Building Effective Teams

By Sandra Farnan

How can you turn your functioning work group into a dynamic, cohesive team who communicates well, meets performance goals on time, and completes tasks efficiently? You might think it’s a pipe dream that requires more time and energy than it is worth, after all, the work in your department IS getting done. But building an effective team has rewards for its leader, members, and the organization; and requires effort from the whole group, not just the manager. The sooner you understand and apply the strategies listed below, the sooner your effective team will soar in the workplace.

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What managers and team members often do not realize is that an effective team is NOT born simply because its participants have been selected. That would be like planting a seed in the back yard and expecting tomatoes to sprout within a day. Building an effective team is like nurturing a seedling. Like a seed, work groups have a life cycle during which they grow and mature. Many experts refer to the stages in this life cycle as Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Organizational trainer and author Susan Wheelan likens these stages to human psychological development. The stages and what can be expected during each are broken down in the following chart.

Stage is like: whereupon…
Forming Infancy
  • Members are very dependent on leader
  • Need guidance and direction
Storming Adolescence
  • Members challenge leader and each other
  • Conflicts arise
Norming Early Adulthood
  • Members show more trust in leader and each other
  • Communication flows
Performing Older Adulthood
  • Members are highly productivity
  • Operate with confidence and efficiency

Introduced by group development researcher Bruce Tuckman, these four stages have gained recognition among managers and professional trainers in many industries. Based on Tuckman’s descriptions, these stages are further defined.

Forming – The leader sets the tone for the group and familiarizes team members to their tasks and to each other. Like infants, team members rely on the leader for direction and follow that direction without question. They also look to the leader and each other for acceptance.

Storming – As team members become acquainted with their work environment and each other, they may experience and create conflict and competition. Although they count on the leader for organization and structure, they challenge the leader – like teens might challenge their parent’s authority – and question the distribution of responsibilities and the rewards of job well done.

Norming – Team members identify with each other and recognize each other’s contributions. Like young adults, the team has more confidence and more trust for one another. They communicate more effectively, actively soliciting ideas and provide constructive feedback. The team functions with more cohesion. Members are able to share leadership on different projects, while the leader’s role becomes more consultative than directive.

Performing – Team members encounter true interdependence. If the team reaches this stage, they can work as individuals, subgroups, or as a full team with the ability to adjust their styles to the needs of each other and the task. The team has high morale, a good sense of identity, and sound focus on completing tasks through work and problem solving. Unfortunately, not all teams mature to the Performing stage. However, the following tips may aid in your work group becoming an effective team.

Building Blocks

Why do some work groups flourish into Performing while others struggle under the soil of Storming? Researchers would say that the secret is in the ingredients. It’s one thing to understand a team growth cycle, but that understanding alone can not bring your team to effectiveness. Both leaders and members must nurture the team, fill it with good nutrients – much like you would you tomato plant – and only then can the unit expect to function with high productivity and efficiency. Although there is no guarantee that following tactics lead teams to the Performing stage, they are good strategies to adopt strengthen the work environment.

Purpose

Establish the team’s purpose and communicate it to the team members

Goals/Results

Institute clear goals and desired results that the team agrees upon

Roles

Define each individual’s role clearly on every task;

Remember that roles may vary depending on skill set and experience

Resources

Ensure that members have the skills to fulfill their roles;

Provide the resources (training, software, etc.) necessary to acquire the skills

Planning

Use a team approach when planning assignments and try to incorporate everyone’s viewpoint as a way of building interdependency

Boundaries

Determine which decisions need to be made by the team and which decisions need to made by others in the organization

Leadership

Adjust your leadership style to the team’s needs and communicate these changes; Give less instruction and act more like a consultant as team grows

Discussion

Involve all team members in conversations about solving problems that may arise at various points throughout the project

Feedback

Encourage team members to participate in open communication and to provide

constructive feedback in order to improve their overall functionality

Evaluation

Have team members measure their effectiveness, efficiency, and ability to implement solutions on a regular basis

Report

Document the procedures that enable team success and the solutions that work

Standards

Create standards that allow team members to be innovative

Structure

Use the smallest number of team members necessary to achieve a goal;

Allow the contributions of this subgroup to be accepted in the full team setting

Management

Permit your highly productive team to experience brief periods of conflict; Take responsibility for these encounters and ensure that cooperation overshadows conflict

Team Members

Even though these tips are directed at team leaders, team members still need to be active participants in order for the strategies to work. As a team member, be receptive to the opportunities for partnership as the leader or situation presents them, offer suggestions on how to complete tasks and support fellow team members when they make recommendations. Undertaking leadership responsibility is a way to show support for the team leader and demonstrate your willingness go the extra mile for team success. If things go wrong rather than placing blame, make positive contributions by suggesting solutions. Address issues in a timely manner by communicating positively when providing constructive feedback. Be respectful of other team members to earn their. Remember, the team is working for the overall success, and your performance will affect team productivity. Your positive attitude may rub off on others.

Pot of Gold

You may think that your team is effective because they get their work done. Evaluate your team. There may be opportunities for improvement.

  • How is the work getting done?
  • Are a few team members overwhelmed while others sit in idle?
  • Are the individual or subgroup successes being shared with the rest of the team?
  • Are you, as the leader, living up to expectations or providing your team with the attention they need at different stages?

Researchers at the University of Kentucky note that effective teams have cohesion, loyalty, and community – traits that enhance their ability to be productive. In teams that share responsibilities, individuals better use their talents, knowledge, and experience – making them feel more valuable and valued. Productive teams with valued members make decisions with confidence and have better response times. This overall improved atmosphere motivates people to come to work, their best and usually sets an example throughout the organization. Don’t settle for just-in-time solutions or average productivity, form some new habits that will create and nurture an effective team. By doing so, your team will reap all the benefits.

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About the Author: Greg Meares

As a Sr. Consultant for Performance Connections, Inc., Greg's primary objective is to provide value to organizations that are focused on raising brand awareness. Additionally Greg works on improving the customer experience, through business process re-engineering, and call center best practices. Greg is an industry expert and is often called upon to provide his analysis and solution oriented approach to improving performance in the BPO and Call Center industry.

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