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Making Teamwork Happen

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Just putting a bunch of folks in a room together doesn't make a team. Here's how to get them steaming full speed ahead.
Teamwork doesn't happen automatically when you put a bunch of people in the same room. Teams go through four stages of development, each stage having its own characteristics and outcomes. We can learn how to accelerate team development to get to the highest performing stage quicker. A useful tool for accelerating team development is provided along with other characteristics that help a team be productive.
Duration: 9:40 Audio MP3
© 2009 St. Louis Community College
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Transcript

Nowadays most organizations try to get their people to work in teams. Some of these efforts are successful, some not so much. Let's take a look at what teams can do to maximize their chances of success.

To begin with, you can’t put a bunch of people in a room and wave a magic wand and say, "Presto! You're a team!" Teams take a while to get organized and it may be quite some time before the fledgling team can actually begin producing useful work. New teams go through some well-documented stages of development. The popular designations for these stages are

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing

In the forming stage, as the team is just beginning to get to know one another and figure out what they're supposed to do, they do some flailing around and not much real work gets done.

The storming stage often consists of people arguing, competing with each other, and sometimes working at cross purposes.

In the norming stage, the team members finally figure out one another's capabilities, they begin to trust that they have each other's backs, and some productive work actually gets done.

In the performing stage, team members are clicking along, getting the work out, achieving their own and the organization's goals, and feeling pretty good about themselves.

Wouldn't it be great if we could figure out how to shorten the time needed for a team to go through its first three relatively unproductive stages, and get to the performing stage much more quickly? Here's one approach to helping a team to move into "full steam ahead" mode:

Every new team needs a team charter to ensure that it can become productive as quickly as possible. A charter is an actual written document developed by the team and its leader, with input from the organization that created the team. The charter has five main components:

  • We begin with a clear statement of purpose that says why the team was formed.
    • A well-written purpose statement includes:
      • Who the team is.
      • Why the team exists
      • What organizational goals the team supports.
      • How the team adds value to the organization and/or customers.
  • Next we need some statement of the team's accountabilities - its job description, so to speak.
    • The team's accountabilities can be a list of what the team is responsible for accomplishing.
      • It acts as a job description for the team.
      • It describes tasks, duties, or outputs required to fulfill the team’s purpose.
  • The third part of the charter is the list of specific goals the team is expected to accomplish. For each goal, there needs to be a clear statement of which team members will be responsible for the goal's achievement, what specific action steps go into the goal, how progress and success will be measured and demonstrated, what resources will be needed, and the deadlines for the action steps and the goal itself.
  • The fourth element of the charter is a statement of ground rules for how people communicate with one another, expectations for participation and commitment, rules for coming to meetings on time, meeting deadlines, etc. The team can devise whatever ground rules make the most sense for the way they operate within the organization's own culture, but they need to be specific and clear. Team members should ask themselves:
    • Do these ground rules describe specific behaviors so that everyone understands what's expected? 
    • Does everyone on the team agree to the ground rules? 
    • Did you decide how to encourage one another to follow the ground rules? What did you decide? 
    • What happens if someone doesn't follow the ground rules?
  • The final part of the charter describes how meetings will be conducted. This step requires clear statements of
    • When will we meet, and how often?
    • Who will facilitate the meetings?
    • (If needed) How will remote or temporary team members be included?
    • Who will take meeting notes, including tracking decisions and action items?
    • Who will create and distribute the agenda? By when?
    • Who will distribute the meeting notes to all team members? By when?

Once the charter is created and agreed upon by the team members, everyone needs to sign their names to it, and copies of the charter should be distributed to all team members and to whomever the team reports to. Signing the charter indicates a symbolic commitment to its terms, and celebrates the first piece of productive work the team accomplishes.

Does every team need a charter? No - only

  • New teams
  • Existing teams that never had a charter
  • Problem-solving teams
  • Committees that meet frequently
  • Any group that meets more than once and has a common purpose or goal

Which teams specifically don't need a charter?

  • Ad hoc groups that meet only once
  • Groups that share common work space, but don't interact much with each other and don't have a common purpose

The charter is not imposed upon a team, but is something the team develops for itself, even when there is strong input from the team's leader or the organization as a whole. The main role of the team leader is guide the team through the chartering process.

Chartering is also a dynamic process. When a team changes tasks or functions, it will likely need to revisit the charter. When members leave or when new members join, the team may need to recharter itself.

Chartering a work team provides very tangible organizational benefits: These include the following:

  • The charter provides structure for completing processes or producing products/services
  • It enables a team to reach the performing stage, or "full speed ahead," more quickly and enables the team to deliver results within a reasonable time frame
  • The charter gives new team members structure and guidance, and shortens the time needed to integrate themselves into the team

A productive work team has some other characteristics that enable it to achieve success.

  • The number of people on the team should be small enough to ensure that everyone gets enough "air time" during discussions and large enough to ensure that there are plenty of hands to do the actual work required. On average, this is usually seven people, although larger or smaller teams may exist under special circumstances.
  • There should be as much diversity among members as possible. This means not only racial, gender, and ethnic diversity, but also age, skill sets, knowledge and experience. The more diverse the membership, the better the quality of input and the less chance for groupthink to set in.
  • While there may be a nominal leader of the team - the one everyone reports to - some teams benefit from a rotating leader or facilitator for each meeting. This enables the nominal leader to participate more fully, and it also helps build leadership and facilitation skills among members.
  • Executive level teams might also consider the use of an outside consultant to act as facilitator. At this level, you sometimes need an outsider who isn't part of the organization and isn't afraid to ask some of the hard questions or confront certain unproductive behaviors among team members.

Work teams that are founded on a strong charter create more trust among members and perform at a higher level. A charter helps build greater commitment, facilitates more effective communication, streamlines work processes, and helps achieve better results.