Good teamwork doesn’t just happen. Conscious effort is needed to help groups of individuals work together as a team. Teams can experience difficulties working together at times, but this is a normal aspect of group or organisational life. Good team performance and positive team relations need to be developed and maintained and certain considerations enable teams to work together well. Before looking at these you might want to reflect on your own experience of team work.
To understand what makes a good or difficult team think back to teams you’ve been part of. These could be teams at work, as a volunteer, in education, sports or social groups. Which stand out as a good team? What made that team good? Do any stand out as ‘bad’ teams? What made that team difficult?
There are a number of considerations when developing and maintaining a team that works well together and achieves better performance.
- Clear Objectives
- Balanced Roles
- Effective Processes
- Good Communication
- Appropriate Leadership
- Support and Trust
- Openness and Conflict Resolution
- Mutual Cooperation
- Individual Development
- Comprehensive Intergroup Relations
- Regular Review
Let us look at how each contributes to an effective team focusing on team strengths and weaknesses as a starting point to see which are the priority areas for development.
As in any training course, it is important to have clear aims and objectives. Everyone needs to understand the team’s objectives as well as their own individual objectives.
- Review the team’s mission and objectives.
- Hold a team planning day where each member contributes and agrees.
- Produce a team plan.
- Publicise the work of the team and how each team member contributes.
Ensure there is a good balance of skills, abilities and aspirations. Team members must have a clear understanding of each individual’s role in achieving overall team objectives.
- Analyse the roles people take, and discuss ways they can develop their role and how they contribute.
- Provide opportunities for development such as delegation, job rotation, project work, rotated chairing and leadership.
- Include team roles in individual development plans.
Develop processes for making, communicating, implementing and reviewing decisions.
- Review existing procedures. Formalise anything you might need to (for example a structure for team meetings, a team induction pack).
- Agree how you will set the team agenda. Produce this in plenty of time.
- Have clear minutes which serve as a reminder and inform people who weren’t there.
- Link team processes (such as team review) to individual appraisal and personal development.
- Produce an easy reference list of team procedures.
Meetings are productive if there is effective communication up, down and across the organisation.
- Discuss how to make full use of different communication methods – electronic, message books, notice boards, phone, team meetings etc.
- Include a brief ‘check in’ at team meetings. Each person has two minutes to tell others what is a priority for them at the moment. Any ‘issues’ that arise can be put on the agenda for the current or future meetings, or dealt with outside the meeting.
- Include an information slot at team meetings.
- Give individuals responsibility for liaising with key groups or individuals and keeping the team informed of any important issues.
- Invite people from other teams and departments to address the team on matters of common interest.
The team need to trust the team leader and feels that it is led in an appropriate way.
- Hold a team discussion on your understanding of leadership.
- Encourage different team members to take a lead on specific projects or tasks.
- Give each other feedback on leadership and other qualities.
- If you are formally the Team Leader look at your leadership style in supervision and ways you can develop.
Support and Trust
People help each other by listening, evaluating, offering ideas, encouraging experimentation and giving support.
- Allow time to discuss different individual perspectives and develop shared values.
- Develop open communication
- Provide opportunities for joint problem-solving, sharing work and learning.
- Act the way you’d like to see others act – for example, share your concerns, listen well, give constructive feedback, be prepared, arrive on time.
- Find opportunities for social contact – such as coffee, lunch, sandwiches after team meetings.
- Encourage team responses to individual problems.
- Encourage people to share achievements and show appreciation.
- Celebrate team achievements.
Openness and Conflict Resolution
If people express themselves openly and honestly, there is a willingness to work through difficult situations or conflict constructively.
- Develop team ‘ground rules’ that value being open and giving constructive criticism as well as praise.
- Find a good balance of being supportive and being challenging.
- Facilitate some ‘getting to know you’ team building events.
- Jointly appraise team performance.
- Give positive feedback and constructive critical feedback.
- Make sure feedback is evenly distributed and not aimed at only one or two people.
- Openly discuss differences before they develop into major conflict.
- If there are major conflicts invite a third party to facilitate discussion.
- Allow people to express frustration or anger openly and respectfully, otherwise it can come out indirectly.
There has to be a readiness to be involved and committed. Individuals’ abilities, knowledge and experience are pooled and used by the team. There is acceptance of each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
- Provide opportunities for the whole team to have an input – for example in team planning.
- Enable different team members to work together on larger projects.
- Clarify each person’s role or input on joint projects.
- Encourage experienced people to support or coach less experienced team members.
‘Mistakes’ are faced openly and used as a vehicle for learning. Individuals are given opportunities to develop new skills and experience.
- Pick up on team related issues in one to one supervision and appraisal.
- Make sure each team member has a learning and development plan linked to team and individual job objectives.
- Recognise and reward achievement.
- Make sure training and development is included in team plans.
- Use team meetings as an opportunity for learning and development.
- Use your own and external expertise to hold team training days.
Comprehensive Intergroup Relations
The team enjoys good relations with other teams and departments, each valuing and respecting the other.
- Hold a team ‘open-day’.
- Develop joint projects and planning where it could be helpful.
- Hold an occasional joint team meeting.
- Have a joint social event.
- Ask other teams for feedback on your team’s performance. Give feedback to them if they ask for it. Remember to start with the positive if they do.
- Appoint team members to liaise with others.
- Provide opportunities to shadow members of another team, and vice versa.
The team regularly reviews its performance and goals and alters its priorities and practice in the light of review.
- At the end of each team meeting hold a five-minute feedback session on what has been helpful or unhelpful.
- Develop processes for reviewing how far you are achieving team objectives and standards.
- Invite other teams or other interested parties to comment on the team’s performance.
- Bring in a third party observer to comment on team performance.
A mature team might have everything in place, whereas a new team, or one going through changes, is likely to have gaps. This is partly because teams also go through stages of development. Bruce Tuckman said that teams went through 4 phases (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing), each one necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, face up to challenges and tackle problems, find solutions, plan work and deliver results. Recognising and understanding these stages can help the team move through them. We can’t get everything right straight away but we can always improve as we work through each phase.