When I was in school, we used to do group work in teams of 5-10 students. This was done mainly so we could help each other in subjects like mathematics, sciences or geography. When I landed my first job, the same criterion was used – I learned a lot on both teams in school and at work. However, in both areas, there was success and failure.
From my experience of working in different groups, this approach has a mixed bag of successes and failures. Working in teams enhances productivity, but at times this encourages laziness. The fact be told, some employees like working in teams, while others don’t, which leads to inefficiency and low productivity of the group.
This is supported by Prof. William James, a psychologist, who argues that work teams cluster at opposite ends of the success continuum. “Many function beautifully, while many others fail miserably and just a few are in the middle,” he notes.
However, teams in many companies work together successfully and are responsible for firms’ development. They succeed before each team member contributes something unique, propelling the company to greater heights.
This works in the same way a teacher would have an idea of setting up a group to help each other on difficult areas. What matters most in this approach is how teams are managed and whether they get the necessary support from their workplaces.
Sometimes, however, managers fall into one of two traps that affect their teams’ performance: some continue to act like traditional bosses, telling the teams what to do and how to do it. Others think they are empowering the teams by maintaining hands off policy. “But the manager’s job is to maintain appropriate balance of authority between him and the team,” says Prof. James.
What does that mean in practice? On one hand, managers have to spell out the team’s objectives clearly and unapologetically, just like a teacher does to the students to improve performance. That helps them understand their roles and focus. A manager empowers. Members can act as a team if they have real responsibility such as determining how to achieve their goals.
My first job taught me another lesson about team authority: the freedom to act can change over time. I encourage managers to start off slowly and keep the boundaries pretty high.
As the team starts to grow and expand, take on responsibility and start moving the boundaries out. For both teams, there is need for a manager to always be on the lookout to determine the direction the team should head next. Otherwise, managers should:
Empower your team: Members often lack listening or communication skills to deal with different kinds of people. Others find it hard to stay focused on their tasks. Companies have often learnt the hard way that the common approach of train first and team up later isn’t effective.
Goals: Research has shown that for any team to succeed, it should be focused on performance. The team should have well-defined goals and agreed-on methods for achieving them, with members holding one another accountable for the performance of the whole group. These characteristics distinguish a ‘true’ team from a conventional department or work unit.
Company support: When teams excel the first time, many companies believe that ‘they have hit the top’ and promptly forgot about them. But research shows that successful teams require ongoing support from the management. That support many involve extensive changes. Orientation and training, for example, must focus towards enhancing teamwork. A top performing group should have a directive manager and co-operative members to work harmoniously.