Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How Do You Build A Team?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allTeam
The belief that working in teams makes us more creative and productive is so widespread that when faced with a challenging new task, leaders are quick to assume that teams are the best way to get the job done . . .

. . . Contrary to conventional wisdom, teams may be your worst option for tackling a challenging task. Problems with coordination, motivation, and competition can badly damage team performance. Even the best leaders can’t make a team deliver great results. But you can increase the likelihood of success—by setting the right conditions. – Harvard Business Review May 2009.

I stumbled across the article Why Teams Don't Work by Daine Courtu. Having been a coach, team-teacher, team-leader and also team member in many successful (and some unsuccessful) teams,
I immediately pounced on the pages and scanned the content.

Courtu interviews J. Richard Hackman, Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology at Harvard University, and author of the book, Leading Teams.

Hackman, a notable expert on teams with a lifetime of experience in studying and working with teams, has an authoritative opinion that makes a lot of sense to me. He comes over as a straight thinker who cuts to the chase when it comes to matters about the worth of teams.

Hackman’s stance is that teams can generate magic (didn’t we always believe that?) though we shouldn’t always count on every spell working the way we’d like. In his book Leading Teams, Hackman rationalises five critical conditions governing the balance between success and failure:
  1. "Teams must be real. People have to know who is on the team and who is not. It’s the leader’s job to make that clear.

  2. Teams need a compelling direction. Members need to know, and agree on, what they’re supposed to be doing together. Unless a leader articulates a clear direction, there is a real risk that different members will pursue different agendas.

  3. Teams need enabling structures. Teams that have poorly designed tasks, the wrong number or mix of members, or fuzzy or unenforced norms of conduct invariably get into trouble.

  4. Teams need a supportive organisation. The organisational context – including the reward system, the human resource system, and the information system – must facilitate teamwork.

  5. Teams need expert coaching. Most executive coaches focus on individual performance, which does not significantly improve teamwork. Teams need coaching as a group in team processes – especially at the beginning, midpoint and end of a team project.”
Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


Kate Foy said...

Hi Ken
the bullet points from the article almost perfectly capture the way people engaged in the creative business of producing a play go about the work. I was always delighted to read employers' expectations of new graduates - and which always included the ability to work in a team and to be good communicators. Who would have thought it about a bunch of raggedy artistes!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Kate!

You are so right. My recollection of being an actor tells me this. As one of the cast at Downstage Theatre in Wellington in 1980 I had a part in the play, The Suicide, by the Russian playwright Nicolai Erdman, director Phillip Mann. No doubt in my mind, the cast were single minded as to what to do, at every point of the production.

It was a long play, almost 3 hours, and the season ran for 4 weeks. My experience watching great actors (among them John Banas, Ray Henwood, Paul Gittings, Helen Moulder) and a top rate director at work - from the beginning - was quite amazing. A 'large play' like that one needed first class team-work and coordination, true but that unfolded, as you say, exactly according to the bullet points given here.

"Raggedy artistes"? I don't think so.

Catchya later

V Yonkers said...

I currently am immersed in this field (group work) for my dissertation. I was ready to jump on what Hackman had to say as I had never heard of him in the area of group work. I have found much of the research on team leadership as bonk since many believe that a kind dictator is always needed (one type of leader fits all types of groups).

However, I have to say I was impressed. All of his points fits right into my research and the impact a leader has on team work.

In terms of teams that shouldn't be, I am finding that teams that work under time and resource constraints cannot effectively work as a team, regardless of leadership. In fact, many teams don't work as "teams" but rather coordinated individuals working towards a common goal. While the finished product might have a number of contributions, this assembly line type of knowledge work is NOT team work.

Paul C said...

There are parallels of the team dynamic with collaborative group work in education. If students are given a well designed rubric of expectations, their performance is probably enhanced.

Ken Stewart said...

Ken, I love your mention of how important teams are to success - and having fun, too!

Just a few short years back, I was big on flying solo - and being challenged over the past 5-6 years to build teams of my own has proven challenging and rewarding beyond measure.

I just started some new techniques using daily 15 minute team huddles that have been really fun. It creates a positive attitude and keeps the team moving in the same direction.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koutou katoa!

Kia ora Virginia!
I'm reserving my opinion about teams for the time being. I have no doubt that some teams work. It's how they operate and their effectiveness that I want to learn more about. I think there is a lot of hokus-pokus spread about the worth of teams. It's the idea that team-work is always the way to go that I'm skeptical about.

Kia ora Paul!
Group-work in education is a very specific application of the behaviour of teams. I find it difficult to rationalise a specific goal for such a team that benefits all. If such a team were quizzed about what they're doing together, would they all/mostly come up with an answer that met a whole group benefit description? If they did, then perhaps they are genuinely working as a team.

Haere mai Ken!
I can't recall mentioning specifically anything about teams having fun or success, but it is good that you've raised these issues. Certainly if the team is like Paul describes - collaborative group-work in education - then it's well understood that having fun is most likely to bring about success. Piaget identified that for us last century and it is viable today.

Catchya later