When is your Team effective?

When is your Team effective?

An effective team is one of the hottest topics and most sought-after business elements in an organization, providing an unparalleled tendency to succeed.

Team versus Work Group

…a team [is] a temporary structure, where the team forms in response to a goal or purpose, define their process, accomplish their goal, and then dissolve.

The most important question to ask when looking at your team is, do you have a work group or a team?  The difference between the two structures may seem negligible, and indeed, we often use these two terms interchangeably to describe the same groups of people.  However, it is important define the differences to ensure a team is what is needed to get the job done for your organization.  First, a “team” is an organizational structure of a small number of individuals with complimentary skills, working towards a common goal and purpose, and hold each other mutually accountable.  This definition is important as it describes a team as a temporary structure, where the team forms in response to a goal or purpose, define their process, accomplish their goal, and then dissolve.  This is distinctly different from a work group which several individuals are united by a loose purpose, and are interdependent on each other for accomplishments. There are significantly more differences to the facets of teams versus work groups that far exceed this article, but this definition begins the discussion we are going to have.

An example of this is a sports team directly working towards the team’s success in games versus a special interest group that generally want to work towards the betterment of their interest, but are less common in their purpose and actions.  That is not to say that a team cannot exist in a special interest group, but it would be a temporary entity, like if there is an important marketing campaign that needs to be completed, a multi-functional team of individuals from the work group can be chosen to accomplish it.  The picture in this post is of a team comprised of active military I put together to run a Tough Mudder when I left Naval service.  This team comprised all manner of individuals of varying physical toughness, however our goal was to get to the finish line as a team.  This meant that we helped and coached the members of our team to ensure all members would get to the end.  Some team members could have finished sooner, but would miss out on the sense of comradery and success that came with finishing as a team (as well as the final push where we linked arms as a team to get to the end).  Not all members would have even began the race had they done it by themselves, missing out on a memory that will standout for their lives.    Now that we know the difference between a work group and a team, we can begin to look at how to build and lead effective teams.

Team Formation

I have seen great success with use of a written team contract on formation to set the expectations for the team.

There are several items to establish during the team formation, the first being “the problem” the team is to solve.  This is often the only item that is focused on during the formation, however it is important to also focus on the processes with which the team will accomplish their goal.  I have seen great success with use of a written team contract on formation to set the expectations for the team.  Essentially this contract lays out the problem to be solved, how and when the team will communicate, team leadership and roles, and conflict resolution.  Note that one of the key elements of a team is that members “hold each other mutually accountable”.  Without a 100% agreed upon set of expectations and a code of conduct for team members, conflict will arise between members who do not operate the same way and the team will either not be fully effective or will dissolve completely.  A quick breakdown of a contract I have used to great success in a past digital team is below, after completion of the contract and signatures from all members, it was shared as a finished document with all team members and organizational leadership:

  1. Team Member Roles
    1. Team Leader:
    2. Presentation Compiler:
    3. Timekeeper/note taker:
    4. Reviewer/Publisher:
  2. Team Goals:
    1. Goal #1
    2. Goal #2
    3. Goal #3
  3. Team Project Timeline
    1. Team Contract signed: 2/7/20
    2. Initial Problem designation: 2/10/20
    3. Project Rough Draft due: 2/19/20
    4. Final Draft due: 2/26/20
    5. Team Exit meeting: 2/29/20
  4. Team Decision-Making Policy (consensus, majority vote, etc.):
  5. Communication and file sharing plan:
  6. Team Conflict Management Strategy (Conflict Management Styles):
  7. Team Daily/Weekly Meeting Timeline
  8. Team Member Signatures and Dates
    1. Member #1
    2. Member #2
    3. Member #3
    4. Member #4
Leading Teams

The key to leading teams successfully is to focus on three key elements in the team: trust, enthusiasm, and morale.

Note in the above example, “Team Leader” is a role for this example team, however the role of the leaders is more of a facilitator rather than a command and control element to the team.  This is more to keep the team headed in the right direction rather than issue orders and set expectations, and is one of the classic mistakes many leaders make when they develop their teams.  Remember, a team is a set of subject matter experts who were brought together for a common goal, once the team contract is agreed upon, there is no more need for a leader in the traditional sense other than to help facilitate the team’s progress and ensuring productive team communication.  The key to leading teams successfully is to focus on three key elements in the team: trust, enthusiasm, and morale.  These three elements represent the absolute top priorities for leaders in ensuring a team’s productivity and its eventual completion of its goal.

Key Performance Indicators

Teams can be a fantastic way for organizations to solve problems and accomplish goals, and can be one of the most powerful ways to manage change within the organization.

When evaluating your team for indications of effectiveness, it is important to know what to look for.  In the book The 13 Key Performance Indicators for Highly Effective Teams, Allam Ahmed, George Siantonas and Nicholas Siantonas detail team aspects that determine a “good” or healthy team.  These key performance indicators (KPI’s) include the following, but the book delves into much more of the detail behind each KPI:

  1. Balanced Roles
  2. Clear Objectives and Purpose
  3. Openness, Trust, Confrontation and Conflict Resolution
  4. Cooperation, Support, Interpersonal Communication and Relationships
  5. Individual and Team Learning and Development
  6. Sound Inter-group relations and communications
  7. Appropriate Management/Leadership
  8. Sound Team Procedures and Regular Review
  9. Output, Performance, Quality and Accountability
  10. Morale
  11. Empowerment
  12. Change, Creativity, and Challenging the Status Quo
  13. Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

Note that many of these KPI’s are developed by the team contract, which dictates how the team will operate.  The other KPI’s not answered by the team contract are inherent in the team leadership, specifically the morale, empowerment, change management.  Teams can be a fantastic way for organizations to solve problems and accomplish goals, and can be one of the most powerful ways to manage change within the organization.  However, an effective team needs effective leadership and the foundation of trust that comes with shared understanding and accountability, without this they can be a drain to an organization’s success.

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