Getting Teams Working

Organizations deliver what they do by grouping people together in teams to meet specific requirements. The ability to choose who is part of a team does not always fall to the team leader as they may well be appointed to head up a pre-existing team. Nevertheless, the team leader needs to pay particular attention to make sure the team operates as a team and delivers what is needed.

Get The Benefits of Teamwork

Having a team of people putting their efforts towards one goal make sense to most but think for a moment about examples of when teams (or groups if you prefer) haven’t delivered as they might have been expected to. The only reason a team is put together is to achieve more than what one individual can. This can be in terms of the volume of work required or because of the need to utilize diverse skills and competences that rarely exist in one individual.

The phrase ‘delivering more than the sum of its parts’ is especially true of teams that are working well together. This requires good communication within the team and a common understanding of what needs to be done at any point in time.

The issue of team leadership can be a tricky one. While an organization may give someone a title of Team Leader there may well be occasions when others within the team take the lead when they are best suited to it. This is indicative of a team that is working really well together and also of a mature leader who recognizes when best to allow others to step up to the mark.

Avoid Groupthink

Groupthink is when an idea within a group of people develops and through increasing enthusiasm and often a lack of external input, can develop into something that is flawed in some way.

No-one would ever question or criticize a team for being overly enthusiastic about their work but there has to be a check every now and again as to the direction it is taking. This may be the role the formal team leader chooses to take although they may well be driving enthusiastically in a particular direction. If this is the case then someone else in the team or outside of the team needs to be given the authority and permission to interrupt and ask the question “Is this thing going the way it ought to?”

The Right Mix

Having the right mix of skills, specialisms, experience and attitudes for the work the team needs to carry out seems pretty straightforward enough. The danger is that teams are often put together by concentrating almost exclusively on the required skills and specialist ‘technical’ knowledge. The attitudes and (so called) soft-skills are far too often ignored. Indeed, this can be how teams get themselves into a groupthink situation with similar people backing up and supporting each other without considering any wider perspectives.

If needed, there are many psychometric tools around to help assess potential candidates for teams that a leader, experienced or not, could use to assist in getting the right mix. At the end of the day it is the balance of specialist skills and knowledge and inter-personal skills that make or break a team.

Plan For The Future

Unless the team only needs to be in place for a short period of time then considering how it needs to change as time moves on is critical. The work the team is involved in is likely to evolve and the team shape and structure will need to adapt accordingly. Individual team members may leave the team for any number of reasons and the team leader needs to consider how to deal with these situations. Some team members may be more important to team success (relatively so) than others so some form of contingency plan needs to be in place should they leave.

It may well be the case that the team needs a re-fresh every now and again to prevent it becoming stale. Moving people on and bringing in new team members will require specific effort on behalf of the team leader. When this happens the team leader has to consider that they have a new team in place as any change in team membership will change the skills, knowledge, experience and attitude of the team as a whole.

Getting teams to work well towards the delivery of their given goals is far more than just stating those goals and expecting them to be delivered. Significant effort on behalf of the team leader needs to be put into developing and nurturing the individuals within the team. The amount of effort required can often come as a surprise to newly appointed and inexperienced team leaders who often concentrate on what they know best, i.e. their own specific area of expertize.

To get the most from a team you need to:

  1. Make sure you have the right combination of people in terms of their skills, experience, knowledge and attitudes.
  2. Be wary of Groupthink especially if you have a team of similar individuals – put in place mechanisms to inject external questioning of direction if needed.
  3. Let the most appropriate person lead on any individual aspect of work that the team is involved in and make sure that person is supported.
  4. Think about how to deal with changes to key team members and consider a team re-fresh either to meet changing needs or to bring in new ideas.
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11 thoughts on “Getting Teams Working

  1. Loved both your articles. I’m looking for some concrete process observation of Bion’s work in Leadership Teams.
    Ganga (Leadership Coach & OD Consultant)

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  5. Great post Paul. Very resonant with a piece of work I’m currently engaged in. With two of your points, getting the right mix and getting the benefit of teamwork, I think there is also a requirement for the team leader to actively manage the group dynamic of the team. In some cases, just getting the right people on the stage doesn’t ensure that they will necessarily understand each other or how they fit into the bigger picture or that they will even work in synch with each other. I see part of a team leader’s role as similar to conductor of an orchestra, which for me implies that the conductor will make sure that everyone in the orchestra knows what everyone else does well and where the linkages need to be so that you do get that “whole greater than sum of parts” effect.

    • Thanks John. Couldn’t agree more with that. Getting the team dynamic right is absolutely essential and leaders need to appreciate it, but often don’t, especially inexperienced ones. I was going to add in something about Forming, Norming etc, but maybe that can be another post at another time. Hope your current piece of work is progressing well.
      All the best.

      • Yes, that whole Storming, Norming stuff is essential for anyone managing teams. Your post has inspired some thoughts in me that I might put down in an article, too.

    • Ha ha – no (all your posts are well thought out and useful) but next time I’ll try and heckle or at least ask some tough questions!

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