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Effective and Ineffective Organisational Teams

Although it is possible to 'go it alone', the extent of human achievement is of necessity limited when people do not work together. One person can have brilliant ideas but may lack the brainpower, imagination or objectivity to capitalize on those ideas.

Organizations are essentially about people working together and yet so often they fail to capitalize upon the full potential of this. A team can accomplish much more than the sum of its individual members and yet frequently groups of people are seen to achieve less than could have been accomplished by the individual members working alone.

Most organizations have meetings which dampen inspiration and departments which seem to devote more energy to maintaining their own organizational position than to the common good of the organization as a whole. Teamwork is individuals working together to accomplish more than they could alone, but, more than that, it can be exciting, satisfying and enjoyable.

How then do we recognize where good teamwork and bad teamwork flourish? Perhaps, as with most things, it is easier to start with the symptoms of poor teamwork, than move in turn to the traits of effective teams. So let's look at some of the symptoms of bad teamwork.

Symptoms of ineffective team work

Ineffective Team Symptoms

All of the above symptoms cost (financially, stress, impact at home, PR, etc) and are strong indicators the organisation is under performing, even if it at first glance it appears successful. Think of each of the above symptoms as a 1 kilogram weight that is placed on the back of each and every employee's back. Think of your employees as athletes. How fast and for how long will they go weighted down by the above starting handicaps? So let's look at them in turn.

People not developing:  If a team is to be effective and contribute to organisational success, it needs to be continually developing itself. This in part means constantly facilitating individual as well as team development. Often development does not happen because:

Reasons why individual and team development don't take place.

No / low development means that sometimes although common problems exist people are just not able or willing to get together and work on them.

Attitude to the possibility of external help: The ineffective team will usually either reject offers of help because it fears the consequences of outsiders finding out what the team is really like or will seize all offers of help because it lacks any coherent view of how to proceed and is content to hand over its problems to someone else. The effective team will use external help constructively by recognizing the unique contribution and viewpoint which it can bring, but it will always maintain ownership of its own problems and its own destiny.

Un-balanced team membership: Teams can have the wrong balance in membership; essential skills are lacking, tasks are continually not accomplished efficiently. Sometimes poor teamwork results in jobs getting done twice or not at all because no clear understanding of roles within and between teams exists.

High levels of frustration: As organizations get larger the opportunities for personal expression and satisfaction often become less. Too frequently people who work in organizations become frustrated because they can no longer see a clear way of meeting their own needs and aspirations. People just lose inspiration and lack the commitment and motivation which are essential ingredients of effective teamwork.

Grumbling and retaliation: Because people cannot express themselves through the system they do it privately in discussions in the corridors, lavatories and car parks. Often bar room chat is a better indicator of organizational health than the most elaborate attitude surveys.

Spending a lot of time on recriminations: Employees do not use mistakes as development opportunities for increased learning and improvement. Mistakes are used as excuses for punishing those who make the mistakes, and they do this in the many and varied ways in which organizations are able to hand out punishments.

Unhealthy competition: Competition is the life-blood of many organizations but there is a great difference between the kind of healthy competition where people can enjoy the just rewards of their deserved success and others can accept that the best person, system or policy succeeded and the kind of organization where backbiting, 'dirty tricks' and political infighting are the everyday pastimes of managers.

Inter- departmental rivalry: Many organizations owe much of their success to the natural competitive spirit which exists between departments and to the pride of team member­ship which departmentalization often brings, but many others have departments which are at constant war with each other, each jockeying for superior organizational position, influence or perks.

The expression which employees wear on their faces: Effective teamwork breeds happiness and the uniformed visitor can often get an immediate impression of whether work is a happy place to be or whether being 'killed in the rush' at 'clocking off' time is a risk. Work does not have to be a dull and un-enjoyable place; it can so easily be a really rewarding place where people love to be.

Low levels of openness and honesty: Unfortunately, some people seem to try honesty only when everything else has failed. Many managers particularly seem to go to enormous lengths to avoid telling the truth. There are, of course, occasions in every organization where something other than total openness is necessary but where good teamwork exists there is generally no need for locks on drawers, dishonest statements to employees and the taking of false bargaining stances.

Poor quality of meetings: The main reason for having meetings is to utilize the collective skills of a group of people whilst working on common problems or opportunities. Too often, however, we experience meetings which in no way use these skills, meetings where only one or a few people contribute, and meetings where many managers seem to use the occasion as an opportunity to lay down the rules rather than utilize the resources of the team. The quality of meetings can usually be determined by the way in which individuals either look forward to or dread the normal weekly or monthly get together.

Poor quality of relationship between managers and those they manage: Where people cannot confide in or trust their manager, where they are fearful or where their conversations are on a superficial or trivial level then real teamwork is unlikely to exist. Good teamwork engenders high quality relationships.

Another sign of low quality relationships is often that the leader becomes increasingly isolated from the team, failing to represent their view while they do not subscribe to his or hers. The effective team leader needs to be very much a part of the team,

Lack of new ideas: Creativity is a delicate flower which only flourishes in the right conditions, mainly conditions of personal freedom and support; freedom to experiment, try out ideas and concepts and support from those who listen, evaluate and offer help. A dearth of new ideas generally goes with poor teamwork because it is within teams that the conditions for creativity can most easily be created.

Poor levels of support: The degree to which people help and use each other is another indicator. Where effective teamwork does not exist people tend to neither work in isolation and neither offer nor receive the help of their colleagues. All of us need that help in order to perform at our optimum level.

The conditions described above are indicative of an unhealthy organization and all of them can be significantly improved by effective teamwork.


Team building blocks used in the team development process

 Effective Team Traits

Very simply they are the opposites of the symptoms described in ineffective teamwork symptoms.

  • The team has the right balance of skills, ability and aspirations. People can and do express themselves honestly and openly.
  • Conversation about work is the same both inside and outside the organization.
  • Mistakes are faced openly and used as vehicles for learning and difficult situations are confronted.
  • Helpful competition and conflict of ideas are used constructively and team members have a pride in the success of their team.
    Unhelpful competition and conflict have been eliminated.
  • Good relationships exist with other teams and departments. Each values and respects the other and their respective leaders themselves comprise an effective team.
  • Personal relationships are characterized by support and trust, with people helping each other whenever possible.
  • Meetings are productive and stimulating with all participating and feeling ownership of the actions which result from the decisions made. New ideas abound and their use enables the team to stay ahead.
  • Boss-subordinate relationships are sound, each helping the other to perform each role better, and the team feels that it is led in an appropriate way.
  • Personal and individual development is highly rated and opportunities are constantly sought for making development happen.
  • There is clear agreement about and understanding of objectives and of the roles which the team and its individual members will play in achieving them.
  • External help will be welcomed and used where appropriate.
  • The team regularly reviews where it is going, why it needs to go there, and how it is getting there. If necessary, it alters its practices in the light of that review.
  • Finally, communication is effected up, down and across the organization and with the outside world.

All of this means that `work' is a happy place to be; people enjoy themselves wherever possible but this enjoyment is conducive to achievement, not a barrier to it. People get satisfaction from their working lives and work is one of the places where they meet their needs and aspirations.

These characteristics can be seen as the raw materials of effective teamwork. They can be viewed as 'building blocks' because they are what we can use in a very practical way to build effective teams.


Next | Stages in Team Development Process