Let’s start with a few questions:
• What are your expectations for what we call ‘teamwork’?
• How do we come to our assumptions as to what constitutes a ‘team’ and what we believe ‘teamwork’ is?
• What has happened that causes us as team members to disengage from a meeting or the concept of what we believed would be a ‘team’?
• When a group does really work well (dare we say, as a team?), describe what is happening? What is not happening? How are decisions made? What are the quality and the speed of the decision? How are differences handled? How is power used? What results are achieved?
To do our ‘jobs’, most of us have had some training in the skills about what it is that we doing.
Whether this ‘what’ involves taking a blood sample, providing ICU patient care, or teaching a particular topic of expertise-we often gain the knowledge from formal training and/or education and we gain the skill through practice.
For many of us the skills in ‘how’ we do our work are predominately learned from experience and what we ‘see’ in our workplace. This ‘how’ we do what we do is at least as important in achieving the desired results as it is to know the ‘what’ of the problem or issue. Not convinced? How frequently do you encounter a situation where someone else knows the correct answer, but how they go about communicating this answer offends another person, or worse, leads to the action not being taken? Or take a group (team?) that is responsible for diagnosing a need and the discussion is dominated by 1 or 2 ‘know it alls’ who actually do not know what the problem is. And no one in this group challenged the two people dominating nor did the two who dominated the discussion ask for other perspectives.
So why do groups fall short of our expectations?
Surely bringing together the best minds, hearts and perspectives will guarantee a better outcome- won’t it? The answer is, of course, no. Bringing people together to form a team does not guarantee a better result. The results may even much less than optimal. But why?
I am convinced that we do not have enough experience of groups working really well that guide our own actions when we work in groups. For far too many of us our knowledge and skill for group, or team, work is developed on the job with little or no time to learn from our group experiences-after all learning means taking risks, asking questions, and considering the impact of our individual and collective behavior. You said what? After being silenced when we spoke out, who is willing to take risks? And who wants to be vulnerable to ask questions? And we don’t have time to do this stuff. So we continue with our broken, ineffective way of learning how to work in groups. No wonder we tire of being placed on a committee or groan when we hear the term ‘team’.
We do have the knowledge of what it takes for groups to truly work as a team. Understanding the basics of group development, effective interpersonal communication, understanding and the ability to work with many types of ‘difference-age, experience, communication and decision making preferences, how we use power and conflict, group decision making tools, learning to pay attention to both the what and how of a group, and providing group leadership and membership roles to support the group and its work.
If this sounds like a lot to keep track of, perhaps it is. But this is where the power of an effective group (team) truly becomes the asset that promises the benefits of a team. The roles, perspectives, and leadership can be provided (I might even suggest need to be provided) by group members other than the formal, or designated, leader.
So if you are a team leader, you can breathe a bit of a sigh of relief- you do not have to do it all. If you are a team member, you may have to ‘step up’ your game and responsibility as a team member. Group leaders’ roles do change, however. Group leaders’ responsibilities shift away from being a content expert (the what the team is grappling with) to more of a process expert (the how the group works). This means the group leader provides roles that may shift over time as the group develops; it also means group leaders will play a significant role in ensuring individual team members do engage, do share their perspectives, and provide ways for the team to make effective decisions that all can support, even if they disagree.
Peter is a consultant with over 25 years of experience with organizational and team effectiveness, conflict management, strategic planning, and coaching. He runs the Organizational Consulting Program, a training program for consultants. Clients include over 85 non-profit and for profit organizations. His experience includes 20 years as a faculty member and Director of the Organization Development Certificate Program with Antioch University New England.
To learn more about how you can become a more effective team leader and team member, go to www.petersmithconsulting.com and click on Group Effectiveness Workshop for information on a 2 day skills building training. The next workshop is scheduled for Oct. 30-31, 2012 in Portland, ME.