Get The Best From Teams

Recession-struck companies are turning up the pressure on work teams in an effort to increase both efficiency and accuracy. However, teams must be assembled carefully.

Simply lumping people together with the right skills to do the job isn’t enough. To be efficient, teams must be able not only to manage the task at hand, but also work well together.  The way teams perform these dual demands can make or break a team and severely impact its performance.  Organizations benefit from the cost savings made when teams function optimally.

The project or work asked of the team may consist of developing a product, serving customers or starting a venture.  All require the co-ordination of project tasks.  At the same time, teams need to work well together.  This means deciding who does what, deciding when tasks get done, coordinating the effort and dealing with conflict and how to make decisions amongst team members.

So how do organizations extract the best from their teams?  There are three steps teams can take to ensure efficient and successful performance:

Step 1:  Lay the Foundation

Before starting the project, set aside time to clearly define how the team will work together.  This will help future performance by laying a strong foundation for working together and accomplishing tasks with minimum confusion and disruption. Teams tend to dive into the work and fail to discuss how to get the job done, along with expectations of each team member when it comes to working together.  Time is lost later when confusion, misunderstanding and sometimes interpersonal conflict arise due to lack of initial planning.

Step 2:  Decide on a Team Charter

A team charter is a set of principles to which each team member agrees to abide. Principles can include the following:

  • Refrain from interrupting others.
  • Direct questions or concerns about something a team member said or did to the team member first. Refrain from talking about the issue with other parties.  This cuts down on talking about others behind their backs.  Clarity is sought between the parties who are affected and others are not dragged into the conversation.
  • Include everyone in information sharing, either by copying each other on emails or ensuring everyone is invited to meetings.
  • Make sure all team members are accountable for the project and their role in it.  It’s not acceptable to assume someone else is doing it—check it out, don’t assume it’ll get done by “some body”.
  • If you don’t know how to do something, can’t figure it out, ask for help immediately.  Don’t create delays by being afraid to say you are bogged down for some reason, this will delay everyone else.
  • Ban any type of putting down of team members for asking questions, not knowing what to do or needing clarification of their role and tasks.
  • Start and end meetings on time and circulate agendas between meetings to prepare team members for the next meeting.
  • Determine how decisions will be made—consensus or majority vote.

Step 3: Create a Work Plan

Rather than just starting by assigning team members things to do, the team needs to create a work plan that includes the following elements:

  • Identify the best way to tackle the task, and what skills each team member brings to bear on the project.
  • Determine what the final product is to consist of and when is it due.
  • Anticipate and identify possible gaps in expertise, and resources provided. Develop a plan for handling shortfalls including people being away, building in time for unforeseen circumstances.
  • Set out major milestones, and when should they be accomplished in relation to the final deadline.
  • Decide what team member will keep track of the milestones and overall team progress. Who creates and circulates agendas, keeps meetings focused and on time?
  • Determine the timeline for finishing each milestone in the project.
  • Determine who does what and when their task is to be completed.
  • Record and post the plan so that team members can refer to it, either electronically or on a central whiteboard or sheet of paper.

Focusing on both the team’s interpersonal needs and creating a strategy to handle the tasks are both key to efficiency amongst team members.  It is tempting to launch right into a project without this foundational work, but teams that do so tend to be less efficient in the long run.  By attending to these team needs up front, team’s can ensure high performance, cohesiveness and a strong sense of accomplishment.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership.  They can be contacted at:

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