Teamwork. Many of us dread it. Most of us have been part of a dysfunctional team and know all too well the pitfalls: frustration, confusion, overwork, low-productivity. The fact is though, we can’t get along in life, let alone work, without being part of a team.
If you really think about it, we would not survive without being part of a team – you could not eat, drink, bathe, drive, be educated, have a job…we are completely reliant on others whether we like it or not. So, instead of dreading being part of a team, it makes more sense for us to develop ways to improve our team experiences.
The first step is to understand what is important for a team to function together well. This will help us identify areas of dysfunction and offers the opportunity to address them. Below are six necessary conditions for team success.
The team should be vested with the authority required to carry out its mission, not just the responsibility. To be effective, a team must believe that their work is valued and that they are trusted to achieve the team goal the best way for the organization.
Without being vested with authority, team members will feel they are spinning their wheels and wasting their time, and realistically, they are. It’s a waste of time and money. However, this doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be regular reporting to ensure adherence to organizational goals (see accountability below).
With authority comes the need for accountability. Accountability in a team works three ways. First, a team must be accountable to their supervisors (if applicable) through regular reporting, and readjusting their vision as necessary to stay on track with the goals of the organization.
Second, each team member must be accountable to themselves. Know your limits, be self-aware about your attitudes, and be honest in all dealings with team members. Be an example for others to follow, a not part of a problem.
Third, team members must be accountable to one another. Each member of the team should feel that they can question or call attention to a team member who is not performing tasks as assigned.
I can’t tell you how many teams I’ve been a part of that do not communicate well, leading to misunderstandings and confrontations. Members who feel they are not being listened to will shut up, preventing them from sharing what could be valuable insights. Others feel that they need to be the loudest person in the room to be heard. This also applies to the use and misuse of written communications such as emails.
In the beginning, set up formalized methods of regular communication such as a weekly email, scheduled meetings with agendas, and an instant messaging or listserv group for ongoing communication. Choose forms of communication that most team members are comfortable with. Regular communication should be a team requirement, as important as completing assignments and showing up for meetings.
4. Shared Goal(s)
Clear, non-ambiguous goals really help a team function well. It’s so much easier to get from A to B if you can see where B is. Unfortunately, in today’s quickly changing business and social environments, setting clear goals is easier said than done. Especially in the realm of communications.
One approach is just to keep the goal(s) really simple. Don’t get bogged down in details, strip it down to the bare essentials. Then include your areas of uncertainty and make it a goal in and of itself to reduce that uncertainty and make this goal measurable. By clarifying a complicated or nebulous goal in this way, shared understanding of the goal will increase.
5. Shared Values
A very overlooked aspect of teamwork is the importance of shared values, especially as they pertain to the team goal. Individual values conflicting with team goals are like silent landmines in a team environment. However, they are rarely identified as an issue because they will manifest outwardly in different ways, such as not completing assignments, apathy, hostility, etc.
It’s difficult to get to the bottom of these issues because many times the team member who is having a problem will be unaware of the true nature of their issue. A good approach is to first remember that, in all probability, the team member is not doing things just to annoy you. Then probe gently and see if you can to the root of what the underlying issue is and address it.
This condition arises from fulfilling the previous conditions and is necessary for a team to function. Without commitment on the part of all team members, a team will be unable to reach its goals. If you sense a lack of commitment, try to identify the root cause and if at all possible, address it there.
When these conditions for teamwork are met, you will have an inspired, motivated team that will gain individually as much as they contribute to the group. Together, a committed team is more than the sum of its parts and is capable of achieving great things.
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