Today's businesses operate on a team model. Employers like teams and they like employees who can work in teams. Why? Because good teams outperform individuals. They can work smarter, faster, and with better outcomes.
Watch this excellent TED Talk on Collaboration (15:59 min) by Kenneth Blanchard, who has written over 30 books on management, many of them collaborations that might not have been possible without his humble nature.
Collaboration and teamwork are ranked in the top three most desired skills on most employer surveys.
“Employers consistently mention collaboration and teamwork as being critical skills, essential in almost all work environments,” Benefits and problems with student teams: Suggestions for improving team projects, R. Hansen, 2006.
Skills desired by employers and honed by working in teams:
Appreciation for diversity
If you fancy yourself a team player, or want to be, work on the following.
1. Be reliable.
The most valued quality in a team member is the ability to meet deadlines. We love working with people we can count on – who do what they say they will do, when they say they will do it.
2. Share leadership.
No one appreciates a dictator on a team, but every team needs leadership.
Shared leadership is best. Give voice to all team members. Assign responsibilities according to member strengths. Take time to get to know one another as individuals at the start of any new project. Celebrate successes. Analyze defeats or setbacks. Keep communication lines open and flowing.
3. Support the team.
You may not agree with every decision voted on by the team, but if you’re on the team, that’s your team. And it will only be as strong as its weakest link. So don’t be a weak link. Certainly don’t be antagonistic and backbite or snip at the team efforts.
The best performing teams are cohesive. If every member maintains a positive attitude and supports everyone else on the team, it’s a much better experience for all.
4. Know your purpose.
Keep the real goals in sight. Don’t let individual personality differences, or agendas, or pettiness steer you off course.
5. Share accountability.
It’s best to decide early – before differences arise – how conflicts or missed deadlines or poor work performance will be handled.
The best teams are really teams, not just a collection of individuals.
Teamwork requires meetings. Here are some suggestions to help meetings be efficient and not time wasters.
1. Set an agenda prior.
An agenda is a simple list of items that need to be discussed in the meeting. Frontload the items, meaning put the most important items at the tops. You'll spend the most time on these.
Let attendees know the agenda so they can be prepared. If the agenda would benefit from attendees’ input, invite their input a few days ahead of the meeting, before you finalize the agenda.
Most managers agree that agendas make meetings more efficient, but few people actually set them thoughtfully ahead of time.
An agenda is a great idea for any meeting – even coffee with a mentor or colleague. Having a simple list of the items you wish to discuss will ensure the most efficiency of your time.
2. Begin and end on time.
If you delay or repeat discussion points for late arrivers, you’re rewarding them and sending the message that everyone else’s time is not as important. Establish a consistent pattern of efficiency, especially as a leader, so people know you respect their (and your own) time.
3. Only invite those who really need to be there.
Many organizations have too many meetings. They can be huge time wasters if not planned well and executed well.
4. Make it worth your attendees’ time.
If you’ve called the meeting and are chairing the meeting, make it valuable for those who come. Consider your audience – what are their concerns? What’s important to them? Put thought and effort into your presentation, if you’re presenting something. Put thought and effort into your comments, if you’re sharing information or inviting discussion.
5. Give all attendees a voice.
Invite feedback and discussion. Let people voice their concerns and ask questions for clarification. This is especially important if decisions are on the agenda. It’s the chairperson’s job to tone down any who might dominate discussions, and draw out any who might normally hold back. The best decisions come when everyone is heard and has a chance to share input.
6. Distribute a minutes after the meeting.
Minutes are a report of important items discussed. It's especially efficient to list any "actions required" as follow-up after the meeting, along with dates and those responsible. Minutes should list those present, those absent, information points, actions required, who submitted the minutes, and when the next meeting is, if applicable.
Tuckman’s Theory of Team Formation
Bruce Tuckman is credited with the theory of team formation. He says cohesive teams need time to “form and storm” before they can “norm and perform.”
In the forming stage, team members are getting to know one another. They should exchange contact information and make decisions about meeting times and how they’ll hold one another accountable.
In the storming stage, team members’ begin to contribute to the team effort. They won’t all see eye-to-eye. Work styles and preferences will vary.
In the norming stage, team members work through their differences and begin to value the strengths and talents of each member.
In the performing stage, they’re clicking and working together as a unified team to produce the necessary results. Too often, in both the classroom and the workplace, people are expected to perform without time to actually form well first.
Tuckman forming storming norming performing model (business balls.com)
What leaders can do to help teams be successful:
Decide on the best method for team formation
Have team building exercises
Set clear goals
Assign specific roles
Give work time for meetings
Set multiple feedback points
Encourage individuals to keep personal contributions file
Instructors should use peer evaluations as part of grading
All teams are not created equally.
Some common issues in teams are unequal contributions (most common problem), being competitive rather than cooperative, poor team management, and evaluating product over process.
Evaluating both product and process helps ensure strong future team outcomes.
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