Effective Team Building

Following are some of the most frequently asked questions about decision making, as well as timely answers to them.

What are the guiding principles for an effective team leader?

A leader of a self-managed team should have a special set of personal principles that support the empowered nature of teams. Important team-leader principles focus on the needs of the team. A team leader should:

  • put team members first
  • trust that team members will do their best
  • help team members reach their potential
  • develop team members’ capabilities through training and development
  • believe that teamwork is important by “walking the talk”
  • value and use delegation by letting others make decisions
  • eliminate barriers to individual and team efforts

Perhaps the biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful team leaders and managers is that those who are successful believe their primary responsibility is to make sure their teams have the means to get their jobs done; they provide the team with the support it needs.

How do I use selection to develop team players?

Some people already possess the interpersonal skills to be effective team players. When hiring team members, care should be taken to ensure that candidates can fulfill their team roles as well as the technical requirements of the job. Many job candidates do not have team skills. This is especially true for those socialized around individual contributions. When faced with such candidates, you can train them, use them elsewhere in the organization, or refuse to hire them.1

How do I use rewards to develop team players?

The reward system needs to be reworked to encourage cooperative efforts rather than competitive ones. Promotions, pay raises, and other forms of recognition should be given to individuals for how effective they are as collaborative team members.2 This does not mean individual contribution is ignored; rather, it is balanced with selfless contributions to the team. Examples of behaviors that should be rewarded include training new colleagues, sharing information with teammates, helping to resolve team conflicts, and mastering new skills that the team needs but in which it is deficient. Finally, do not forget that employees can receive internal rewards from teamwork. Teams provide camaraderie. It is exciting and satisfying to be an integral part of a successful team. The opportunity to engage in personal development and to help teammates grow can be a very rewarding experience for employees.

How do I use training to develop team players?

A large proportion of people raised on the importance of individual accomplishment can be trained to become team players. Training specialists conduct exercises that allow employees to experience the satisfaction that teamwork can provide. They typically offer workshops to help employees improve their problem-solving, communication, negotiation, conflict-management, and coaching skills.3 In established organizations that redesign jobs around teams, it should be expected that some employees will resist being team players and may be untrainable. Unfortunately, these people typically become casualties of the team approach, and will lose their jobs or be transferred to another part of the organization without teams.

Extensive team training helps team members learn more about technical details, the business as a whole, and how to be team players. This is where team building enters the picture.

How do I build a team?

Team building is a catch-all term for a whole host of techniques aimed at improving the internal functioning of work groups. According to Richard Beckhard, a respected authority on organization development, the four purposes of team building are:

  • to set goals and priorities
  • to analyze or allocate the way work is performed
  • to examine the way a group is working and its processes, such as norms, decision making, and communication
  • to examine relationships among the people doing the work.

Trainers achieve these objectives by allowing team members to wrestle with simulated or real-life problems. The group analyzes its results to determine what group processes need improvement. Learning stems from recognizing and addressing faulty group dynamics. With cross-cultural teams becoming commonplace in today’s global economy, team building is more important than ever to help alleviate misunderstandings and improve communication.

Whether conducted by company trainers or outside consultants, team-building workshops are designed to promote greater cooperation, better communication, and less dysfunctional conflict. Experiential learning techniques such as interpersonal trust exercises, conflict-handling role-play sessions, and interactive games are common. Team-building is participative and data based. Whether the data are gathered by questionnaire, interview, group meeting, or other creative methods, the goal is to get team members to give good answers to questions such as, “How well are we doing in terms of task accomplishment?” and “How satisfied are we as individual members with the group and the way it operates?” These types of questions can be asked in a variety of ways, and answered in a collaborative and motivating manner.

Two approaches to team building are commonly used:

  • Continuous improvement approach. This approach to team building requires team members to monitor group development and accomplishments continuously and make the day-to-day changes needed to ensure group effectiveness. It can include activities as simple as periodic meetings that implement the team-building steps, or as formal as self-managed retreats.
  • Outdoor experience approach. This is an increasingly popular team-building activity that may be done on its own or in combination with other approaches. An outdoor experience is used to place group members in a variety of physically challenging situations that can be mastered only through teamwork and cannot be done by an individual. For a group that has never done team building before, outdoor experience can be an exciting way to begin; for groups familiar with team-building, it can be a way of further enriching the experience.

How do I use effective coaching skills?

Coaching is a big part of what team leaders do. It involves assessing the team’s skills and helping the team use them to the fullest. Employees tend to contribute more effectively when they are coached to make optimal use of all their strengths and resources.4

Experts list the following guidelines which you can use to coach employees:

  • Know your people: Assess each employee’s skills so you can help team members use them to the fullest.
  • Coach, don’t tell: Remember that your role as coach is to help your employees develop their own knowledge, abilities, and skills in defining, analyzing, and solving problems. If you tell them what to do, they will not develop this independence.
  • Give emotional support: Ensure that a supportive environment exists in which employees believe they have the emotional backing they need to succeed.
  • Provide specific feedback: Being supportive does not mean approving everything employees do. Explain what and why improvements are required from your point of view.
  • Use Socratic coaching: Ask questions that will lead your employees to find the answers for themselves (for example, “What is the problem you want to solve?” or “How will you know when you have solved it?”).
  • Communicate that you have high expectations: The best coaches communicate the fact that they have high expectations for the team and its members.

How do I motivate teams to achieve goals?

Teams can be motivated to achieve organizational goals by making sure that the members themselves benefit when the team performs well. If members of a self-managed team know that they will receive a percentage of any cost savings discovered and implemented by the team, they probably would strive to cut costs. Managers often rely on some combination of individual and group-based incentives to motivate team members to work toward the achievement of organizational goals and a competitive advantage. When individual performance within a group can be assessed, pay is often determined by that individual performance or by both individual and group performance. When individual performance within a group cannot be accurately assessed, then group performance should determine pay levels.

1 Stephen P. Robbins, 2002. The Truth about Managing People . . .And Nothing but the Truth. New York: Financial Times/Prentice Hall Books, p. 135.
2 Ibid., p. 136.
3 Ibid., p. 135.
4Ronald R. Sims, John G. Veres, Katherine A. Jackson, and Carolyn L. Facteau, 2000. The Challenge of Front-Line Management: Flattened Organizations in the New Economy. Westport, CT: Quorum Books, p.103.

This article is excerpted from BOMI Institute’s NEW Effective Management Reference Guide. The guide can be purchased for $49.95, plus shipping and handling, by calling 800-235-2664, or visiting www.bomi-edu.org.

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