“No man is an island.”
All of us have heard this saying at one point or another, and it’s probably truest once you’ve joined the workforce. Even if you believe your job doesn’t require much interaction with people – like a solo programmer on the graveyard shift for example, you’re still inevitably part of a team; a small gear in a big wheel that all need to work together to get the job done.
Teams are the cogs to building a successful company, and teamwork is the oil that keeps them working smoothly together. When individuals work for the success and good of the team rather than their own self-interest, the organization will perform at its best. This is why teams, and teamwork, need to be built to last.
Teamwork is dictated by one important thing that cannot be underestimated – team dynamics, which, in turn, are dictated by group size, communication styles, culture, leadership, and division of work, to mention a few. Sad to say, what makes big groups great: diversity, experience, skill, and knowledge are also what make them unwieldy and undermine their progress.
In order for teams to work well and successfully together, various factors need to be considered:
As the world becomes smaller, and businesses face more complex tasks that require companies to tap into the vast array of talent and skill found in other places around the world, the diversity, though necessary to find solutions, also adds another challenge – resolving conflicts and delivering the results necessary despite distance, different backgrounds and experiences.
Most of the groups studied by Bayt.com in 2016 on teams at the MENA (Middle Eastern North African) region, found that, while there is no perfect size since the number of members in a team is largely dictated by the scope of work needed, the size of the company itself, and even the nature of the job, smaller teams have an advantage in getting things done. Most teams in MENA have only 2 to 5 members each, and the only way for larger teams to benefit from the same advantages as smaller teams is if they are broken down into subgroups depending on tasks or expertise.
Companies can still experience the pros of large teams if they invest in the proper infrastructure and work hard to establish a collaborative culture, which can transcend the problems posited by large groups. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that: 1) with teams composed of more than 20 people, their naturally collaborative aspect decreases, 2) cooperation declines with virtual work, and 3) age, education, and even tenure affect team cooperation. The more experts there are in teams, the less willing they seem to be to share their knowledge across the board.
With the advent of better technology to bridge gaps created by disease, distance and location, working virtually is becoming a bigger reality, not just for large multinationals, but also for most people. It is a fact that businesses need to consider and plan for when studying factors that influence team success.
One of the simplest, yet most effective, means by which companies can support their employees’ collaborative efforts, virtual or not, is by supplying them with laptops, which have enough memory to store all their work files, a camera for video conferences, internal email and even a worldwide corporate Facebook system, which allows strangers from across the world to get to know the people they have been assigned to work with in a team. Some companies go the extra mile by investing extensively in executive travel – this way, leaders in other branches of the organization can brainstorm and share best practices. This not only allows team members to provide a face to the person they’ve probably emailed many times before, but also fosters a specific environment for collaboration to occur.
TOP DOWN SUPPORT FROM LEADERS
Team members work hard when they see their leaders are working harder. Leadership is not just a skill, it’s an art. They provide pivotal roles in how the team performs tasks assigned to them – they make decisions, provide clarity, give guidance, smooth out discord, delegate tasks, balance workload, coordinate between teams and management, and have the ability to recognize and develop each team members’ strengths, which have enormous impact on productivity, engagement and team satisfaction.
A great leader is worth their weight in gold – he has to keep one eye on required tasks and another on the relationships between his team members. In the study conducted by HBR, successful leaders were able to switch between task-oriented to relationship-building management styles depending on what’s needed during the course of the team’s tenure. Two-thirds of teams in MENA see their leaders as hardworking and dedicated, which then motivates and inspires them to do the same.
DIVISION OF WORK
Team leaders are also essential in that they have the ability to influence other factors which affect the team – communication, equitable work division and, to some extent, efficient use of team resources.
Nothing can create conflict easier than perceived unequal distribution of work. Members of teams work harder and are more engaged when they know their contribution is valued equally. When work is perceived to be relatively uniform, members take more ownership of their contribution to the team’s successes and more responsibility for team failures.
There are many ways to divide work fairly. For a team where members are relatively new or unknown to each other, creating a plan is the first logical step. Divide the goal into parts and enumerate all the tasks and responsibilities that need to be done to achieve them. Then, interview each member, assigning them roles that can utilize their skills and strengths in the best way possible. Sometimes, this does not have to be the leader’s sole responsibility. Instead, you can also bring all members together to introduce themselves and share their experiences and skills, providing an opportunity for them to get to know and open up to each other, perhaps creating bonds between them.
Once each person’s capability is known, assign them tasks that suit their specific skills – some requiring more than one person to complete. This is acceptable so long as workload is eased and the pressures for the completion of each task is distributed across the team.
TEAM EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVITY
Time is a scarce resource that must be utilized efficiently by teams. When time is not used properly, low productivity and loss of revenue result. This is why businesses are so concerned with efforts that can generate the most productivity.
Efficiency and effectivity are both important and must come hand-in-hand in order to deliver results. Efficiency pertains to job execution and wise use of resources like time, physical reserves and human effort, while effectivity refers to the quality of the results – an employee reaching sales targets and objectives regularly is one example. Both impact productivity but in different ways.
People can be one or the other – someone can be efficient yet ineffective, finishing their work on time, but with little care for the quality; while another can be the opposite. Workers who perform a lot of overtime in order to complete tasks are examples of people who are effective yet inefficient.
For teams to be successful, they have to be both. In MENA, 93% of teams have reported being able to meet their deadlines almost all the time, judging that their meetings have been productive, and time used efficiently, resulting in clear outcomes.
Most people don’t want to be inefficient nor ineffective, but they do need assistance in being both. Creating a work environment that fosters this helps a lot – you can provide opportunities for employees to recharge like the mental pods at Google HQ, give clear expectations, and even utilize Kanban boards or apps like Slack, which allow each team member to be transparent and accountable to the tasks assigned to them. Both apps showcase what has been assigned to each person, and even the time it’s taken for them to complete it.
OPEN COMMUNICATION AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION
What article on building successful teams is complete without mentioning communication? Open communication is easy to strive for, but hard to attain, companies can survive but won’t thrive without it. For teams to succeed, brainstorming, collaboration and constant communication are important undertakings.
To create a culture that practices open communication, trust needs to be in place. This means producing an environment where feedback, both good and bad, is welcomed, commitments are appointed and followed through and where team members can be vulnerable and open without facing criticism or judgment. When each person gains the confidence to share ideas, teams can grow and make progress.
Whenever people get together, it’s inevitable for conflicts to arise, especially in teams where responsibility for failures can make or break careers. Conflict resolution is another important factor in determining teams built to last. Conflicts, in themselves, can help push progress. It forces people to open their minds to new ideas and see things from another’s point of view.
Leaders need to lead the way. If you want your people to practice open communication, you have to be prepared to do so as well. Reward and positively reinforce those who collaborate, put forth ideas and voice out their concerns whether good or bad.
In a team which practices open communication, individual team members feel valued and recognize the parts they play in the team’s success. They become highly engaged and efficient, yet leaders need to communicate a vision toward which teams need to aspire, including shared goals, values and strategies. This will not only keep team members aligned but help mitigate and resolve any potential conflict that arises as well.
In successful teams, the ability to overcome differences and reach agreement influences productivity and determines whether a team has succeeded or not. It can be hard to find out how well a team is working together unless team satisfaction is measured. Two-thirds of the teams surveyed at MENA reported satisfaction with their teams at work.
Team satisfaction cannot be underrated because it directly affects productivity, engagement and performance. For teams to work well together, individuals need to be happier and more productive, too.
Building teams that last can be challenging, but achievable. Building trust, creating a common goal, providing leadership support, fostering open communication, and helping teams work efficiently and effectively all affect the way teams surmount obstacles and work well together. A team united in a shared vision, composed of happy and productive individuals who value the team, know that the only way they can succeed is together.