Question: "I'm part of a team that's been challenged by management to pick up the pace. No one disputes the need for us to do a better job. We aren't very cohesive. There are strained relationships and grudges that aren't left behind. Our meetings don't settle anything. A few people do all the talking. Being told to, 'fix it,' hasn't really helped matters. We seem to be spinning our wheels, especially in the communication area. Can you offer some suggestions for getting us pointed in the right direction?"
Answer: Over the years, in our consulting practice we have seen quite a few ineffective teams. Sometimes when you are stuck in the eye of the storm (i.e., stuck within an ineffective team), it is hard to envision that things could ever be different or better. Over time, you might even become so disenchanted that you wonder if there is such a thing as an "effective team." In this column, I will outline some things to focus on, so your team can break out of the rut that it is in.
Based on our experience working with teams of all kinds, including teams of top leaders, we offer the following criteria for team effectiveness:
- Teams must have clearly defined purposes and goals that serve the organization. Teams have to understand what it is they are attempting to accomplish and why it is that they are trying to accomplish it. Next, they must have a purpose and goals that are clearly linked to the larger organizational context- the vision, mission, values, goals and strategies that deliver added value to clients and to the operations of the rest of the organization.
- Teams need clearly defined parameters within which to do their work. From the start, the sponsor of the team must define the importance of the team's task in the context of the organizational system. The sponsor must explain what the relative importance of a given task is, what the parameters are, what the timeline is, what the budget and available resources are, and what kinds of decisions the team is empowered to make.
- Teams need to communicate effectively within the organization. The sponsor should help the team define how they are connected to other teams, departments and clients. It is essential for teams to know how to communicate with the organization, with whom to communicate, and how often, or when. If this is going to be the responsibility of the team leader, then the team leader must make special efforts to make sure that all necessary communication channels to the organization are open and operative.
- Teams need to have people with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities. Teams must make sure that they have the right individuals to complete the work assigned to them. Depending on the team focus, this may mean having access to people with varying talents and points of view. If vital skills are lacking, new members should be recruited, or targeted training should be provided to fill performance gaps.
- Teams need to know how they are going to accomplish their tasks. Teams work most effectively when they have a detailed understanding of how their work will proceed and how the team will accomplish its tasks. A team should be able to clearly identify the steps it will take to complete its work. Process mapping, as an example, is one step-by-step method for problem solving and creating process improvements.
With those criteria of team effectiveness as focal points, in trying to chart a new path forward for your team, I reference the classic stages of team development:
- Forming - Will we be accepted?
- Storming- Will we be respected?
- Norming- How can we each help the team?
- Performing- How can we do even better?
The associated facets of team development are also germaine:
- Intrapersonal- How am I doing?
- Interpersonal- How are you and I doing?
- Team- How are we doing?
Effective teams do not just happen. There is no miracle cure or silver bullet. Participating in some off-site team-building event will not cure your team's ills. Trust cannot be forced. Relationships heal through new interactions and experiences that displace the old memories and hard feelings.
The way to become a team is to operate like a team. Your team must behave its way toward a better way of operating and collaborating.
Ironically, as with many of the important roles that we occupy in life (i.e., spouse, parent, money manager, career navigator, etc.) most of us are ill-equipped when it comes to team-based training and preparation. Many of our tool kits are awfully bare when it comes to team-based skills and capabilities. But, it does not have to be that way, moving forward.
Here are some suggestions for moving forward to become a more effective team:
- Establish a team charter. Most organizations have strategic plans. What is your team's corresponding strategic plan? What does it aspire to become? What is its mission, it's "reason for being?" Spend some time creating a "road map" for your team, with an emphasis on roles/responsibilities within the team. Creating a coherent team business plan might just be the boost your team needs to break with the past.
- Set some ground rules or behavioral expectations. While this might sound simplistic, we have found that clarifying how team members are to behave and communicate establishes a code of conduct that can be used for self-and peer- assessment. Think about outlining expectations for active participation, self-disclosure, recognizing other's ideas, listening more carefully, committing to emerging leadership within the team, praising and criticizing, "straight talk," paraphrasing and clarifying, and (importantly) having some fun along the way.
- Establish some measurement bases. This is probably the most important suggestion I can offer. What are the criteria to gauge its success? Most organizations have specified individual (e.g., performance appraisal) and organizational (e.g., sales, profit, customer satisfaction) metrics. All too often the metrics for team performance are ambiguous and vague. Moving forward, establish some concrete, tangible performance indicators for measuring how well your team is doing.
I hope some of what I offer here is helpful to you. Ultimately, my counsel is to adopt a more formal and focused approach to team effectiveness. This will require having some "tough talks" along the way. But, this is necessary if you are to chart a new course of team performance of commitment and interdependence. For, as Henry Ford observed, "Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, and working together is success."