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Do teams work?

June 11, 2009

It’s generally accepted that team based working is preferable to individuals serving a single line manager, but what evidence supports this?

Sometimes being in a team can be very helpful.

Sometimes being in a team can be very helpful.

Team based working gained popularity during the late 80s and 90s following initiatives such as kaizen and Total Quality Management. All too often we simply accept that the team way is the right way, but perhaps we should spend a moment testing this assumption.

Firstly, it’s worth considering different kinds of teams that can exist within an organisation;

Conventional – A group working to fulfill an ongoing function under the guidance of a nominated leader, more often called a department.
Self Directed – Normally found in manufacturing environments where the task is prescribed to such an extent that a leader isn’t required to direct the group’s activities.
Project – A team created from a panel of experts for a limited period of time to fulfill a defined task such as constructing a new factory.

In 1996 Peter Scholtes argued that teams outperform individuals when:
• The task is complex
• Creativity is needed
• The path forward is unclear
• More efficient use of resources is required
• Fast learning is necessary
• High commitment is desirable
• The implementation of a plan requires the co-operation of others
• The task or process is cross-functional

More recently, team based working is seen as a significant contributor to employee satisfaction; but be warned-while good teams increase commitment and engagement bad teams and particularly bad team leaders, are the single biggest influence on staff turnover – in short, people don’t leave the company, they leave their colleagues.

So how can you be sure your teams are effective?
Take some time looking at the teams’ purpose. Is there a clearly understood reason for being? Are the team members competent and compatible? Does each team understand its areas of strength and weakness? For instance, a group of creative’s in an advertising agency may well be great at coming up with ground breaking ideas but may need to address why they don’t keep accurate records or spend time seeking new accounts.

In our opinion, as little as a day spent away from the office considering some of these questions and getting to know one another through team games and exercises can transform a team in name to a team in spirit.

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