Dimensions of Team Effectiveness – Knowing the success factors (part 2)

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Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships. – Michael Jordan

Team work is a product of people working together. The current post is the second part of a two part post on the dimensions of team effectiveness – success factors. To quickly recap, although every team is different; when you take away the specific task and context, all teams are fundamentally alike. By that, I mean all teams expend some effort to get their mission accomplished. Throughout the literature there are six important factors that I feel are important to address (Greenberg, 2010; Kabaga & Browing, 2003).

  1. A clear purpose
  2. An empowering team structure
  3. Strong organizational support
  4. Positive internal relationships
  5. Well-tended external relationships
  6. Efficient informational management

These areas can then be used to help further define a team’s success. This post will address the last three: although all of the six are important to a team’s success. Specifically, I cover some symptoms of dysfunction and a recommendation for success.

4. Positive internal relationships

Maintaining positive internal relationships within your team is extremely important. There are many different kinds of team difficulties and deficiencies that strain relationships and surface as bad attitudes, mistrust, and power struggles. In addition, team roles that are unfilled, and a lack of organizational support, no high-level sponsor, and a lack of resources all can cause a team to perform sluggishly but look like individual problems. Resentment and blame may follow.

Symptoms

  • Favoritism: When some members are perceived as having a closer relationship with the team leader than others, it’s likely that the team isn’t enjoying full cooperation among all its members.
  • Safe tactics: Tactics that just barely satisfy team objectives may be a sign of poor or weak relationships among members. In the absence of robust relationships, teams may value harmony above finding the optimal ways to do things. The tactics they adopt may be designed primarily to minimize conflict and strife.
  • Turnover: When individuals consistently find reasons why they can no longer serve on the team, it’s often a sign of disagreeable, stressful relationships among members.

Recommendation

Even when there is a clear purpose, appropriate knowledge, an empowering team structure, and good organizational support, personality conflicts and unproductive relationships may hinder the team’s work. When this is the case a good intervention might need to be a series of activities. My two suggestions would be an offsite and an assessment. The offsite could be used to build camaraderie, reinforce team identity, pride, and the vision of the team. The second would be to utilize an assessment; they can give the team a clearer view of strengths and complementary working styles of its members.

5. Well-tended external relationships

No team exists in a vacuum. Effective, well-performing teams understand the needs and perspectives of many external stakeholders, some inside the organization and some outside. In particular, effective teams operate with the awareness that the external environment is constantly changing.

Symptoms

  • Playing politics: Take a close look at how the team relates to stakeholders in the company, and see if undue weight is being given to organizational politics.
  • Angry suppliers: If vendors are complaining, if often indicates that the team doesn’t understand their operations and constraints.
  • Alienated customers or clients: The purpose of a team frequently relates directly to serving and satisfying the organization’s clients. Unhappy customers may be a sign that the team has lost sights of its purpose.

Recommendation

If your team isn’t effectively using its external relationships, one simple action to take is to have some who represents one of those relationships (i.e., vendor) to come and speak to the team. Training and coaching can help members understand stakeholder perspectives, and look beyond attitudes and complaints.

6. Efficient informational management

Managing information is a major challenge in today’s complex geographically dispersed organizations, and one that is often overlooked as it applies to teams. Teams are not effective in the absence of accurate and timely information. Both the team and its external stakeholders need to clearly understand the lines of communication and then need to use those communication channels, or information gaps can become information caverns.

Symptoms

  • Missed market changes: When news from the outside world isn’t incorporated into the team’s continuing work, it’s a sign that information-gathering systems need to be revamped.
  • Erroneous conclusions: Too many wrong answers and unwise decisions may indicate that the team isn’t receiving and considering enough information to make solid decisions.
  • Missed opportunities: If the window of opportunity keeps closing on your team, it may indicate that the team is not getting and disseminating information in a timely manner.

Recommendation

To manage information to bolster effectiveness it is important to consider which communication channel best helps the team overcome performance weakness. When team effort is low for example, less reliance on email and more attention on face-to-face meeting can help renew member efforts by underscoring their cooperative relationships.

References:

Greenberg, J. (2010). Managing behavior in organizations. Pearson Prentice Hall.

Image: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/111745634479612461/

Kabaga & Browing (2003). Maintaing Team Performance. For the Practicing Manager. Center for Creative Leadership.

 

Dimensions of team effectiveness – success factors

Team-effectiveness

Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.
– Vince Lombardi

Team work is a product of people working together. The current post is a two part post on the dimensions of team effectiveness – success factors. Although, every team is different; when you take away the specific task and context, all teams are fundamentally alike. By that, I mean all teams expend some effort to get their mission accomplished. Throughout the literature there are six important factors that I feel are important to address (Greenberg, 2010; Kabaga & Browing, 2003).

  1. A clear purpose
  2. An empowering team structure
  3. Strong organizational support
  4. Positive internal relationships
  5. Well-tended external relationships
  6. Efficient informational management

These areas can then be used to help further define a team’s success. This post will address the top three; although all of the six are important to a team’s success. Specifically, I cover some symptoms of dysfunction and a recommendation for success.

       1. A clear purpose:

This is a frequent cause of team dysfunction. Everyone on the team should be able to answer the question: What are we here to accomplish? When purpose is clear to all, it provides  the motivation for ongoing effort and willingness to endure setbacks and tackle tough obstacles.

Symptoms of an unclear purpose:

  • Foot dragging and boredom: When part of the team’s task becomes mundane, repetitive, or unclear, motivation can drop off.
  • Duplicate skill sets: When too many members have the same competencies and expertise, those skills may be overemphasized and the direction of the team can shift.
  • Convoluted tactics: Complicated, confusing, disjointed ways of getting things done are often a sign of that the team is unclear about its purpose.
  • Low trust levels: People struggling to make their work purposeful may not trust others to help them in that struggle.

Recommendation:

One technique is to re-evaluate your goal setting. Help the team set challenging goals for itself that are clearly tied to its purpose, and that will require ingenuity and renewed effort to achieve.

2. An empowering team structure:

An empowering structure helps the team make the most of its resources. Teams usually develop tacit, unwritten norms that govern the behavior of the members. Problems may develop when there is turnover in the team and new members work against the prevailing norms. The processes established for the team to carry out its work need to be reviewed periodically to see if they are working well. Teams that feel a sense of ownership about the procedures and processes they use will be motivated to follow them.

Symptoms of an un-empowered team:

  • Frustration about roles: Undefined, missing, and duplicate roles can be sources of frustration.
  • Can’t do attitude: The lack of a key skill and the inability to acquire that competency – can cause your team to stumble or even fail.
  • Rigid structure or lack of structure: There has to be right balance of structure and autonomy in a team.

Recommendation:

Set aside time at team meetings to re-visit, roles, responsibilities, norms, and procedures. Often in the midst of changes tensions arise between members because then don’t have a shared understanding of what is expected of one another – they are not on the same page. The team can use this time set aside to review and update procedures and norms, even when change is occurring.

 3. Strong organizational support:

Sometimes, the cause of team failure lies outside. Not all required resources can be anticipated when a team is formed or launched; so organizational support involves provides the team with resources it needs on an ongoing basis. Organizational support can be in many forms; endorsements to take time on a project, team rewards, and opportunities for education or training.

Symptoms of low organizational support:

  • Counterproductive rewards systems: If you’re rewarding individual effort instead of team effort, you’ll find that people won’t give their best to the team task.
  • Roundabout tactics: if the team’s tactics are designed to get around the organization’s policies; that indicates that the norms of the organization are an obstacle to team success.
  • Ill-designed information systems: Without clear channels and processes, information flow can get stalled; making it difficult for the team to share what they have learned or know.
  • Out-of-kilter control systems: Unclear or overbearing control systems (i.e., inventory, human resources, financials, and regulations) can get in the way of team effectiveness.

Recommendation:

Use a suitable rewards system, which can underscore the organization’s support. Rewards don’t always have to be financial. Highly visible recognition, celebrations of milestones, and even educational opportunities for members can serve as team-oriented rewards.

Please stay posted for my next installment of team success factors.

References:

Greenberg, J. (2010). Managing behavior in organizations. Pearson Prentice Hall.

Image: http://www.thales-ld.com/blog/five-ways-boost-team-effectiveness/

Kabaga & Browing (2003). Maintaing Team Performance. For the Practicing Manager. Center for Creative Leadership.

 

Monitoring and Maintenance for Successful Team Outcomes

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When you take a step back and think about it, it is not hard to tell if a team has been effective. The results tell the story. If the team has been effective,

  • the outcomes – products, services, ideas, or recommendations – meet or exceed stakeholder expectations;
  • members of the team feel satisfied with the process and the product of their effort;
  • team members have learned lessons that will make themselves and the organization more effective in future initiatives.

The road to such results can be plagued with potholes, and teams frequently run into obstacles and problems along the way. They may fail to live up to their potential, fail to deliver expected outcomes, or fail to produce their results in a timely manner. Many of these can be prevented if team leaders assess their team’s performance. This is particularly true when a team’s mission will take more than a few months to accomplish.

Three strategies to help monitor and maintain successful teams:

1.)  Taking the pulse of your team at several points in time. This can help you safeguard against any resources or action items that may cause failure.

2.)  Don’t wait until a problem surfaces. Often managers wait until the problem becomes apparent that their team isn’t hitting its interim goals.

3.) More often then not they can be traced to a flaw in the basic foundation; perhaps it doesn’t have a clear mission, or doesn’t have the support it needs from top management.

References: 

Kabaga & Browing (2003). Maintaing Team Performance. For the Practicing Manager. Center for Creative Leadership.

http://www.insight.com/insighton/healthcare/remote-monitoring-can-you-handle-it/

Leading Cross-Functional Project Teams

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Leadership roles across different types of teams are similar in many ways, but each type of team also has unique challenges for leaders. I am dedicating this blog post to review of the limited research on what type of skills and behavior are needed for effective leadership in cross-functional teams.

A cross-functional team is a group of people with different functional expertise working toward a common goal (Krajewski & Ritzman, 2005). Typically, it includes employees from all levels of an organization. It may include people from finance, marketing, operations, and human resources departments. Members may also come from outside an organization (in particular, from suppliers, key customers, or consultants).

Despite the extensive use of cross-functional project teams during the past 30 years, research on skills required for effective leadership of cross-functional teams is still limited. Because the tasks of many cross-functional team require innovation, research on leading creative people is also relevant for understanding effective leadership in these teams. Reviews of the relevant research (Ford & Randoiph, 1992; Mumford, Scott, Gaddis, & Strange, 2002; Yukl, 2002) suggest that leaders of cross-functional project teams need technical expertise, cognitive skills, interpersonal skills, projection management skills, and political skills.

Technical expertise: The leader must be able to communicate about technical matters with team members from diverse functional backgrounds.

Cognitive skills: The leaders must be able to solve complex problems that require creativity and systems thinking, and must understand how different functions are relevant to the success of the project.

Interpersonal skills: The leader must be able to understand the needs and values of team members, to influence them, resolve conflicts, and build cohesiveness.

Project management skills: The leader must be able to plan and organize the project activities, select qualified members of the team, and handle budgeting and financial responsibilities.

References:

Ford, R. C., & Randolph, W. A. (1992). Cross-functional structures: A review and integration of matrix organization and project management. Journal of management, 18(2), 267-294.

Krajewski, L. J. and L. P. Ritzman. 2005. Operations Management: Processes and Value Chains. Pearson Education, Upper Saddle River.

Mumford, M. D., Scott, G. M., Gaddis, B., & Strange, J. M. (2002). Leading creative people: Orchestrating expertise and relationships. The Leadership Quarterly, 13(6), 705-750.

Yukl, G. A. (2002). Leadership in organizations.

 

Why Teams Fail

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A recent talk from Dr. Tan at Claremont McKenna College has got my wheels turning on how important teamwork can be not only in organizations, but also in sports or in a classroom. Teamwork in the workplace offers a company and its staff the opportunity to become more familiar and to learn how to work together. The incorporation of teams into the workplace has become a powerful organizational tool used by leaders. Organizations are now more networked, flexible, and dynamic as outsourcing, globalization, and competitive pressures force organizations to rely on work teams (Blanchard, 2005). This increase of teams has shifted organizational structures and operations, forcing leaders to evaluate their leadership strategies (Devine et al., 1999; Rousseau, 1997). Understanding elements of teamwork will assist in developing company policies geared toward encouraging team growth in the workplace, thus enhancing productivity and profitability.

Patrick Lencioni (2005) explores the fundamental causes of organizational politics and team failure in his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” He focuses as well on the many pitfalls that teams face as they seek to “row together.” What follows is a summary of these five dysfunctions:

  1. Absence of trust—unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. This is the most important and the foundation for any successful team. Members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors. They get to a point where they can be completely open with one another, without filters
  2. Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate. Teams that trust one another are not afraid to engage in passionate dialogue around issues and decisions that are key to an organization’s success. They do not hesitate to disagree with, challenge, and question one another, all in the spirit of finding the best answers, discovering the truth, and making great decisions.
  3. Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization. Teams that engage in unfiltered conflict are able to achieve genuine buy-in around important decisions, even when various members of the team initially disagree. That’s because they ensure that all opinions and ideas are put on the table and considered, giving confidence to team members that no stone has been left un-turned.
  4. Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards. Teams that commit to decisions and standards of performance do not hesitate to hold one another accountable for adhering to those decisions and standards. What is more, they don’t rely on the team leader as the primary source of accountability – they go directly to their peers.
  5. Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success. Teams that trust one another, engage in conflict, commit to decisions, and hold one another accountable are very likely to set aside their individual needs and agendas and focus almost exclusively on what is best for the team. They do not give in to the temptations to place their departments, career aspirations, or ego-driven status ahead of the collective results that define team success.

Looking back now at teams you have been a part of, consider:

  • What behaviors – by their presence or absence – caused the failure in a team you have worked on in the past?
  • What factors contributed to some of your teams succeeding and others failing?

References:

Blanchard, O. (2005). European unemployment: The evolution of facts and ideas. NBER Working paper series, 11750. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/papers/w11750

Devine, D. J., Clayton, L. D., Philips, J. L., Dunford, B. B., & Melner, S. B. (1999). Team in organizations: Prevalence, characteristics, and effectiveness. Small Group Research, 30, 678-711.

Image: http://inlpcenter.org/what-makes-teams-of-highly-paid-experts-fail-miserably/

Patrick, L. (2005). Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team.

Rousseau, D. M. (1997). Organizational behavior in the new organizational era. Annual Review of Psychology, 48(1), 515-546.

Tan (2105). Why Teams Fail. Speech at Claremont McKenna College.