Ensuring Team Effectiveness

Monday, 27 December 2010 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

We are into the festive season with celebrations. You may be with your team at home, or with your team at work. Irrespective of where you are, insights on the nature of team work, with specific emphasis on team effectiveness are useful.

As we discussed last week, teams are an essential component of business. We looked at fundamentals of teams, and saw how a team appears as a special type of a group. As in the way we discussed individuals, effectiveness of a team matters a lot. Whether a team is achieving sustainable results is critical to the future of the organisation it belongs to.

We can get many examples from the field of sports.  Let’s look at Cricket, where the next World Cup tournament is looming large. A Cricket team is effective if it is consistently winning. What are the contributing factors for team effectiveness? Stephen Robins, a veteran in Organisational Behaviour, recommends four key aspects. They are, work design, composition of the team, context in which the team has to perform and the process of team work. Let’s discuss these in detail.

Work Design

Whether the team members are having a set of specified tasks with needed autonomy to carry them out is important. For that to happen, tasks have to be well designed in with the set goals in mind. The team members should identify themselves with the tasks and see the significance of such tasks. In a Cricket team, a wicket keeper should know exactly what his role is in order to win a game.

In the game of business, employees should be clear about why they do what they have to do, and how best they should do.   A creative writer in an advertising team who has a sense of pride in his/her work with freedom to take decisions is one such example.

Team Composition

As we know, the five fingers of a hand are different, yet they are all parts of the same hand. Diversity is a key factor of team effectiveness. Meredith Belbin did a fair amount of research on team roles and came up with nine different team roles. Ensuring that people with appropriate personalities fit to the required tasks is essential in this respect.

Flexibility of team members in moving beyond the specialised tasks for the betterment of the team is another important aspect.  A specialised bowler of a Cricket team should be a good fielder and also a satisfactory batsman. That is all about flexibility. In a business setting, ability to attend a colleague’s duty in case of a need is handy with a true sense of multi-skilling.

Context of Team Work

There has to be a climate of trust for team work to foster. As the olden saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together”. Scientists say how migrant birds fly as a “V” shape formation to exert lesser energy, by way of thriving of higher aero-dynamic power of it. It is simply, trusting on one another.

Leadership plays a vital role here. The team leader should be able to rally the team around a common vision, and a common set of goals. Vision has to be shared with the team and supported by the team. In the field of Cricket, we have seen the rise and fall of teams under different leaders. The same is true for business.

Another contextual factor is the availability of resources. True enough that a team cannot have all the resources in the world, or for that matter, all what are nice to have. Optimum level of resources is what should be aimed at. You cannot build a great wall without solid bricks and mortar. Waste cutting instead of mere cost cutting is what is pragmatic.  

Process of Team Work

This is all about means to the end. Clarity of goals is one key aspect. There should not be any “social loafers” as Stephen Robins calls the category of people who are just “passengers”. Every team member should do his best in order to make their team the best team. The Sri Lankan Cricket team who won the world cup in 1996 is one such example.

Conflicts among the team members should be kept at a minimum level. Else, the process will not run smoothly towards the achievement of results. I have seen how ego’s of different team players clash in search of supremacy and dominance. Some find it difficult to give up in order for others to take over. The end result is inevitably a losing team.  

Another key process aspect is team efficacy. It is the belief of the team on its ability to achieve the desired results. In the sporting world, the losing teams lack team efficacy. The team that has a high degree of self efficacy can turn a game from the grips of loosing. We saw that happening in Australia in a recently concluded one-day Cricket series with Sri Lanka. There are many instances where sales teams of local organisations with high team efficacy have beaten their multinational counterparts.

Assessing our Team

Having discussed the four key elements for team effectiveness, it will be a worthwhile exercise to assess your team with regard to its effectiveness. You may identify the bottlenecks in one or more of these elements. Making key decisions and taking appropriate actions is the only way forward in strengthening team effectiveness.

As Aristotle said a long time ago, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” This applies to team effectiveness very much. It all should begin with the right positive attitude towards making your team a winning team. This festive season can be an excellent recharging time for that to happen in the coming New Year.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a Senior Faculty Member and a Management Consultant attached to the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He also serves as an adjunct faculty in International Human Resource Management at the Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA. He has over two decades of both private and public sector working experience in diverse environments including Unilever and Nestlé. He has engaged in consultancies in more than 10 countries. He is a Commonwealth AMDISA Doctoral Fellow and Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow. He holds a Ph.D. and an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura and a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Moratuwa. He is also a member of the Chartered Management Institute, UK.)

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