Dealing with Teams
“There is no I in team” is a famous phrase used in all kinds of scenarios and the business world is no stranger to this concept. Teams play a very important role in organizations as well as our personal lives. Teams are formed when individuals with common interests come together and work together for a common goal. Henry Ford had the right idea when he said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” This proverb details the importance of working in teams, but what truly makes a team successful? Developing team competencies, team diversity, dealing with team conflicts, and improving group effectiveness are but a few factors that make an average team great.
Team competence, or the ability to be successful within a team, typically revolves around the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of the team. Knowledge in the context of a group refers specifically to “understanding facts, concepts, relations, and underlying relevant information that is crucial in performing team tasks” (Pg. 290). Some examples may include knowledge of the teams mission, objectives, and norms; task sequencing; team role interaction patterns; understanding teamwork skills; and understanding teammate characteristics. This wealth of knowledge is crucial and most beneficial to any group scenario.
Skills, or highly developed behavioral and cognitive capabilities, are another crucial factor in the development and completion of the team. Flexibility and being able to adapt, monitoring ones own performance and those around them, being able to handle positive and negative criticism, and being able to approach the situation with the responsibilities of a leader are key elements that group members must have to be successful.
Attitudes involve the emotional side of things. The feelings and beliefs about something is a vital part of how we view our environment and how we view the workplace. Several attitudes are unique to the group context and have a direct bearing on the group’s interaction processes. In a group scenario, attitudes can be directly linked to how we view the concepts of team orientation, shared visions, team cohesion, mutual trust, and teamwork. Such attitudes can be nurtured and developed dependent on the situation at hand.
By definition, diversity means that there will be an increased likelihood for a wider range of views to be had. In regards to teams these diverse views are more than likely going to challenge the typical norms and produce ideas with the intention of making the business more successful and encourage positive change. Aside from actual differences that create diversity, teams that are diverse have various challenges, benefits, and drawbacks compared to non-diverse teams. One main benefit with team diversity is the encouragement of creative ideas and processes. A main drawback is that the differences within the team members may create some hostility within the team and respected environment. The differences in the teams can also range from a selection of physical and social differences. One of these differences can be based on gender. Gender can strongly affect the way the team interacts with one another. These gender communication differences can range from the way one communicates, their perceptions, opportunities, even sexual harassment may play a role in communication differences. Another aspect of diversity can be the race of the individual group members.
Race is defined as a group of people, often geographically connected, that share physical genetic characteristics. Cultural differences are the variations in social interaction, values, and beliefs of a given group of people and can be another contributing factor to the diversity of teams. The difference in age can contribute to many different approaches based on experience. Differences in sexual orientation, whether not understanding the differences or being morally opposed to them, can create barriers to productive interaction. Disabilities can also cause challenges in communication and interaction. Whether someone is deaf or has another disability can present a variety of issues for group interaction. All in all, diversity has many benefits and can create many different challenges. However, by being aware of these challenges and how to address them, teams and managers can overcome them and be successful.
“We can agree our way into horrendous decisions. But when people are allowed to express their opinions, no matter how disagreeable, magic can occur. More ideas are put on the table, which can lead to more discovery, which can lead to quantum leaps in improvement and innovation” (Pg 291). This is a crucial point made to represent the truth that not all conflict has to be thought of in a negative fashion. In fact, without conflict some of our greatest ideas would never have been expressed. However, for most conflicts to be beneficial there must be appropriate ways to handle the conflict that will foster the development of the group in a productive manner.
Research has narrowed conflict into three categories task conflict, process conflict, and relationship conflict. All of which are dealing with a common theme of varying differences. Task conflict is best described as “conflict that focuses on differences in ideas and courses of action in addressing the issues facing a group” (Pg. 291). With this style of conflict it is important to keep a strong focus on the goals of the business and to keep teams geared towards the various solutions after conflict. Re-establishing goals and setting ground rules for meetings are various ways to avoid this type of conflict. In some cases, it can be beneficial to have the team develop a conflict game plan that can foster growth and understanding among the various team members. Likewise is process conflict, which is “differences of opinion about the procedures a group should use to achieve its goals” (Pg. 291). One team member may make a detailed plan that outlines the various steps while another might dive head first into the process.
These differences can lead to a breakdown in communication and ultimately end in conflict. However, like task conflict, if managed correctly process conflict can be beneficial. Healthy differences in the process will often lead to better and improved ways of achieving the set goals and objectives of the team. Relationship conflict is the last conflict and is most detrimental to any team. This conflict “focuses on interpersonal differences among group members” (Pg 291). Conflict of this nature undermines and tears at the team’s ability to effectively achieve goals and penetrates at a level that can harm all aspects of any organization. This type of conflict is like a black hole for an organization, consuming most of the energy and attention of the organization and leaving little time to complete any productive tasks. The most effective methods of dealing with these kinds of conflicts would be encouragement of openness and cooperation. This will allow the various team members to feel comfortable expressing their opinions and become more productive in regards to completing the teams various tasks and requirements.
Improving the effectiveness of the team may be easier said than done. Teams are not static, they can be created, destroyed or changed over a period of time. However, keeping this in mind, their performance and effectiveness has the same ability to change. A key concept that any manager needs to keep in mind is that there is no magic formula that will bring forth the perfect team. Nevertheless, there are many useful approaches that can help turn the most basic team into powerful thinkers and doers. By simply assessing the effectiveness of the team, in other words what differentiates a team that is highly effective to one that may be less effective, can we determine what needs to be modified?
The results in a survey taken on the effectiveness of groups reported that “two thirds use objective, quantifiable criteria to measure group effectiveness; these include measures of production output, quality improvements, cost reductions, and turnaround times” (Pg. 292). Regardless of the criteria used to measure the effectiveness, for a group to perform at their best they must be able to handle three things. These three components include “(1) Exerting enough effort to accomplish tasks at acceptable levels of quantity and quality; (2) Obtain sufficient knowledge and skills to carry out its work; and (3) Use appropriate strategies to apply effort, knowledge, and skills effectively” (Pg. 293). As simple as these may seem, there are still a variety of challenges that manager’s face to achieve these criteria. To maintain the effectiveness resulting from these criteria, managers must develop appropriate group structures, develop appropriate support from the organization, and obtain appropriate coaching and consultation assistance.
Organizations have embraced teams within the last few decades simply because teams work. Employee motivation and morale improve dramatically when they feel valued and when their contribution to the company makes an important difference. However, bringing a group of people with unique talents and strengths together may be easy for some people, but having these individuals excel as a team or group is another story. With variables ranging from the different competencies, team diversity, team conflict, and team effectiveness there is a lot of factors than can go wrong. Nevertheless, with proper managing and techniques any team of average Joes can transform into star performers.