belbin’s work is so valued by employers is that by identifying these personality types, you have a significantly higher chance of creating a perfect balance of personalities and “role-players” within your organisation. For instance, if you have too many plants within a team, they will struggle to get things done. This does not mean that having more than one plant is a bad thing. On the contrary, sometimes it takes more than one to create a good synergy of ideas and get the ball of inspiration rolling. Additionally, if you don’t have a shaper in your team, it can result that the team will lack the necessary direction and motivation to succeed, while having more than one shaper can create power-struggles, conflict and ultimately lead to stasis. Balance is key.
Now that we have covered the various roles and personality types within a team, we will move onto a discussion of effective and ineffective team members and how each of those groups impact upon the team dynamic. Firstly, we will list and describe what are typically considered to be characteristics of good team members, after which we will list and describe the characteristics of bad team members:
(1) Good communication is a very important trait for any team member to have, since teams are social by their very nature. A team that communicates well is obviously more likely to be an effective, productive team than a team comprised of people who struggle to interact with each other. Obviously this applies not just to how well they speak and articulate their thoughts, but also well they listen. Members who are well practiced at attentive listening will see the benefits in team situations, not simply in terms of absorbing information, but also in terms of giving confidence to other members of the team, as those members will feel that their input is being listened to and considered.
(2) The reliable person (e.g. “monitor evaluator”) will work hard to achieve deadlines and avoid letting others down. Reliability is crucial within a team in terms of establishing trust among the members, who need to feel that they can count on the other to do their share of the work. This atmosphere of fairness and mutual responsibility is very important for a group’s development.
(3) Being organised, not just in terms of how you work, but also in terms of you think, as unorthodox thinkers can sometimes alienate the rest of their team by digressing into pointless tangents in their communications with teammates.
(4) Everyone prefers working with people who exude positivity, as they typically have “can-do” attitudes and consequently, strong motivational qualities, whether that’s by accident or design. Conversely, a team member with a negative mind-set may cause untold damage to a team dynamic, as their pessimism and defeatism can be infectious.
(5) Creative teammates, or “plants”, will be adept at coming up with imaginative solutions to problems, problems that might leave a creative-less team stalled in the storming stage (as discussed later in this manual). These are the ideas people within teams, they throw out (sometimes disorganised) thoughts from unusual angles and these thoughts can provide not only the basis, but also continuous inspiration for a successful project.
- Lazy team members who don’t pull their weight are almost guaranteed to cause disharmony within a team, as the other members will naturally become disgruntled at having to carry the burden of a non-contributing team member, in addition to their own responsibilities.
- As much as it is a positive thing for the members to feel comfortable around each and other be relaxed enough to have easy, open communication, excessively chatty, unfocussed members will seriously impact upon both the speed and productivity of a team, as they will make it more difficult for the team to concentrate on the essential aspects of what they’re doing, as opposed to trivialities.
- Rudeness can be a huge cause of discord within a team environment, and might even lead to a team becoming stalled in the “storming” phase (see page 15) if not addressed. People who are abrasive in their dealings with others will usually leave a trail of resentful people in their wake. In a team situation, these people can have a toxic influence on the motivation and cohesion of the group. Insults, back-biting, belittling comments, any of these will likely have a devastating effect on morale and create a situation where there is no longer any trust within the team dynamic.
- A healthy sense of self is something everyone aspires to, but being egocentric will not lead to someone being a valuable team member. These members have a sense of their own (usually imagined, but not always) specialness, will be reluctant to share credit, and often will see themselves as bigger and better than their teammates. Naturally, this teammate’s, entitled, self-serving attitude and competiveness will rankle with the other members, and seriously hinder any attempts at bringing the team together.
- A teammate with poor communication skills runs the risk of becoming alienated from the rest of his team. These members may be shy and have trouble speaking up or articulating their ideas and concerns, which can lead to frustration and even annoyance among the rest of the team, especially if that shyness is misinterpreted as aloofness or rudeness. This can be especially prevalent in teams short on leadership figures who are gifted at bringing such people out of their shell, giving them confidence and convincing them of the need to buy into the overall team ethic and objectives of the team.
A multi-team system is a team of teams that work together to achieve a shared common objective. Members from disparate groups either within the same organisation (internal), or from more than one organisation (cross-boundary) combine their unique skills together and work towards a collective goal, while simultaneously pursuing their own proximal goals. The following are examples of multi-team systems:
- The emergency services are a classic example of a multi team system. In the event of a serious traffic accident, the first responders would typically be the fire brigade and the ambulance services. Once the injured persons are removed from the scene by firefighters, they are taken by ambulance to the hospital, where they are then placed under the care of a surgical team. Once any necessary surgical procedures are finished, a recovery team will be tasked with managing their care. Each is a distinct entity from the other but yet all work together in this instance towards a shared goal, which is the saving of lives.
- For an example of a multi-system team within the same organisation, and continuing with the hospital theme, let’s take a look at the various stages of a typical surgical procedure within a hospital environment. Once a patient has had surgery scheduled, they are given an appointment for pre-op testing, which entails meetings with the pre-op nursing team and the anaesthesia team, who will assess the patient’s overall health and anaesthesia needs. Once the patient is declared fit for surgery, they will be admitted into the care of the surgery team, which typically involves experts in surgical procedure, pain management and an operating room nurse. After the surgical procedure is completed, the care of the patient is then taken over by the post-anaesthesia team, who will monitor the patient’s recovery, under the guidance of the surgeon and anaesthesiologist.
- The military has traditionally always been a multi-team based structure. Being a vast, multi-echelon organisation, which must accomplish missions that are highly complex in nature, teamwork and interdependence are obviously vital components of an effective military apparatus. In their work “The Context of Military Environments: An Agenda for Basic Research on Social and Organisational Factors”, the Board on Behavioural, Cognitive and Sensory Sciences (2014) explains the precise nature of multi-team systems within the army as follows: “These MTSs can consist of small units and teams within the Army, or they can involve Army teams with teams from other organisations. For example, the traditional military headquarters is an MTS consisting of a command team overseeing small units that focus on different goals. One staff section pursues personnel goals, another intelligence goals, another pursues operations and logistics goals, and so forth. Each of these staff sections works as a team to achieve its unique goals, while also working with the other staff sections to pursue the broader goals of the headquarters. The decisions of one staff section, for instance the personnel group, set constraints on and require resources from other groups, in this case operations and logistics. “
Though multi-team systems such as these are typically highly efficient, since the workload is divided between different specialists, there are also issues with teams of teams that can become problematic in certain situations. One is the likelihood that each team will be at a different stage of their development (see “Stages of Team Development” section), so one team could be a high-performing, well-oiled machine, while a cross-boundary or internal team they’re collaborating with could be at an earlier stage in their development.
Naturally, conflicts will arise in such situations, as the balance of performance between the teams is askew. One team may also feel that their work is more important than the work of the other teams. On another there might be feelings of resentment, or a perception that their work is under-valued compared to other teams, that resources are being unfairly distributed or that their goals or modes of operating are incompatible. It goes without saying that this kind of attitude can hurt the overall dynamic and effectiveness of a multi-team system, which makes it vitally important that leadership is strong across not only individual teams, but across the MTS as a whole.
Every team requires four core elements in order to be successful. It is not guaranteed that possessing these elements will lead to success, but it is highly unlikely that a team will thrive without them. In this section we will list each of these essential requirements, followed by an explanation of each and why it is needed:
This is not necessarily the same as having a formal leader. It could be a person within the team with leadership qualities who informally takes command of the situation and gives direction to the rest of his teammates. This person will have a vision, alongside a burning desire to see this vision become reality. He/she will need good people skills, as a strong leader must provide encouragement and support to his team, convincing them of their worth in order to motivate them to achieve the team’s outcome (see below). The leader must clearly outline this objective to the other members at the outset of the task, and must continually fight to maintain his team’s focus throughout.
Countless research has been carried out over the years on what makes someone a leader, and how to harness this research to develop leaders. Unfortunately, an exact definition continues to elude researchers as it is very difficult to reach a consensus on exactly qualities a leader should have and shouldn’t have. As Michael Shinagle (2016/17), the former Harvard dean, put it in his blog, “The Paradox of Leadership”: “Leadership, after all, is an art, not a science. And leadership is not limited to a professional field or industry, be it corporate, governmental, military, academic, religious, or service. Leaders transcend the confines of a defining box.”
Resources are what every team needs in order to achieve its goals. These could be time, money, people, knowledge, energy, materials, anything that is considered valuable within an organisation. When people talk about people as resources, they might simply mean manpower, or they might mean the expertise and skills that people possess, whether that be soft skills (e.g. leadership, problem-solving etc…or hard skills like computer programming or a degree in a specialised area. It could also mean people with extensive (and relevant) experience, as organisations like to see their employees benefiting from being exposed to these mentor types through the learning of new skills and ways of approaching problems.
A lack of resources can cause conflict with a team, as they struggle to make the most of the little they’ve been given. However, sometimes it can inspire creativity. The making of the horror film classic “Halloween” was plagued by production difficulties due to the (relatively) miniscule budget director John Carpenter and his team were forced to work with, which meant they even had to spray paint leaves to give the film’s setting (meant to be Illinois, but filmed in Pasadena) an adequately autumnal look. The iconic score was put together by Carpenter himself in 3 days as they couldn’t afford an orchestra or a composer, and the mask of the Michael Myers was actually a Captain Kirk mask that Carpenter’s team had spray painted white. It could be argued that Halloween would have been half the film it is without these budgetary constraints, as more money and therefore more gloss would have likely led to a more generic horror, by diminishing what makes it special. (Halloween, 1978)
Every team needs a plan. Without a plan, the team is directionless and confused about what they are meant to be doing, which is harmful for confidence and morale, not to mention productivity. It is imperative that the leadership within the team decides early in the team process on a unified course of action, and clearly defines to each team member both their role within the task and what function they must perform in order to help meet the team’s goals. This is crucial in terms of evaluating and evolving the team’s performance along the way. It also keeps team members motivated, as they can always see the finish line clearly.
Communication is the transferring of information from one person to another or one place to another. A team must be able to co-ordinate their work duties, in order to achieve their desired outcomes, so it is incredibly important that they communicate frequently and keep each other up to date with what they are each working on. This communication comes in numerous forms, be it written (letters, notes, reports etc..) oral (face to face, on the phone) or visual (charts, diagrams, various non-verbal cues e.g body language, gestures, facial expressions).
(Lipknack and Stamps 2000)
In 1965, Bruce Tuckman, a leading researcher of group dynamics, published a theory known as “Tuckman’s stages of group development”, where he detailed his research on the various stages he believed a group must be undergo before they begin to function effectively as a team. This section will cover the 4 stages outlined in this theory, in addition to a fifth stage that Tuckman added (in collaboration with Mary Ann Jensen) in 1976.
This is the beginning phase of the team journey, where team members are assembled and begin to get a feel for each other and the task ahead. They will operate mostly independently within the group during this phase as they either consciously or unconsciously gather information about the other members, which enables them to form opinions, assign trust, and figure out how they will fit into the team structure. A leader will also be designated during this phase, and it is the responsibility of the leader to be clear both in his/her mind and in his/her communications with the team about what function each member needs to perform in order for the team’s goals to be accomplished.
This is the most difficult phase for any team, where the task has been delineated and the team members, now more comfortable after prolonged exposure to the team situation, begin to feel more confident about expressing their own opinions and challenging the opinions of other members. This can obviously lead to conflict among the team, as insecurities abound and people feel threatened. In fact, some teams don’t even make it past this stage at all, if the conflict is insurmountable and progress is stalled. However, as much as too much conflict, and especially aggressive conflict, can be the death knell for a team environment, conflict can also be positive for the health of a team’s discourse, in the sense that sometimes it’s beneficial to have a devil’s advocate who will challenge the team’s viewpoints and reduce complacency within the team.
An interesting example of why a devil’s advocate is needed would be the phenomenon of “deference” among pilots of crashed airliners. In his book, “Outliers”, the author Malcolm Gladwell (2008) talks about how Korean Air had suffered more plane crashes than any other airliner in the world in the 1990s. The reason for this was hierarchal. In Korean culture people are taught to be deferential towards their elders and superiors, so if a first officer witnessed his captain performing an action which he knew would cause the deaths of not only himself, but also everyone else on board, he would keep quiet and not challenge his superior, which inevitably led to disaster. Eventually Korean Air recognized their problem was cultural and that, in order to create a safe flying environment (and salvage their business), they needed to address their cultural history and strive to foster an atmosphere of healthy debate among their flying crew. As a result of this effort, Korean Air have had a spotless safety record since 1999.
If a team survives the storming phase, they will then move into the norming phase. This is where relationships within the group are relatively settled, not necessarily cordial but at the very least there is typically a desire to maintain civility for the greater good, which is the accomplishment of the agreed goal. This is also the stage where the members really begin to feel like part of a team, with each member fully understanding both their role within the team and the role of the other members, which can sometimes lead to some members taking a backseat as other members take on more responsibility, the pressure of mounting deadlines and competition with other teams beginning to make its presence felt. The team members will also agree upon a set of norms, detailing what behaviour is acceptable within the group and what is unacceptable. Some of these rules will be explicit (clearly outlined) and some will be assumed.
If a team manages to make it to this stage, it is likely a high-functioning unit by this point. Communication is free and comfortable with the team and dissent is actively encouraged, as the members have come to respect each other’s opinions and value their contributions. There is strong team cohesion, high morale and a mutually supportive environment, which tends to lead to not only more creative problem-solving, as each member feels completely confidence in expressing themselves, but also a more efficient work output in general, as each member is trusted to perform their own individual tasks autonomously, with minimum oversight.
On the negative side, too much cohesion can occasionally be a problem for a team, if loyalty to the team comes at the expense of doing the right thing. For instance…the recent controversies involving police brutality in the United States are a clear example of putting team loyalties above standards of common decency and humanity. Here you have an organisation who swear by the “The Thin Blue Line” above all else, and refuse to accept that some members of their ranks get into law enforcement for the wrong reasons. This refusal to entertain any grey among the black and white means there is severely reduced hope for necessary change and evolution in their methods. Moving back to a traditional team structure, “group-think” can also sometimes result when relations between members of the group are almost too positive, and consequently, the quality of the team’s output suffers greatly, as everyone is too concerned with maintaining a positive atmosphere at the expense of critical discussion and evaluation.
This is the final phase for each team (as added by Tuckman and Jensen), where the team disbands and each member goes their separate ways. This can be a very painful process for a successful team, as members can feel a profound sense of loss at being forced to leave the team dynamic they have undergone so much to help create. There will also be trepidation at the thought of having to join another team and having to go through the process of bonding, adapting and disbanding all over again. (Tuckman and Jensen 1976)
In this section we will analyse the concept of leadership within a team and why it is important. Leadership is not an easy thing to define. Almost impossible, in fact. Before writing this section we Googled “define leadership” and got 269,000,000 results in 40 seconds!
Leaders don’t always come in recognisable forms either. For example, consider Apple founder Steve Jobs. Leaders are often thought of as being charismatic, empathetic communicators, but Steve Jobs was the opposite of that, with awkward social skills and a somewhat aloof personality in general. This was a man who inspired others through his genius…not his commanding personality.
Then on the flipside of that, you have someone like Ronald Reagan, the idol of many Americans with conservative values. Reagan did not possess a strong grasp of policy during either his presidential campaigns or his 8 years in office. In fact, he barely seemed to take any interest in policy at all, instead leaving that to his more educated advisors. What he did have though, in abundance, was charisma, and oratorial gifts that meant his followers were inclined to look past the lack of substance in what he was actually saying.
Thought leadership is not easily defined, we can still recognise qualities that are inherent in good and bad leaders. We will now list some examples of desirable characteristics of a leader, and after those, some undesirable characteristics:
Since it is the job of a leader to motivate others in his group and spur them on to help achieve the team’s goals, it is obviously vital that the leader has a strong inner drive and will to succeed, as there will likely be no one to keep the leader motivated and on-point if he/she does not do it themselves.
A leader with good communication skills is extremely important for any team project. Though we mentioned Steve Jobs as an example of a leader with an unconventional communication style who thrived, this was very much an exception to the rule, and most successful teams will not have a genius leading by example. They will have a competent leader who is prepared, and focussed. This competency will mean the leader is clear with the rest of the team about their objectives from the start of the project, and will maintain a strong line of communication with them throughout the task, in order to keep everyone’s eyes on the prize. The leader will also need his team to feel that they can come to him/her with any problems they are having during the project.
The ability to delegate and assign tasks to another is very important for a leader. It is being humble enough to say “I cannot do everything myself”. It is understanding that leadership is trusting others to achieve, enabling them to achieve and motivating them to achieve. Delegating effectively within a team usually leads to enhanced productivity and a much more rapid completion of tasks in general. People who lack this ability to delegate or feel uncomfortable doing so will typically end up taking too much onto their own plate and possibly wind up with disgruntled team members, or even “loafers”, who might feel that they don’t have the trust of their leader.
This is a leader being able and willing to recognise the contributions of other members within the team. This is essential for good morale within the team as nothing will hurt motivation among team members like the feeling that their work is not being appreciated. Frequent encouragement by the leader is a great way to make the team members feel that they are a vital element of a thriving team. Having said that, it is also important that the leader not lavish too praise on any one individual member while ignoring the others, as this could lead to rancour and accusations of favouritism. Praise is best given collectively, to ensure continued team unity and a positive atmosphere.
Micromanagement is a leader involving himself or herself in every aspect of their team’s performance. To use a sporting example, Rafael Benitez, during his team as Liverpool manager, was notorious for controlling aspect of the teams play, to the extent that was he was spending 90 minutes every game instructing his players on exactly what they should be doing and where they should be standing at all times. This naturally had a negative effect on the team’s confidence, as the players felt constricted, that they had no freedom to express themselves and their creativity. Micromanagement gives the impression that a leader has no confidence and trust in his team, or at least not enough of it to be successful, and team members will likely resent the lack of autonomy.
This is a highly undesirable trait in a leader, as an egotist will find it extremely difficult to value other people’s opinions and contributions, especially in relation to his/her own. They might take credit for the work of others within their team, or they might simply disregard the viewpoints of others, often out of jealousy and insecurity. An arrogant leader is unlikely to command the respect of his team, and is far more likely to cause resentment and conflict within the group.
An inability to clearly define the team’s objectives and delineate individual tasks to team members will rarely result in a productive team environment. It is also important for each member to understand which tasks take priority in a given moment, in order for the team to continually be managing their workload and meeting set deadlines for each aspect of their overall task. Strong communication skills are also important for motivation and keeping morale high when the team is going through difficulties.
Sometimes a team may fall into the leadership role out of happenstance, and not necessarily because they suited to leading others. If a leader is too scared of confrontation, conflict within team members may be allowed to escalate out of control, severely impacting or even halting completely the team’s performance. It is imperative that a leader be unafraid to stop and mediate any (unwarranted) conflict or tension between the group, and also that they be assertive enough to tell individual team members when they are letting the collective down and not doing their share of the work. Cordial relations within a team are a positive thing, but too cordial will often lead to procrastination and unproductivity before long.
Everyone who is working with a team situation likes to know how they are doing. This is human nature. We want to ascertain whether we are on the same page as the other members of the team and whether the work we are putting in is appreciated by them or not. Someone may feel that their attitude and behaviour within the group is perfectly acceptable. The other members may not share this view, and that is essentially what feedback is, it is establishing what is correct and incorrect behaviour within a particular setting, amongst a particular group of people. A person’s manner and approach to work might have gone over well with one team they’ve worked within, but place them in another team with another set of people, with their own individual backgrounds and perceptions of the world, and that person’s behaviour and mode of working could be viewed highly unfavourably. Individuals need this feedback in order to tailor their individual approach to the overall team ethic, and to develop a better understanding of their role in the team. They also “need feedback to regulate and monitor their own work”. (Hattie and Timperley 2007).
We will now discuss the effects of positive feedback on a group, followed by the effects of negative feedback on a group.
This kind of feedback is so important for achieving high standards within a team. The leadership must be comfortable with giving each team member an honest appraisal of their work. This is a nightmarish prospect for some as they feel deeply uncomfortable giving someone criticism. However, it is essential not only in terms of maintaining harmony within the team, but also for getting everyone within the team working in the same direction, and at the same rate of productivity.
Via the Feedback.Tips website (2016): “An assessment of employee attitudes towards “positive” and “corrective” feedback by Zenger/Folkman revealed that 57% of respondents preferred receiving corrective to positive feedback. When given properly, 92% believed “negative” feedback was effective in improving performance. Interestingly, those who favoured constructive feedback also rated their managers highest for being honest and straightforward in their reviews. What can be taken away from these statistics is the fact that most employees want to know what they can be doing to improve their performance.” (Zenger and Folkman 2006)
Constructive feedback has innumerable benefits if delivered smartly. The recipient might have been stressed and panicky due to confusion about certain aspects of their work, but well-delivered feedback about exactly where they are going wrong, without hurting their feelings, will infuse them with not just a clear path in their minds towards the finishing line, but also added motivation to do their best for the team, as they will innately respect the sensitivity with which the feedback giver addressed their mistakes.
Additionally, if the recipient of constructive feedback had been feeling alienated from the group and unsure about what he or she had done to deserve this, constructive feedback from the other members would help them to understand exactly what behaviours of theirs have irritated the others and left them estranged from the group. This will hopefully lead to added self-awareness on the part of the recipient and enable them to adjust their behaviour according to the norms of that particular team environment.
As opposed to constructive feedback, which is for the purposes of correcting performance-related issues, positive feedback is a more straightforward motivational tool. It is the reinforcing of good work and good behaviours within your team. Positive feedback is a very effective way to energise a team and keep morale high, as it makes the recipient feel confident, galvanised and good about themselves. Too often, team members and leadership are so caught up in their own individual work and problems that they neglect this very important element of establishing a strong team unit. A little encouragement can go a very long way.
In terms of how to approach the giving and receiving of feedback: The trick for both leadership and also team members who are delivering constructive feedback to each other is to finesse any criticism in such a way that it leaves the person on the other end feeling uplifted after the exchange, rather than worthless. Performance-correcting feedback should always be delivered positively, even if the message itself isn’t a positive one.
This is where good communication skills come into effect. When giving feedback, it’s perhaps a good idea to open with some praise, after which you could find a way to delicately touch upon any problems the group have had with the recipients work or behaviour. Then once you have made the recipient aware of the issue, you could then close the exchange with some praise regarding a different aspect of their work, so that they won’t leave the conversation despondent or aggrieved. If the problem persists, a stronger tone will likely be needed, but again, it’s best not to get too severe, as repeated and harshly delivered criticism will fall on deaf ears.
For positive feedback, it’s important to be careful about over-praising within a team, not simply because it might lead to resentment and conflict if the praise is not evenly distributed, but also because it might not be warranted, and this could result in a mediocre quality of work overall, if team members are given the impression that their inadequate standard of work is the acceptable standard for this team. When delivering negative feedback, it would be wise to do so promptly, or as soon as the issue with the recipient becomes apparent, as delaying it might cause the problem to worsen.
You should avoid delivering negative feedback until you have all of the relevant facts available to you, as you will not be on solid ground if you don’t, and confusion will reign. Additionally, it would be appropriate to deliver negative feedback in a private setting, as humiliating the recipient in front of others will likely destroy his or her confidence and be counter-productive in the long run.
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