#280 from Innovative
Leader Volume 6, Number 6
Teams to Really Work
Glacel is chief executive of VIMA International, Inc., an
organization development firm in Burke, Virginia (phone
703-764-0780; email VIMAInt@VIMA.com).
She is co-author of Light
Bulbs for Leaders: A
Guide Book for Team Learning (John Wiley & Sons, New York,
With all that we
have heard about high-performing teams, self-managed teams,
quality-circle teams, cross-functional teams and so on, you would
think that developing a good team ought to be pretty
no matter what “method” you use, good teams simply don’t
happen. People must
conscientiously learn to be good team leaders and members.
These ten practical lessons are essential to developing a
high-performing team. The
lessons may sound like common sense, but they are learned only
start the formation stages over at each meeting.
Every time team
members come together, they must adjust to the fact that changes
have been made since the last meeting.
Since then, individuals have had new experiences and new
ideas. Therefore, each meeting should begin with a check to see
how each person is and if there is anything new he or she can
bring to the team. This
shows interest in the individuals, who then will work more easily
together when it comes down to business.
change in team membership means a new beginning to team formation
People are not
pegs that can be readily interchanged.
A new team member will not be the same as the one who is
being replaced. Because
high performance and quality results are based on the
interdependence of team members, a change in personnel influences
the entire team. Therefore,
when a new person joins a team, formation issues are renewed as
trust is reduced and the members are not sure how the whole team
will act in the presence of a new-shaped piece of the puzzle.
and real feelings expressed by team members help stimulate new
When people know
and express their feelings, it makes them more real. How many times
have we heard the old adage that when one comes to work, feelings
and personal problems should be checked at the door?
This ingrained work ethic is a tough one to break, even
when one rationally knows better.
hopes, anger, uncertainty, elation, or any other feeling is a
first step toward building the trust that a team needs to be high
performing. This does
not mean going back to the touchy-feely exercises of the sixties.
It means being truthful about who you are and what you
bring to the party. The
idea of expressing feelings also demonstrates that rhetoric
isn’t always reality, and that common sense isn’t always
common practice. People
connect better with each other when they believe that feelings are expressed.
is more information and knowledge within a team than is usually
power and even in the flattest of organizations, there’s
significant competition for promotions, access, success and/or
may be guarded carefully for fear of someone else using it to
individual advantage. Or,
perhaps more commonly, the information does not seem relevant to
share because team members do not understand the big picture.
Team members must feel a sense of unity and interdependence
among themselves to comfortably share significant information.
falls on all team members to bring people into discussion and to
listen to ideas opposite from their own.
should share responsibility for leadership.
High-performing teams have a minimum of hierarchy.
Members join or are assigned to teams because of the value
each can bring to the topic at hand.
Therefore, input from all members is required.
When hierarchy, conflict or style get in the way of
individual contributions, any member of the team should help the
team to be more open and collaborative. Each participant needs to keep an open mind to opposing
ideas, and share in the responsibility for leadership.
about the team task is easy; talking about the process, or working
together is difficult.
Talking about a
task is a technical, mechanical, logistical or rational
discussion. Only in
rare instances does discussion of the task evoke considerable
emotional input. It’s
more comfortable to discuss the task, which is external, than to
work together, which involves internal and interpersonal issues.
Discussing the process
of working together means accepting responsibility for one’s
impact on others.
meetings are needed for confronting difficult issues and reaching
Even in this day
of cyber-magic and instant communication, there is no substitute
communication when dealing with difficult issues.
Often, teams are virtual, located in geographically
separate places. Without the advantage of bringing a personality into the
discussion, conflicts may either escalate or be swept under the
carpet. Reliance only
on e-mail to avoid solving problems means that teams do not form,
products and services do not improve, and quality is always at
team should reflect on team process at every meeting.
As activities and
actions are identified at a meeting, members should analyze how
they came about. Whose
thoughts and feelings were most important to the discussion? How were they expressed?
Who helped them express these thoughts and feelings?
It is useful to have this type of discussion both at the
beginning (reflecting on prior meetings) and at the end of a
meeting. Have the
group generalize what helps the team come to good conclusions.
By reflecting on how the team works, each meeting is
certain to produce better team results.
can get a lot done away from work.
formation requires people to be themselves, to be vulnerable, and
to recognize the whole aspect of one another, considerable
progress can be made outside of the work setting.
Conflicts and barriers to progress can often be reduced
away from work. Individuals
with interpersonal difficulties can see each other in a new light.
Stress, a cause of team dysfunction, can be mitigated in a
social setting—during lunch, for instance.
Celebrations, such as birthday parties, or company picnics
also facilitate the search for a common ground as they allow
members to meet each other on equal footing, putting aside
time for forming, storming, norming and performing.
rhyming words describe the process of team development over time.
Individuals do not immediately come together and produce
quality results. Unless
the procedure they are asked to perform is routine and requires no
discretion nor judgment, team members must learn to work together. The progression of form,
storm, norm, perform is not linear.
Rather it is an iterative process, which often results in
two steps forward, one step back.
The various inputs over time may cause conflicts
(storming), alter behaviors acceptable to the team (norming), and
develop a new standard for performing.
These ten lessons
will only work with effective communication, commitment, behavior
change and continuous feedback.
This requires hard work and skills that are not easily
learned within the context of a business crisis.
They are better learned within the context of everyday team
attention to how your team works.
Which of these lessons will make it work even better?