If you ask five of your employees whether they feel working in teams is successful and productive, you’ll likely hear five completely different answers – all of which will be true in their own fashion.
Collaborative work can indeed produce good results, but it only works if everyone on the team is committed. Understanding the pros and cons of putting together work teams can help prevent the team from finding failure even before it’s begun work.
Some teams begin because more than one employee needs to have input into a project in order for it to work. In other cases a team may be created when several different employees join together because they have an idea. When a team organise itself organically, it tends to work. Otherwise, things are often less successful. Building teams simply because the idea sounds good is not effective.
Unfortunately the belief that teamwork results in greater productivity and creativity is so widespread that whenever a new challenge comes up, leaders tend to assume a team is the best way to deal with it. Yet collaborative work usually isn’t very collaborative if members of the team feel they’re there not because they have something to contribute, but because someone felt ‘a team’ was a great idea.
Of course it is often mandatory, when facing a project which draws from a number of different disciplines or which will affect many departments, to involve many employees in order for the project to succeed. Nevertheless this can only work if everyone in the team is empowered — or, if they are not, that this is clear to everyone.
Many organisations are loaded with groups calling themselves ‘teams’ which aren’t. A group which is being led by someone in charge is not a true team, and this can cause significant problems. If such a group tries to become ‘a team’ when the challenge mandates a single-leader approach to problem solving, both morale and performance suffer. Yet the opposite is just as true – a single-leader group is not the choice when teamwork is mandatory.
Learn how to communicate.
In football the team’s goal is clear enough: get the ball to the opponent’s goal, keep it away from your own. Everyone on the team understands what it will take to make these goals happen. Yet this is only rarely the case in work teams.
The goal may be in sight, but it’s not necessarily clear to everyone how to best reach it. Pains must therefore be taken to ensure everyone on the team knows their role and knows which deliverables they are accountable for. No aspect of the project should be neglected – there should be specific discussions with the team where every member can present their particular approach and what they expect to deliver.
Things may go awry even when the team has been brought together for good reasons and the objectives are well laid out. Most employees will happily tell you — the worst parts of teamwork are when troubles or disagreements come up. You should therefore spend the time needed to understand both what you are trying to do and how you will deal with bumps on the way. Trying to undo conflicts between two or more team members in a situation where nobody is prepared to handle conflicts is easily three times as hard as setting up some ground rules for managing conflicts at the start of the process.
Dedicated team building activities come with their own pros and cons. Team building activities increase the understanding, efficacy, and self-esteem of those who make up the team. The willingness to share ideas with their teammates goes up and stress levels go down. The group tends to focus better as a whole, and there is more unity towards the common aspirations and goals.
At the same time team building activities can represent significant time out of work. There is a trend towards short team building events yet most still take at least a day. There is therefore not just the cost of doing the day but also the cost of having the team kept from their work while they do it. Lastly, there is also a ‘return to baseline’ factor — a number of studies have shown that team cohesion tends to rise just before the activity and stay up for a period after, but then things may return back to the previous level within as little as two months following the activity. Team building must therefore be considered an ongoing process.
Kerry Blake is a MS Office expert, trainer and lecturer for past seven years. He has contributed on several sites like Career Addict and King Of Fuel. Most of his articles are about technology but he also writes about cars as that is his other passion.
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