Working in a Team

Working in a Team

A team is considered to be a group of individuals who come closer for working together to achieve a common goal. In the organization, a team comprises of a group of employees linked for the purpose of achieving certain objectives. The team normally consists of employees having complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose and who hold themselves mutually accountable for the team’s achievement. Ideally, the employees develop a distinct identity and work together in a coordinated and mutually supportive way to fulfill the goal and objectives. Task effectiveness is the extent to which the team is successful in achieving its task-related objectives. Shared goal and objectives are most likely to be achieved through working together and pooling experience and expertise.

Teams are formed for conducting tasks which are high in complexity and have many interdependent subtasks. Teams normally have members with complementary skills and generate synergy through a coordinated effort which allows the members to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Team members need to learn how to help one another, help other team members realize their true potential, and create an environment which allows the members to go beyond their limitations for giving their best.

Every employee In the organization is connected with other employees through processes. The employee does not work as individual but work as part of the team of employees working for the process to function effectively and efficiently and give the desired output both in terms of quantity and quality. Hence, the ability to work as part of a team is one of the most important skills which are needed in the employees. Employees are not only to contribute their own ideas, but also are to work with other employees to perform the process tasks in conjunctions with the team members.

Teamwork is a set of activities of the group of individual employees, which includes effective communication / interaction amongst the team members for knowledge sharing, understanding each other on personal level, helping other members in achieving a level of perfection, building a sense of unity in the team, and working towards common objectives. It is difficult to arrive at a single definition of teamwork.

Teamwork is normally defined as a cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of individuals working together for a selfless purpose and acting together as a team in the interest of common objectives and working for achievement of these objectives. Teamwork is also defined as a joint action by a group of individuals, in which each individual subordinates his or her interests and opinions to the unity and efficiency of the group. This does not mean that the individual is no longer important. But effective and efficient teamwork goes beyond individual accomplishments. An effective teamwork is produced when all the individuals involved harmonize their contributions.

Teamwork is the co-operative effort to achieve a common goal. Achievement is usually measured by some kind of performance indicator (e.g. customer satisfaction, sales growth). It is different than the group work which is defined by a common task needing interdependent work and successive or integrative action. When group members change their behaviour then they form a team and their performance improves. A distinctive feature of teamwork at an assembly line is successive work actions to assemble different parts of a product. On the other hand, where the goal is to improve the production process, teamwork is much more about complexity, communication and integrative work.

Various organizations use teams for wide purposes such as quality circles, cross functional teams, self managing teams and so on. Many times teams are made to achieve specific tasks. Organizations also provide these teams with varying degrees of autonomy.

In the present day environment, there is no organization which does not talk about the need and value of teamwork in the workplace. Applied to workplaces, teamwork is a method which aligns employee’s mindset in a cooperative and normally selfless manner, towards a specific purpose. While the concept of teamwork and its benefits are well known, it is rare to see it being practiced truly in reality. It is frequently noticed that what appears outwardly as teamwork, is not really teamwork.

In order for teamwork to succeed, everyone in the team is to be a team player. A team player is one who subordinates personal aspirations and works in a coordinated effort with other members of the team for the purpose of achieving a common goal. Organizations frequently spend resources on team building exercises in an attempt to get employees to work as a team rather than as individuals.

Teamwork is an essential part of for the success at the workplace. Like a football team working together to set up the perfect shot at the goal, every team member has a specific role to play in accomplishing tasks on the job. Although it may seem as if one player has scored the goal, but the goal was made possible by many people’s planning, coordination, and cooperation to get that player to score the goal. In a successful and efficient organization, employees not only know how to work well with others, but understand that not every player on the team can or will be the one who gets the ball. The employee in the workplace when work together with other employees to accomplish the process objectives then all the employees achieves more.

Working in a team involves building relationships and working with other employees using a number of important skills and habits. It is both necessary as well as good for the employees to develop the skills needed for the team working as early as possible. In a team, employees learn effectively from each other since a team is normally expected to be a learning team, in which the focus is helping each other to learn. Working in a team enables the employees to carryout effectively a complex job needed for the efficient functioning of the process. Teamwork develops the interpersonal skills of the employee in coping with conflict, in developing abilities to work with interdependence and accountability and in developing a sense of self esteem. This aids in the personal development of the employees as well as the non-work-related relationships.

The benefits of team working are (i) improvements in confidence, attitudes, motivation and personal satisfaction of the team members, (ii) higher clarity in expressing ideas through group discussion, (iii) better understanding by individual members of the nature of their contribution and of the needs of other team members, (iv) more efficient use of resources, especially time, by greater optimism, by focusing on positive outcomes, and by putting less weight on problems, (v) a wider range of ideas rather than individuals working in isolation, (vi) more effective responses to changes since improved trust and communication help a team to adapt to new circumstances. The potential drawbacks of teamwork are (i) so-called ‘group think’ can occur when a team is hushed into a false sense of satisfaction and loses its critical edge, (ii) team members can waste time and energy in disputes and some members can opt out of the process  ‘social idling’, leaving others to do all the work. This can occur particularly when the members feel that they are dispensable.

Successful teams are characterized by a team spirit based around trust, mutual respect, helpfulness and friendliness. Simply bringing employees together does not necessarily ensure that they function effectively as a team or make appropriate decisions. Teams are composed of employees who have a variety of emotional and social needs which the team can either frustrate or help to meet. Employees with an attitude of indifference towards teamwork are likely to have a mediocre performance even if their being highly talented and well qualified.

High-performance of the team is not automatic but is the result of carefully chartering and managing of the team according to basic principles of group dynamics and team effectiveness. The keys to team effectiveness include (i) shared goal and objectives, (ii) effective use of resources, (iii) trust and conflict management, (iv) shared leadership, (v) control procedures, (vi) communication, (vii) Problem solving and decision making, (viii) experimentation and creativity, and (ix) periodic self-evaluation (Fig 1).

Fig 1 Keys to team effectiveness

The features of an effective working in a team include (i) combined group effort of all members, (ii) clear goal and objectives, (iii) team members focused on learning, (iv) mutual trust and support, (v) open communication, and (vi) democratic processes. Effective teamwork results from (i) a team whose membership, size and resources match the task, (ii) good leadership and attention to team-building commitment by team members to understand and identify with one another’s goals, (iii) the development of team goals – a shared vision, (iv) a sense of common ownership of the task at hand and joint responsibility for its achievement, (v) coordinated effort and planned sharing of tasks evenly across the team, (vi) the open exchange of information within the team, and (vii) honesty and frankness among team members. Effective teamwork can be eroded by a variety of problems, such as (i) poor organization, (ii) insufficient communication, (iii) misunderstandings, or (iv) inadequate procedures for problem-solving. Team functioning can be weakened by obstacles faced by individual members within the team, as well as by difficulties linked to the task.

There are several advantages of working collaboratively with other employees. To make the most of the experience as a team member, the employee is (i) to become an active member and not to wait for another team member to do all the work, (ii) to share with open communication since the contribution of ideas and information is necessary for successful and highly performing teams, (iii) to work cooperatively as the team success depends on helping each other, (iv) to respect the fellow team members because each team member has unique talents and ways of learning as not everyone learns by the same process, (v) to use the time productively and effectively by define clear goals of what is required to get done, by whom it is to be done and why it is to be done, (v) to be enthusiastic and positive and expect success, (vi) to meet other group members regularly, (vi) to keep a track of the progress by measuring the performance,(vii) to maintain a sense of humour by keeping things in perspective, and (viii) to hang on since development of team working is hard work and demands commitment from all the team members.

Leadership is critical to team working. The team leader is to be the person responsible for ensuring that members work effectively together to achieve their goal and objectives and is to facilitate the co-operation necessary for the team to perform well. The leader is also to ensure that the team has the resources and information necessary to complete its task. The leader is to be a role model for the team and good at communicating openly and honestly and winning the respect and trust of all involved. The team leader is (i) to create opportunities for team members to participate and contribute to the task, (ii) to build a sense of common ownership of both of the problem and of its solution, (iii) required to create a supportive climate of openness, trust and mutual respect which promotes loyalty and cooperation and provides a ‘blame free’ culture, (iv) to assist the team to forge a clearly articulated vision with clear objectives and goals, (v) to identify team goal and objectives which are compatible with individual members’ own goal and objectives, (vi) to devise a work plan in which each member is allocated clearly defined tasks which are meaningful and challenging for the member, (vii) to gain commitment from team members to complete the task and, on occasion, inspire them ‘to go the extra mile’, (viii) to ensure that all members feel their contribution is visible to, and valued by, the team as a whole, (ix) to ensure there is regular, clear and accurate feedback to the team on its performance over time, and (x) be willing to share credit for the team’s successes with the entire team.

A confident and effective team leader looks to the team for answers and welcomes constructive challenges and suggestions for alternative courses of action. The team leader needs to be able to deal with conflict constructively through the processes of mediation or negotiation. On occasion, the leader is to be prepared to take difficult decisions and be willing to explain the basis on which they have been taken. Socially, the leader is to be aware of team members’ loyalties to the team or the organization outside the team. Also, the leader has to be seen as a fair and impartial mediator of inter-personal issues, whose focus is on members co-operating to achieve goals. Without this ability, the team leader fails to gain the respect necessary to help team members.

In the present day environment, most of the organizations embrace the concept of teamwork. The justification is that teams are better s8ited to solve problems. Employees learn more rapidly in teams. Employees are more productive when they work in team than when they work as individuals. In team working employees as a minimum, are meant to help divide work and thereby increase productivity with speed.

Skills needed for teamwork

Apart from needed technical knowledge, a wide range of other skills is needed for successful working in a team (Fig 2). These skills include the following.

  • Listening – It is important to listen to other team member’s ideas. When team members are allowed to express freely then their initial ideas produce more ideas in the team.
  • Discussing- Discussion of the ideas with team members is important until agreement is reached.
  • Questioning – It is important to ask questions, interact, and discuss the objectives of the team.
  • Persuading – While working in a team, individual employees are encouraged to exchange, defend and rethink their ideas.
  • Respecting – For success, it is important to treat other team members with respect and to support their ideas.
  • Helping – It is crucial to help other team members, which is also the normal theme of the teamwork.
  • Sharing – It is necessary to share the information and other details with the team members in order to create an environment for teamwork.
  • Participating – For successful achievement of the goals, all the members of a team are to actively participate in the activities of the team.
  • Communication – In order to work effectively, it is essential that team members acquire good communication skills and use effective communication channels between one another.

Fig 2 Skills needed for teamwork

As size of the teams grows bigger, the skills and methods which the employees need, change since more ideas comes into play within the team. Organizations are to adopt and maintain a spirit of teamwork change. The intimacy of a small group is lost, and the opportunity for misinformation and rumours grows. Organizations find that communication methods which once worked well are now impractical with bigger teams.

Team role analysis

Team role analysis approach is needed for effectiveness of the teams in solving problems. However team roles are not designed for high stake decisions. There are the following nine team roles for the teams to function effectively.

  • Coordinator- Coordinator has a clear view of the team objectives and has skills to get the contribution of team members for the achievement of these objectives. The coordinator is not only to be self disciplined but also has to apply the discipline in the team members. Coordinator is normally confident and mature and is prepared to take decisions on the basis of views of the team members.
  • Shaper- Shaper is full of drive for making things to happen and ensures that things are moving forward. He pushes his own views, does not mind being challenged and is always ready to challenge others. The shaper studies the pattern of discussions in the team and tries to pull things together into something feasible which the team can get to work on.
  • Planter- This team member is the most likely to come out with original ideas and challenge the traditional way of thinking. He sometimes becomes so imaginative and creative that the team cannot see the relevance of what he is saying. However without his new ideas the team frequently finds it difficult to make headway. The planter’s strength is in providing major new insights for changes in the direction and not in contributing to the details of what is needed to be done.
  • Resource investigator- This team member is with the strongest contacts and networks, and is excellent at bringing in information and support from the outside. He can be very enthusiastic in pursuit of the team’s goals, but cannot always sustain this enthusiasm.
  • Implementer- The implementer is well organized and effective at turning big ideas into manageable tasks and plans which can be achieved. He is both logical and disciplined in his approach. He is hardworking and methodical but can have some difficulty in being flexible.
  • Team worker- The team worker is most aware of the others in the team, their needs and their concerns. He is sensitive and supportive of other member’s efforts, and tries to promote harmony and reduce conflict. Team workers are particularly important when the team is experiencing a stressful or difficult period.
  • Completer finisher- Completer finisher is a perfectionist and frequently goes extra mile to make sure everything is right. He delivers things which can be trusted to have been double checked. Completer finishers have a strong inward sense for accuracy, rarely needing any encouragement from others because of their own high standards are what they try to live up to. They can frustrate the teammates by worrying excessively about minor details and by refusing to delegate tasks.
  • Monitor evaluator- Monitor evaluator is good at seeing all the options. He has a strategic perspective and can judge situations accurately. He can be over-critical and is not normally good at inspiring and encouraging others.
  • Specialist- Specialist provides the skills and knowledge and has a dedicated and single minded approach. He adopts very narrow perspective and sometimes fails to see the whole picture.

Team building 

Team building or team development is a coverall term given to the methods for developing an effective team. The methods of doing this vary widely and include (i) simple social activities which mean the team members to encourage other team members to spend time together, (ii) group bonding sessions which are the activities sponsored by the organization for team members to know each other, (iii) personal development activities which mean that personal change applied on team members, sometimes physically challenging, (iv) team development activities which include group dynamic games designed to reveal how individuals approach a problem and how the team works together, and (v) psychological analysis of team roles, and training in how to work better together.

Team building activity is normally between the theory and practice of organizational development. Good teamwork does not necessarily require good interpersonal relationships or friendships. Rather what is needed is behaviour which results in better team performance. A successful way of improving teamwork is to apply the principles of performance management to the team’s behaviour. This involves three basic steps namely (i) identifying what teamwork behaviour can lead to better performance (the target behaviour), (ii) assessing which teamwork behaviour is currently being used (the present behaviour), and (iii) undertaking a gap analysis between target and present teamwork behaviour, and taking action to bring present teamwork behaviour closer to the target behaviour.

The target behaviour varies from team to team. For example, the behaviour which leads to success for the control room of a blast furnace is very different to that of an advertising agency with the former needs to follow the procedures, whilst the latter has to be continually creative. The target teamwork behaviour is to be collected from the team members, peer groups, staff, customers, senior management and others who can provide their views on what can make the team successful. This information enables the team to (i) identify and manage conflicting expectations of them, (ii) take a wide perspective when setting behavioural goals for themselves, which is to improve the quality of those goals, (iii) facilitate a dialogue within the team and with others outside the team on how to improve performance.

Present behaviours are influenced by the factors such as (i) the organizational culture, (ii) the preferences of the members of the team, (iii) present circumstances, (iv) feedback from people outside the team, and (v) many other factors.

One way to identify present behaviours is by identifying the roles the team members are presently performing which can be aggregated to show the collective team behaviours. Once the target and present behaviours have been identified, the team members need to work out how to change their present behaviours to be more in line with the target. This involves assessing the behavioural gap and producing an action plan for the team to implement. In industrial environment, the use of small teams is rapidly becoming seen as a panacea leading to certain success.  Following are some of the basic points which are to be taken care of by the team members.

  • Roles and responsibilities- Each team member is to understand that he carries certain responsibilities. His role is important in keeping the high spirit of the team, in helping the team in its forward march and in resolving any problem which can hinder the progress of the team. The team member is to understand the tasks which need to be carried out in order to ensure smooth operation of the team. He is also to hold himself responsible for the things which go wrong with / within the team and is to take necessary steps to avoid such situations.
  • Common goals and objectives- Each team member is to be aware of the common goals and objectives which are to be achieved. He has to always try to achieve the same.
  • Communication and interaction- This important point can help in bringing out a solution to any problem the team can face. Effective communication is very important amongst the team members. The team member is to be able to communicate his views effectively to the other team members. Interaction between the team members helps bringing them close on emotional level and also helps in creating bonds between the team members so that the team members look at the team as a family.
  • Team leader-Though all the team members in the team are capable and can handle a group, yet if every team member starts thinking that he is the leader and starts taking decisions then only confusion prevails in the team. Hence the team members are to come together and decide objectively the team leader. In turn the team leader, who has decision taking power, consults the team members before taking important decisions. The leader is to welcome a good advise and clear any doubt in the mind of a team member. The team members are to obey the decisions taken by the leader.
  • Trust among team members- The success of a team depends on the level of mutual trust amongst the team members. Each member is to think about the team’s advantage first and then to think of himself.

Difference between a team and a group

The success of a team depends on the intellectual level of team members and their understanding. In fact none of the member is as strong as all the members. Not all groups in the organization are teams, but all teams are groups. The difference between a team and a group is that a team is interdependent for overall performance. A group qualifies as a team only if its members focus on helping one another to accomplish organizational objectives.

The organization is to recognize the differences between an employee working as part of a group and an employee working as part of a team. The employee working in a team has certain attributes such as (i) to work interdependently and to work towards both personal and team goals since these goals are achieved better by mutual support, (ii) to feel sense of ownership towards his role in the team since as a team member he has committed himself to the team goals, (iii) to collaborate with team members and use his talent and experience to contribute to the success of the team’s objectives, (iv) to rely on trust and encourages all team members to express their opinions, varying views, and questions, (v) to make a conscious effort to be honest, respectful, and listens to the point of view other team member, (vi) to be encouraged to offer his skills and knowledge, and thus each team member is able to contribute to the team’s success, (vii) to see conflict as a part of human nature and to react to it by treating it as an opportunity to get new ideas and opinions since all the team members desire to resolve problems constructively, and (viii) to participate equally in the decision making process and to understand that the team leader has to make the final decision if the team members do not come to a consensus.

On the other hand an individual employee in a group has the attributes namely (i) work independently and he is not normally working towards the goal of the organization, (ii) concentrates on himself since he is not involved in the planning of the objectives and goals of his group, (iii) is given his tasks or told what his duties / jobs are and suggestions are normally not welcomed, (iv) is cautious about what he is to say and is afraid to ask questions since he is not fully aware what is happening in his group, (v) does not trust other’s motives since he is not aware of the role other members play in the group, (vi) can have a lot to contribute but is held back because of closed relationship with other group members, (vii) is worried by differing opinions and disagreements because he considers it as threat and there is no group support for resolving of the problems, and (viii) may or may not participate in group decision making process, and conformity is valued more than positive results. In the present day quick changing environment, teams have emerged as a requirement for organizational success. Hence, the successful organizations constantly try to help groups become teams and facilitate the evolution of groups into teams.

Characteristics of an effective team

The characteristics of an effective team are given below and shown in Fig 3.

  • Clear goal – Team goals are to be for a specific performance objective and are to be expressed in a manner that everyone knows when the objective has been met.
  • Result driven structure – The team is to be allowed to operate in a manner that produces results. It is always better to allow the team to develop its own structure.
  • Competent team members – The problem to be solved by the team is to be such that the team members are in a position to tackle with their present knowledge base.
  • Unified commitment – Team members are to direct their efforts towards the team goal. If the efforts of an individual member are towards his personal objectives, then the team is to confront this and resolve the problem.
  • Collaborative climate – It is a climate of trust produced by an honest, open, consistent and respectful behaviour. With this climate teams perform well and achieve success.
  • High standards – Team members are to know what is expected from them individually as well as collectively. Vague statements like positive attitude and demonstrated efforts etc. do not contribute towards the success of the team.
  • External support and encouragement – Encouragement and praise motivate teams as it does with an individual.
  • Principled leadership- Team members are to be aware that the team leader is in the position because he deserves it. The team members are not supportive if they feel that the team leader himself forces above the team for achieving personal recognition or for getting benefitted from the position.

Fig 3 Characteristics of a good teamwork

Stages of team working

It is important to understand that teams just formed can not start working immediately together to accomplish great things. There are actually stages of team growth and teams are to be given time to work through these stages and become effective. Team growth can be identified into four stages (Fig 4) described below.

  • Stage 1 – This stage is known as ‘forming’. When a team is in this stage, team members cautiously explore the boundaries of acceptable group behaviour. They also search for their position within the group and test the abilities of the leader to lead. During this stage team makes only small progress.
  • Stage 2 – This stage is known as ‘storming’. Storming is the most difficult stage. Team members frequently become impatient about the lack of progress. They are still inexperienced to work as a team. In this stage they argue about the actions they are to take since they are faced with the ideas which are unfamiliar to them and which are outside their comfort zones. Much of their energy is concentrated on each other during this stage instead of achieving the desired goal.
  • Stage 3 – This stage is known as ‘norming’. In this stage team members accept the team and begin to reconcile the differences. Emotional conflict is reduced as relationships become more cooperative. The team is able to concentrate more on their work and start to make significant progress.
  • Stage 4 – This stage is known as ‘performing’. By the time this stage is reached, the team members have discovered and accepted each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and learned what their roles are. They are open and trusting other members and hence many good ideas are produced since they are not afraid to offer ideas and suggestions. They are comfortable using decision making tools to evaluate the ideas, prioritize tasks and solve problems. Much is accomplished at this stage and team satisfaction and loyalty is high.

Fig 4 Stages of team working

Comments on Post (1)

  • Suresh

    Nice Article but does not avoids the ‘bad’ or ‘real’ points in practical work life. There are team members who are a drag, who ride piggy back on the work of fellow team members work, or who play the pass the buck game. Some are argumentative and difficult only because they can be left out or lift out with lighter work loads. I have seen many such folks in teams across all sorts of work areas. These people are all the more pronounced in the Public Sector environment since they have not only get strength from the iron clad job security environment but also generally come with high to very high nuisance values. Ultimately such people are given nominal assignments and the real ‘karma yogis’ slog it out for these members too, lest rubbing them would prevent even heir work plans.

    • Posted: 16 June, 2013 at 15:47 pm
    • Reply

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