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Getting teams to act like teams

Making sure your teams works well together

I recently received a note from a reader that expressed the concern of many business leaders. He wrote, 'What do I do when my senior team doesn't gel into a team?' A fair question, and one that does apply to many companies today. In most cases, the heads of companies try to surround themselves with highly effective, completely committed teams of people who will be able to follow the direction set forward by the boss. That's good thinking on the boss's part - after all, he or she can't do it all.

But after a while, the boss sees that things just aren't getting done, or at very minimum, not done fast enough. He can't understand it; the team is a great team. Every member of the team was picked because of the specific skills they had and the energy they had around what the chief needed done. The answer is that there is no team in place.

Quote�That's good thinking on the boss's part - after all, he or she can't do it all.�End Quote

Many management teams are, in reality, just a great group of people - mostly well-intentioned - who have been pulled together to do something. But just trying really hard, attending all the team meetings and believing that they communicate pretty well does not make them a team. A team - think sports team here - is a group of people who all see a common vision and are dedicated to attain that vision - collectively.

This can mean that whilst one person on the team may be more visible than the rest, they all work together to make sure they accomplish what they set out to accomplish. In business, this may mean that they not only satisfy all the boss's wishes for their department, but they do it in the context of the overall organisation. In short, a team in a business context is a group of well-intentioned people behaving like a team, putting individual and departmental goals and political agendas secondary to a company's vision and its ability to achieve it.

How to do it

To enable teams to act like teams, there are several things that you will need to do.

Ensure that the team has a common view of where the business is going, and how it is going to get there. There are many ways to accomplish this, but one method that works extremely well is to put all the team members in a room and take them through an exercise where they describe how they see the various elements of organisational success, both now and in the future.

These elements include: the vision (if the entire company were in one room, what would you see if you looked in the window?); the mental models of the managers and employees (what beliefs and assumptions about the organisation do they hold / will they need to hold); the organisational structures (these include the policies and procedures that the company operates under, both implicit and explicit); the patterns of behaviour that management, customers, and suppliers would be able to see; and the events that will be highly visible (that might include profits, revenues, head counts, etc.).

When they have all filled in a matrix with these elements listed on it, they would share their work with their team members, giving insights as to how they see their organisational world. This exercise is a very powerful way to ensure a common view for all the team members.

Quote�A good team management team structure is usually comprised of key representatives from each of the company's key processes.�End Quote

Ensure that the team members clearly see how each of their roles contribute to the overall organisational direction. In some organisations I have seen, there are two clearly evident levels of team participation; those team members that do the real work of the company, and those other guys who sit in the offices who perform a function like Human Resources or Marketing.

True, it is the operators of any business who are out on the front-lines doing the 'work' of the company, but their contributions would go no place without people to do the work who have the right skills, or an outlet for the company's products or services.

A good team management team structure is usually comprised of key representatives from each of the company's key processes. Without any one of the key processes, the overall company efforts will not function effectively. Ensuring that each function is represented goes a long way to helping team members see how their contributions lead to overall success.

Ensure that team members work collectively. In many cases, team members tend to degenerate into 'strong' and 'weak' participant members, usually based on personality issues. To offset this potentially disastrous dynamic, allow for dedicated time for the team members to talk openly about how they interact. Having an external facilitator might be a good thing for this as quite often the conversation can turn into defensive mode, which is not conducive to team activities. If team members are going to function collectively, they need to feel that they can contribute, and that their contributions will be accepted by all (which is not to say that all contributions are the best, only that team members should feel that they can contribute).

Ensure that when success occurs, it is the team that is rewarded. The real signal to a team that they are recognised as a team is when the entire team is rewarded for success. If they are not rewarded as a team, the signal is that they are not expected to act as a team ... and then they won't.

The philosophy behind using teams in business is that, if done well, the synergy that can be obtained through teamwork is more powerful than the sum of the parts. But if you aren't seeing your team acting like a team, before you get all crazy, think about what you are doing to send the right signals for team behaviour to them.

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About the author

Dr James Rieley Dr James B Rieley is an advisor to senior leadership teams from all sectors. He has been recognised globally for his work on how to create environments in which organisations can realise their potential. He is the author of Gaming the System (FT/Prentice Hall, 2001); Plain Talk about Business Performance (Pen Press, 2004); Leadership (Hodder, 2006); and Strategy and Performance (Hodder, 2006); as well as writing a column for the Daily Telegraph on business effectiveness. He can be reached at jbrieley@rieley.com and www.rieley.com.

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