Teamwork : The Eternally Successful Team

Brian has over 25 years of experience consulting to all levels of management and staff. His most recent work has included strategy building sessions and processes. He brings to all his assignments a solid background in project management and group facilitation, gained through experience in banking, manufacturing, health care, education and insurance sectors. A Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP), with experience gained in this field in both Europe and Canada, he helps organizations align strategy & people.

Brian is a board member of Habitat for Humanity, Edmonton and a member of their Human Resources Committee. Habitat for Humanity, working in conjunction with sponsors, donors, volunteers and partner families, opens the door to home ownership for low income families.

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What makes for a successful team? Some key differentiators have stood the test of time. 
Everyone I speak with agrees with the concept of 'teamwork', yet eyes glaze over when the topic is discussed in a vacuum. More concepts and theories are not what people are looking for. Rather good practical advice, the type that can be put to immediate use and produce quick results, gets their attention. So with that in mind, here are some tips that have worked for others... 

There are four essential elements of teams that make the experience adventurous and successful: 

  • goals, 
  • interdependence, 
  • commitment, and 
  • accountability. 

Teams Need a Unifying Purpose

Does your team have a common purpose, or goal that unites you? To find out, try this exercise. Ask each team member to write down what the team's goal is and compare the may be surprised (maybe not) to discover that there are as many versions of the purpose or goal as there are team members. 

Don't try to change what people have written down. Instead, have each individual refine their statement and write the refined version on a Post-It® note. Then, assemble all the Post--It® notes, and use the Affinity Diagram method to come up with a summary of what people have written. You can download a free e-booklet on how to use the Affinity Diagram by clicking here

Refine the summary through team dialogue. This way, you will:

  • discover how much goal affinity there is within the team, 
  • maintain each members self esteem (nobody likes to be told they are 'wrong'), and 
  • build consensus around the team goal 

Team Members Have Interdependent Roles

There must be an interdependent working relationship in order for a team to exist. Without interdependency, what you have is a group of individual performers. Most importantly, each team member needs to know how they contribute to the overall success of the team, and how other team members value their contribution as an element in their own success. 

Try this exercise. Create a simple matrix chart, similar to the one below. Distribute copies to each team member and ask them, given the teams newly formed goal (see above), where they see the interdependencies amongst team members. Remind them that an interdependency occurs when one team member depends on another to produce an output for them that is key to their performance. Ask them to identify a specific output and insert it in the appropriate cell on the matrix. 

So for example, in the matrix below, Mary would state "I need [Jon or Peter or Marcella] to..." . Assemble all of the matrices and post them on the wall. Discuss the results. Ask how the interdependencies can be improved. 

Team Members Need to Commit to The Team Publicly

Without commitment, performance suffers. A good example is an athletic team, whose members share goals and an overall purpose. Individual players have specific assignments they are responsible for, but each depends on the other team members to complete their assignments. Lack of commitment to team effort reduces overall effectiveness...and the degree of commitment is public.

Try this exercise. Ask each team member to describe what most frustrates them in acting on their commitment to the team. Don't accuse team members of not being sufficiently committed. Just try and identify the barriers to acting on their commitment...then make a personal commitment yourself to helping them remove the barriers.

Keep this topic on the team agenda, and tease it out meeting by meeting. It is a sensitive area, so give the conversation time to evolve. If you need to be more direct with a team member, then do so in private conversation with them, not in front of other team members.

The Team Needs to be Accountable to a Higher Authority

Teams do not exist in a vacuum. Make sure that your team purpose, goals and plans reflect and link back solidly to organizational vision, mission and strategic goals.

Try using this matrix as a way to ensure alignment and accountability is made visible:

Creating this line of sight will cause your team to pay more attention to their goals and strategies, and to be more adventurous in how they go about executing team plays.

Pay attention to these four elements of team dynamics and you will be well on your way to becoming an adventurous, and successful team.

Ó Copyright, Brian Ward, Affinity Consulting, 2005

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