The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts: Harnessing The Power Of Teams
There’s strong evidence that teams can produce results that far outperform that of individuals working alone.
Decades ago, when some big organisations first introduced teams, it made the news because no one else was doing it. Today, it’s just the opposite: a business that doesn’t use teams is the odd one out.
Using teams creates the potential for an organisation to generate greater outputs with no increase in inputs – resulting in a true efficiency gain. However, the key word here is ‘potential’.
There’s nothing magical in the creation of teams that results in this positive synergy – it takes deliberate effort and planning.
If you want to reap the benefits of successful teams, here are the four elements you need to consider:
All teams rely on outside resources for their success, such as timely information, the right equipment, support and encouragement, and administrative assistance.
Leadership and structure is also important: team members must trust each other and their leader. This facilitates cooperation, reduces the need to monitor each other’s behaviour, bonds the team together, and encourages everyone to accept and commit to the leader’s goals and decisions.
Three different types of skills are required for a team to perform effectively: technical expertise, problem solving/decision making skills, and interpersonal skills.
In terms of personality, teams that are higher in their levels of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience and emotional stability tend to perform better. High-performing teams are likely to be composed of people who prefer working as part of a group.
Finally, when a team is diverse in terms of personality, gender, age, education, specialisation and experience, there’s a much higher chance it will perform effectively.
People should be selected for a team to ensure that all the various skills, personality traits and demographics are covered, wherever possible.
In terms of size, the most effective teams have fewer than ten members. This prevents ‘group think’ (agreeing with the consensus rather than putting your true thoughts forward), and increases mutual accountability. It’s also easier to coordinate a smaller team under time pressure.
Effective teams have multi-skilled and flexible members who can complete each other’s tasks if necessary, making them less reliant on any single member.
Effective teams need to work together and take collective responsibility for significant tasks. This results in the opportunity for everyone in the team to use different skills and talents. It also means everyone gets a chance to complete a whole task or project (rather than being a ‘cog in the wheel’ – which is much less motivating).
While individuals can get away with hiding inside a group, effective teams circumvent this tendency because they hold themselves accountable at both the individual and team level.
Effective teams have a common purpose that provides direction, momentum and commitment. Translating a team’s common purpose into specific, measurable and realistic goals makes for a more successful team.
Conflict can actually improve team effectiveness, as long as it is disagreement over tasks, rather than a relationship-based conflict (which is most often dysfunctional and not conducive to team effectiveness). Given that many of us prefer to avoid conflict within a team situation, this is important to remember.
Teams need to be encouraged to express differences of opinions in a constructive manner. This type of ‘functional conflict’ increases innovation and reduces tendencies toward group-think.
A high performing team will nearly always produce better results than a collection of high performing individuals, but it doesn’t happen by chance.
If you already manage a team, did it form more or less haphazardly? Or have you deliberately considered the context, composition, work design and process of your team along the way? I’d suggest that if you haven’t, your team has a lot of room for improvement.