Teams can deliver massive value – but they require care in set-up.

Organisation success requires alignment in a broad range of activities. As leader of your organisation you have a range of core activities to manage in order to deliver value to your clients including:

  • Consistently delivering high value to your target market.
  • Nurturing core skills.
  • Scanning your environment for challenges and opportunities.
  • Defining imperatives to set you apart.
  • Implementing ideas with vigour.

You need to provide an environment in which your staff choose to invest themselves in your purpose and vision.

People are the key. Even with the best technology, most efficient processes, and most exciting ideas, you ultimately implement your strategy through people.

People in teams. Teams can take on larger, more complex tasks than individuals working in isolation. Designing work for teams will allow your organisation to undertake visions and tasks that are significant, larger, and more complex than a single individual could take on. Most companies rate effective teamwork amongst their highest organisational priorities.

Team experience and outcomes

Putting people together in teams does not necessarily guarantee synergy or productivity. Though teams promise the possibility of synergy, camaraderie and massive productivity, the opposite is all too often true. In fact, nominal groups, people who do not try to work together, easily outperform poorly designed or poorly led teams. This sad fact may be characterised in three dimensions:

First; most teams do not deliver. You find the best people and get them into a team. You expect fireworks but get a damp squib. The uncomfortable fact, turned up in research, is that most teams do not deliver as expected. Some of the pitfalls are:

  • A tendency for individuals to slack off when working in groups.
  • With autonomy, teams can do great things, but autonomous teams gone wrong go very wrong indeed.
  • Teams can adopt a stance in which they refuse to learn.

Second; working in teams is hard. Many people refuse to work in teams because of unpleasant experiences. The fact is that working in a team can be terminally frustrating and often emotionally damaging.

Third; members don’t necessarily grow. It is quite possible for members in teams to get stuck with obsolete processes and technology, without gaining any other skills and experience. After ten years in a team, your staff may not have a ten year growth experience but rather ten times a one year growth experience.

This is the litany of the unproductive team. As a leader you may wish to consider the core cultural issues that may lead to ineffective teams.

And there are cultural obstacles

Before you even start to look at teams, there are three considerations arising from deep cultural paradigms which shape how things are done in an organisation.

  • Authority: How are decisions made and who can make them? Are you prepared to delegate clearly delimited authority to design, monitor and manage work without managers to specify and control all aspects of the work? This may be a difficult change for a hierarchical organisation, where the reins are held tightly at the very top of the organisation. Are you prepared to put in place structures, precepts and reporting that provide a framework within which teams can freely make the decisions to design and manage their tasks. This may be difficult for an organisation built on cooperation and acceptance.
  • Responsibility and accountability. When authority is reflected in accountability, illustrated by clearly defined goals, responsibilities measures and targets, teams have freedom to work as they choose. And a sponsor can choose to hold back as teams grapple and fail, increasing their learning in tasks in which the sponsor can see the immediate solution.
  • Reward and recognition. Rewarding individuals for team success has a negative effect on the team. However, moving from financial rewards for individuals to financial rewards for teams can be tricky and requires due consideration. Reward for teams may also include the offer of challenges and opportunities for learning and growth. ‘Growth’ not ‘Promotion’! Hierarchy can poison an environment for teams. When staff are rewarded by climbing the ladder they will develop political manoeuvring skills. When teams are rewarded with challenging experiences with opportunities for developing new skills, they focus on their technical and interpersonal development.

You can execute strategy successfully through teams

In spite of the risks and challenges related to teams, the fact remains that when teams work, their results can be breath-taking. Self-managing teams can achieve a level of synergy and agility that can never be pre-programmed by organisation planners or enforced by management. When responsibility for delivery is delegated to the team it is quite possible for teams in your organisation to:

  • Deliver more consistently. Understanding the facts first-hand, being responsible for decisions and having financial, negotiation and decision making skills. They make better decisions to which they are more committed. Your projects deliver against agreed objectives and the deliverables achieve the intended business outcomes.
  • Take initiative. With roles defined broadly enough, members can take initiative in dealing with issues and assisting other teams. They have the freedom to constitute a team, deal with a particular issue as they see fit, and dissolve themselves when it is done.
  • Recognise technically adept people and allow them opportunity to develop. Without jostling on the ladder, members can enjoy individual learning and growth. They can employ their expertise with sufficient reward without being promoted into ‘management’ positions where their skill is no longer relevant.
  • Develop loyalty and a collegial spirit. When hierarchies are flattened and there are no bosses to please and no adversaries to elbow aside, people are free to develop their unique skills without competing for promotion. Dedication to the team grows, and loyalty to the company increases. You keep the people you want. This leads to higher value being delivered, and lower costs.

Five conditions for team success

When teams are given freedom, accountability and recognition as teams they are able to produce results way beyond the expected. Here are five conditions for team effectiveness that will increase the chances of your teams delivering more effectively, grow as a team, and as individuals:

Condition 1: Are you working in teams?

Leaders sometimes assign tasks to teams that should be done by individuals. Sometimes groups of people working together work hard to find reasons to behave as a team when really no interdependency exists or is necessary.

We can help you, as the leader, to establish whether teams are the most appropriate way for your staff to work together. If this is required, we will help you to create a real work team, relatively stable over time, with appropriately designed tasks, clear boundaries and clearly delimited authority.

Condition 2: Do they know where they are going?

Or do they spend their time discussing their mandate, goals and responsibilities? Do you have good people in your teams who just lack any energy or lustre? Worse still, are your teams delivering at an impressive rate but nothing in line with your organisation strategy? Effective team self-management is impossible unless someone in authority sets direction.

Teams have access to a well of power deep within each individual. Setting direction requires a leader to allow teams to tap into this source, releasing the energy at the same time as providing a framework to channel, focus and control this energy. When goals are clearly defined and challenging with well defined consequences, your teams will be energised, focussed on the chosen direction and ready to engage their skills and energy.

We can help you define compelling goals in your teams.

Condition 3: Are your teams structured to make the most of the members?

In setting up teams, leaders are required to make the most of the attributes of individuals as well as the properties of the team as a whole. And working in teams is not easy. It takes structure, team-skills and practice.

We can help you avoid the tyranny of structurelessness by helping you set up teams with ideal size and composition. We will assist you design the structure and give the team life.

Before the team ever meets, leaders have work to do to prepare the way to allow members to step into their roles to begin exercising the skills for which they have been chosen. We can help you set up the structure as well as manage the launch of the team.

Condition 4: Do your teams operate in a supportive structure?

If you have decided to work in teams and have selected and contracted the best possible skills and given them clear, challenging tasks, there is work to be done. To leave them to get on with it now is to neglect a key component for success. To succeed, your team requires a supportive environment within which to work. Teams do not operate in an organisational vacuum. The leader’s task is to find the organisational structures essential to team effectiveness and therefore worthy of focus. Three organisational systems have particularly high leverage; the reward system, access to information, and team training and education.

We can assist you to address the issues of reward and recognition, access to information and team education in order to provide the environment within which the team can excel.

Condition 5: Are your teams dealing effectively with obstacles and opportunities?

Whenever two or more are gathered to get a job done, one or more are going to hit inefficiencies and internal breakdowns. Process losses such as these develop when members interact in ways that depress the team effort, the appropriateness of the strategy, or the way member talent is used. These process deficiencies waste or misapply member time, energy and expertise.

Process consulting and interventions focussed on smoothing interaction and conflict have been shown to have little impact on the productivity of a team. Research shows that the answer lies in task-focussed interventions aimed at improving performance strategies in the team.

We will help you structure team coaching interventions to enhance collective effort, so that your members can generate uniquely appropriate ways of getting things done.