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Teamwork 

The single most common reason new employees are not promoted is their inability to work well in teams. A college graduate brings talent, knowledge and skill to a company, but these are only useful when they are directed toward the common goals of department or team.

Everyone on a team is responsible for its overall success, and the most effective teams are made up of people who understand  how, when and why to communicate in a team context.

Prepareware Team

Forming a Productive Team

Groups typically pass through several stages of development, popularly known as forming, storming, norming and performing.  These are the processes that occur when a collection of individuals learns to function collectively. A few things need to happen before the group ever starts to work. A group that is skilled in the steps of forming can jump over the unpleasant storming stage, moving right on to a productive norming conversation. Then, a team is ready to start performing its work.

Being part of a productive team is not a matter of luck. Productive teams are created by members who have the skills to make them productive.  For best results, follow these seven steps carefully:

Step 1: Identify the team membership

A sense of team identity and cohesiveness among team members is a key factor in group satisfaction and productivity.  Any team will be more productive when it spends at least a short period of time getting acquainted before jumping into its task.  In a large, formal team situation, a well-run kick off meeting is an excellent forum to meet each other and begin to develop a sense of common goals and team identity (Schwalbe, 2000).  Even if your team is a short-term, informal group, spend some time communicating with each other in a “social” way to get acquainted with each others’ goals, talents, and personalities. 

Your team will reach optimal efficiency more quickly if you get to know each other's expertise, personalities, and goals. It's hard to be open and honest with strangers, and as a result research shows the size for a team is five people: large enough to have a variety of skills and resources, but small enough to really get to know each other. Sometimes a project requires many more people, but communication is often arranged so that work is done in smaller subgroups. (READ More on team membership here)  

Regardless of the size of the group or its geographic distribution, it is crucial that everyone on the team knows who else is on the team, what their areas of expertise or responsibility are, and how to contact them. Be sure to attend the first meeting of any new team, and find out who is on the team.  Learn each person's name, department and email. Generally, the first document created by a a team will be its roster, a list of members with their contact information. (Click here for a roster form that you can submit to your instructor.) More on Rosters Here

Step 2: Get acquainted

No work can be done until individuals know enough about each other to coordinate their efforts. Members should know each other well enough to predict each other's behavior with some accuracy. They need to be aware of each other's strengths, weaknesses and preferences with respect to the work.know your individual strengths, resources and prefernces, which will save you enormous amount of time. No better way of getting acquainted has ever been devised than a PARTY! Your team members should get together for a strictly social event before trying to do any task work.  Food is good. (Click here for party report that you can submit to your instructor.)

Step 3: Develop working norms

Although social relationships are an important part of any professional setting, a skilled team doesn't stop with learning each others' demographics and hobbies. Since this is a work team, not a play team, you can't just communicate about what movies or music you all like. Getting acquainted in a work situation also includes finding out about work goals, expections of team members, and decision-making methods.  Because a professional team is formed to accomplish some kind of task, members also need to become acquainted with the skills and resources everyone brings to the job.

Work and Communication Styles Every individual has preferences for ways of communicating, processing information, and making decisions.  There is no "right" way, but people do tend to work most comfortably with those who think like they do.  On the other hand, groups are less effective when everyone thinks alike!  Spend some times during the "getting acquainted" period to talk about how key items "ought" to be handled by the group.  (Click here for a Work and Communication Styles survey; both individual and team summary sheets can be turned into your instructor.)

Values Most teams experience conflict when members find they disagree on goals or priorities, which are based on fundamental assumptions about what is "valuable" in a situation.  Talking about each others' values can allow the team to find a foundation for compromise and conflict resolution before the situation arises. (Click here for Discussing Values worksheet that can be submitted to your instructor.)

Ready? See whether your team knows itself well enough to work productively together.  Each team member should take this "quiz" separately.  Score 1 point for each answer that two group members agree on, 2 points for each one that three agree on and so on.  If you don't score at least 30 points in a group of five, go back to the Work and Communication Styles Tool!

Step 4: Plan the Work

You are finally ready to get started on the job itself, but a productive team doesn't just run off in separate directions to randomly start working. There is quite a bit of communication that must happen first. The specific communication required for team productivity will depend on the specific needs of the team's task.  Just defining the team's task often requires considerable communication: any team's success depends on planning its action. Do NOT "jump right into the task" without spending the time it takes to figure out HOW to do the task. Instead, follow these steps:

Define the task

The first order of business is to agree on the group's goal.  This will sometimes be a fully developed statement of the team's charge, but it can also be a simple sentence that defines the project.  Often the task is clarified with a supervisor, client, or business partner. The typical document to record the agreement on the task is a Memo of Understanding.  The memo is generally prepared by the team and sent to the client who signs the document to signify agreement.  (Click here for worksheet to guide you in preparing a Memo of Understanding.)

Plan the work 

Before any task begins, be sure the team knows exactly what it needs to do the task.  Two basic questions need to be answered: What are the steps of accomplishing this particular task, and what are the resources required to accomplish the task  The team's task is being further redefined at the level of operational detail. In practical terms, that means to translate your group's assignment into a specific work plan.  The complexity of a work plan will depend on the complexity of the project, but they all include two key elements: 

a) a list of tasks
A "task" is a thing that can be done by one person in one work session (sometimes defined as a four hour work "shift" or as something that can be done by a person in a single effort).  A task is something like "make a phone call" or "decide the color of tablecloths".  A task is NOT a major responsibility or a series of tasks that make up a larger goal.  For instance, "do  the advertising" involves a whole series of tasks, such as locate advertising specs, write ad copy, secure photos, secure permission to use photos, create print-ready copy, delivery copy to printer, pick up brochures, distribute brochures. Sometimes no one in the group has a clear idea of what tasks are needed to complete the team's goal, or how to do some required tasks. Don't simply stop discussing in the hope that you will magically figure out how to do the work!  Instead, plan and complete a research task to find out how to do the task you've been charged with!

b) a project calendar
A calendar must be created that includes all the dates by which the tasks must be completed.  Generally, due dates drive the process.  A team might realize that advertising must begin three weeks prior to the event, for instance.  The team will then "back" into the dates that each of the advertising tasks must be done, and in which order, to insure that brochures are distributed on time.

Most business organizations use some kind of software to manage large projects, and even a small work team will generally have access to such basic tools as document sharing software, electronic calendars, and electronic communication tools.  Your instructor might have you become familiar with the use of these tools by assigning you to use Web CT tools, Project Manager, or Sharepoint as part of your team assignment.  Many teams find that Excel is an excellent tool for planning out the progression of work.  (Click here to see a sample of a work plan created as a Gantt chart with Excel.)

Developing a work plan might take a great deal of communication.  Don't stop talking because you can't agree on a work plan! The team will become even less productive if you try to move ahead without one. If your team seems to be stuck at this point, ask for help from a supervisor, mentor, or instructor.

Organize the team to do the work

Once the team knows what work needs to be done, the resources to do that work must be located and assigned.  This includes such things as indivudal team members' time and specific expertise of the team members, as well as monetary resources, outside vendors, or research sources.

Team productivity depends to some extent on three types of members' individual skills: technical, administrative, and interpersonal. Technical skills are those that allow people to perform the required tasks.  The ability to analyze an equity investment, for instance, might allow one group member to perform a task in a finance team's portfolio analsyis project.   Projects always require organizing, corrdinating and controlling a number of activities, and individuals with administrative skills are often the best prepared for handling those team activities. Finally, a productive team is one that engages in productive communication and quickly manages conflict, which is dependent on members' interpersonal skills.  (Click here for  a worksheet to guide you in assessing your team's personnel resources.)

An effective project plan also takes into account individual's work styles, communication preferences, and other work or family responsibilities. (READ MORE about task roles here)

Plan the communication events required for the successful completion of the project.

Take another look at the sample work plan.  Notice the final step, which is to determine what communication is needed to coordinate all the various tasks being done by individual members of the group.  Don't assume a regular meeting is the only way to conduct your team's communication. It's probably one of the worst ways to communicate!

Step 5: Communicate to Manage the Project

Once the team has planned its work, that work must be managed. Management involves a whole series of communication events. No single person, not even a designated team leader, can make a project team productive. Every member of the team will be communicating with others, and everyone has a role in team effectiveness. Effective communication includes steps to coordinate work being done by the team members, interaction with clients, supervisors, and resources outside the team, and written documents that keep everything on track.

Key Communication Roles

In a productive group, people are doing the jobs they are best suited for. Student groups often like to share responsibility for tasks, but shared responsibility takes more time and is generally less effective. It's better to find out each others' skills and interests during the group's forming stage and then assign responsibilities to the people who'll enjoy them. An alternative is to rotate communication responsibilities, or split up the various tasks so that each person does some part. This is especially good in classroom situations where each student needs to learn a range of new skills. Regardless of how the tasks are divided up, these communication jobs need to get done:

  • Meeting Facilitator: Someone must be responsible for distributing the agenda prior to a meeting, getting the room set up for productive work, making process checks during the meeting to make sure that everyone knows what is going on, and activing as the time and topic keeper, making sure the conversation stays on track. Every meeting should have a designated facilitator.
  • Information Manager: Projects are most effective when someone is responsible for distributing all relevant information to everyone in the group, resolving "transmission" difficulties as they come up, and seeing that any changes, agreements, decisions, and commitments are summarized accurately and recorded accurately in the project notes. Each meeting might have a different person keeping track of the information and creating the minutes, but don't forget that information is being used and exchanged between meetings as well.
  • Social Director: Many groups find that one person takes responsibility for the social relationships within the group, making sure that no one is being left out of the conversation, that issues and misunderstandings are identified and aired before they become conflicts, that personality and cultural differences are productively respected and conflicts are lovingly resolved when they do arise. This is a job that can be successfully shared as long as someone is always paying attention to relationship issues.
  • Documentation Coordinator: Even though specific documentation tasks might be assigned to different individuals, a single person should maintain permanent project records, coordinate the creation of project reports, and insure their timely distribution.

Coordinating Work

Interacting with People Outside the Team

Project Documents

Teams can manage project communication in various ways.  Anything from a clipboard to Google Drive can be used to coordinate communication, record decisions, and report the team’s status to outsiders.  The main requirements are that team members, supervisors, and new group members can find the information they need easily and quickly. The important information includes

  • The Team Charge: This document records the purpose and scope of the team’s work. It will include such information as the client's expectations, the team's outcome, and any expectations with respect to timeliness, quantity, quality, and costs of the deliverables. Often the team will create a written agreement with its client, perhaps a contract or a formal letter or memo of understanding. this document will spell out the commitments being made by both the team and its client.

  • The Work Plan: The document is often prepared as a spreadsheet or checklist, and it includes the overall action plan as well as details of who is responsible for each subtask and dates that decisions or actions must be completed.

  • Status of the Work: Many teams provide regular status reports to a supervisor or client, which are prepared with information that is being kept by the team. Typical information includes records of when and how subtasks were completed and records of all communication such as team meeting minutes and notes on conversations with with clients, partners, and vendors. A key item is an up-to-date calendar that shows what parts of the job are complete and what is still left to do.

  • Resource Information: Each project requires a different set of resources, but the team's documentation should include complete information about where to locate those resources. At a minimum, every team's documents should include the team's roster (a list of group members and their contact information) and contact information for the client. In addition, the team needs to keep track of where to find resources, client preferences, legal or environmental restrictions, and so on.
More about documents at Manage II

 

Step 6: Discuss the group's effectiveness

An important characteristic of effective teams is that they spend some time evaluating their own processes and outcomes.  In most work situations, a team stays together for a long time,  working together as a work unit or project team. A team that is able to evaluate and improve its own work processes will become increasingly effective over time.

For student groups, the most relevant measure of your effectiveness might seem to be the grade received.  In reality, there are important differences between measuring the quality of a team's output (i.e. the grade) and its  processes.   Unless they are careful about looking at their both output and processes carefully, teams will tend to make two crucial errors.

  • Teams that enjoy working together will tend to over value the work they actually performed.  Unfortunately, group cohesiveness turns out to be largely unrelated to group productivity.  A team could be quite happy because members spend too much time socializing, for instance, and fail to realize that they are producing far less than other teams doing the same work. 
  • Teams tend to assume a good output means they had good processes.  The reality is that many factors can cause a group to succeed or fail.  The group's own internal processes are part of the picture, but management support, the availability of resources, and even plain old luck can make a difference.  
For long term success, a group needs to know how others actually perceive its output; future promotions depend on what the group actually accomplishes, not on whether its members enjoy working together.  The group also needs to know whether its own processes are effective, regardless of whether other factors created (or prevented) success. It's important, then, to carefully and objectively evaluate BOTH the actual output and the processes used to acheive that output.

Assessing Your Output
Team output is generally measured in terms of  how well it meets its "team charge." If the task involves delivering something to a client or supervisor, then that customer has the final word on quality.  For student teams, a grade might not be given until the very end of the semester, too late for effective self-evaluation during the project.  As an alternative, ask your professor for an informal assessment of your work in progress.  Or, honestly compare your work with that of other students in class, or perhaps with examples of previous groups' graded work.

Assessing Your Processes
Some supervisors (or professors) will required teams to conduct self evaluations, but whether required or not, a team will benefit if it takes the time to evaluate how well it is doing on a regular basis. Even for the classroom team that will "never" work together again, a mid-project assessment can allow you to identify and solve problems before they damage your outcome.  Even more important to your eventual career success, you will learn more about team processes (and give yourself a great answer in job interviews!) by performing at least one mid-project team evaluation.

Step 7: Start communicating about the next project

As you go your separate ways, you should take stock of the skills, procedures and insight that will make you a better team member. Most important, review the steps the group took to become a group. While your own individual ability is an important asset to a team, it can’t be used unless the team put itself together to work as a unit.

You can also give each other important feedback regarding individual strengths, contributions and areas where improvement is needed. Now that you are all really good friends it can seem awkward to start criticizing each other. Look at it this way, though, isn’t it better than getting criticism from a boss? Real friends don’t let friends graduate with big blind spots about their knowledge and abilities.

Click here for tool# 15 sheet

Facilitating Effective Meetings

Meetings are not the only tool of team communication, but they're a common one. Being able to hold a good meeting can do wonders for your professional success.

How to Manage a Meeting
Basics of good meetings and some troubleshooting tips for dealing with problems.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: HOPE TO BE BACK UP SOON!

 

Tools for Teams

Communication/Work Styles
Download this packet to guide your team through a work/communication styles assessment.

Project Documentation
Communicating project status and results is a key part of a team's responsibility.

Team Skills
Individual competence, team facilitation skills, and project management steps are required for success in the MBA capstone project.

How to be a Group

These tools are designed to guide a group through a productive group activity.