4. What are the main hallmarks of a group of people working effectively together and how might managers seek to optimise the performance of such individuals?
In the business world teamwork is increasingly demanded because, if the team is well built, it helps to obtain more objectives with higher quality and in a smaller amount of time. The aim of every team is to join everyone’s forces, following in union on the same path to a common goal that would be hard to reach for a single individual. In the first part of this essay I’m going to discuss how to pick the correct members for a team. Then my attention will move to the issue of how executives manage to merge the individuals that they have picked, into an efficient working team, and how they make sure that the team will work effectively.
How do managers pick the right members for a team? To answer this question we first need to distinguish two types of teams: the ones that are made to take specific decisions, and the ones made to work together for a long period of time. In both cases building a team that will work well and that will make good decisions that will then be put in practise, is a process that is not simple and that requires time. Not only the working characteristics of the members that will compose the team have to be taken in consideration, but also their personalities and their ability in team work. Indeed it is never a good idea to put a person to work in a team if he is not good at collaborating with others and if they do not enjoy teamwork. That choice would probably be counter-productive, even if that person is the best worker of the company.
In the first case, to build a good team that has to make a specific decision, according to Ichak Adizes’ methodology, people with these three characteristics are required: A = authority: someone that has the power (the authority) to say “yes” or “no” P = power: someone that will be involved in the activities about what the decision is. Decisions taken without involving someone who will then have to carry out those things that have to be decided, risk not to be put in practise. I = influence: someone “expert” of athe subject, whose opinion will be considered reliable from the other members of the team.
If instead we are talking about teams that will have to work for a certain period of time, always referring to Adizes’ theory, at least two of the following professional figures are needed: P = productive: these are people who are very operational (high quantity of work performed in a unit of time) A = administrative: those people who have a methodical working style and who follow procedures. E = entrepreneur: very creative people. They are the ones who come up with ideas. I = integrator: those who are able to integrate every member in order to transform the group in a team.
The figures P and E are effective (concept of quantity of work), in the short term (P) and in the long term (E). The figures A and I are efficient (concept of quality of work), in the short term (A) and in the long term (I). The best would have all of these four figures together, however this is not always possible. The managers will then have to pick at least two of those depending on the situation and the goal of the team. Teams with only P and A are not very effective and efficient in the long run and they will work a lot but without innovation. These teams are better to find solutions of operative and practical problems while teams with E and I are better for strategic problem solving; on the contrary teams with only E and I are not very effective and will have many ideas but nobody will be able to develop them and put them in practise.
Adizes also stated that companies have a life that follow a cycle similar to the biological one: they are thought, they are created, they are developed, then they become mature, they get old and finally they die. These stages are called courtnership, infancy, go-go, adolescence, prime, bureaucracy, death. However, unlike biology, companies can be kept in the “prime” stage by managing them conveniently. The manager’s job is to understand what elements between P, A, E and I have to be more used depending on what stage of its life the company is. Normally the manager’s choices are the flowing: when the company is still in the process of being thought (courtnership), figures E are very important.
The period from when the company was born and for the whole “go-go” stage (still very young), people who have P and E characteristics are particularly required. In the “adolescence” stage P is still very important and figure A has to appear, while the E is less needed. In the “prime” stage P is essential, and figures A and E need to be alternated; this stage is very instable and the company needs be managed with more A if it seems like there is too few rules and orderliness, and with more E if the company tends to “sit” on what managers know the company can do and is good at doing.
Finally in the “bureaucracy” stage it is very important to be characterized by the A peculiarity. E and P are needed in order to go back to the “prime” stage and not to die. More in general, P and E figures are really good together when used in the companies that are already grown and in which rules and procedures have already been settled, or in start-up businesses when the company needs to create, come up with new ideas and work hard. Conversely A and I figures are really good for young companies when there is too much E or just P, and when more orderliness is needed to have a better overall view of what the company is doing.
What comes out from these observations is that the right choice varies a lot depending on the situation the company is facing. The life period in which the company is really affects the view of the managers: to better understand this, we could ask anyone this question: “ Peter often wets his bed. Is that normal?”. The person you are asking this question to will answer “of course not”. But then if you ask him again “Peter is two years old. Is it normal?” the answer will change.
Once the members are chosen, the next step is to obtain from this group of people a close-knit team that can work harmoniously. This is not a simple process but it is fundamental in order to make every members work on the same direction. First of all teams need to be bound, or as J Richard Hackman would say, they need to be “real”. Some of this can be done carrying out team assignments. However, it is always good to organize more specific opportunities for bonding outside the normal work schedule, for example strategy sessions, training course and social events.
Celebrating successes, such as winning a new contract or achieving a good result on a particular project, or celebrating special occasions such as birthdays of team members or festivities, are opportunities that members should take to get to know each other better and to create an enjoyable relationship with the partners.
Make a team to bound is not always as easy as it sounds and it gets harder if the team is too big.
Hackman suggests that small teams usually work better because the links that have to be managed among members are less and there is fewer possibility of arguing. It is very important that teams members get to know each other so that they can trust each other: members need to trust one another and most especially the team leader. A team will not be able to make effective decisions if the members do not trust each other or if they do not listen to each other.
This necessitates open and honest communication between the members and recognition that every possible mistake is a chance for learning and not an excuse to criticise. In fact another important characteristic of a good team is good communications: team members have to know what is expected of them, what is constantly happening in the organisation, and how all this effects them as individuals and as a team.
Of course the best communication is face-to-face but e-mail and videoconferencing are also very practical. Also managers have to give shared values and a share vision to the team. Every member has to know and accept what the team is trying to do and how it is going to work. This might require having strategy sessions with exercises to make sure that the values and the vision are shared by every member. The objectives need to be clear, action-oriented and SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Resourced, and Timed. Once the goals are set, in order to achieve them, the team needs to be empowered. That means first of all that the team collectively needs to be given the resources and the authority to achieve the objectives. Then each individual needs to know what is expected of him or her, and will then have to work out for himself or herself how best to achieve this.
When teams are discussing a decision they have to make, managers need to ensure that the members are not afraid to speak up and suggest their own opinion. If no one shares his opinion and contributes anything during the meeting, there might be potentially good ideas that will not be proposed or maybe some problems will not be considered. If some members are too shy to speak up, managers will have to make them feel comfortable to participate letting them know that their contribution is just as needed as any other member’s opinion. Eisenhardt, Kahwajy, and Bourgois found out that teams need constructive discussions because without conflicts they will lose their effectiveness. Team members need to have as much information as possible in order to have multiply alternatives and to create further original options on which they can debate.
Pros and cons need to be stated for each option, making sure that both sides are strongly voiced. The goal of a manager is to make the group argue without generating any kind of interpersonal conflicts that would turn a healthy conflict into an unproductive one. In order to do that managers need to create a positive atmosphere at work, making everyone feel at ease. An efficient way to do that is to use humour: irony effects on people’s mood and prevent them from the stress that often arises when the working issues are hard to solve.
Never the less, the potential of a team is not given by the combined abilities of each single individual, but it is their capability of working together with a common aim, a common mentality and towards a common objective, building a common strategy that creates a value that a single individual can not have: the strength of a working group. References:
Ichak Adizes, “Corporate Lifecycles, how and why corporations grow and die and what to do about it”, (1988), Part 2: the Adizes theory of management: tools for predicting analysing and treating corporate cultures; Part 3: using the tools to predict behavior Eisenhardt, K.M., Kahwajy, J.L. and Bourgois, L.J. (1997) “How Management Teams Can Have A Good Fight” Harvard Business Review, July-August, pp. 77-85 Hackman, J.R. (2009) “Why Teams Don’t Work” Harvard Business Review, May, 87 (6), 98-105 Frisch, B. (2009) “When teams Can’t Decide” Harvard Business Review, November, 121-126 Wenger, E. and Snyder, W. (2000) “Communities of Practise: The Organizational Frontier” Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb, 139-145 Belbin, R.M. (1981) Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail, Butterworth/Heinemann, Oxford Belbin, R.M. (1993) Teams Roles at Work, Butterworth/ Heinemann, Oxford Hackman, J.R. (1990) Groups that Work (and Those That Don’t), Jossey-Bass, San Francisco Tuckman, B. and Jensen, N. (1977) “stages of Small Group Development Revisited”, Group and Organizational Studies, 2, 419-427