Team Effectiveness

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Why is teaming so prevalent in business today?

Given the pace of change in contemporary business and the resilience and agility required to keep up and be successful, it is simply a fact of life that old-style, “command-and-control” leadership is largely a thing of the past.  This usually means the need to involve individual contributors in decision-making and execution if a business is to “fire on all cylinders.”  Given, too, the complexity of contemporary business opportunities and challenges, successful execution almost always requires the collaboration of individuals with a wide range of expertise, across functional boundaries.  Hence, the prevalence of teaming in so many corporate activities.

What does it take to be an effective team?

Basically, effective teaming is a function of managing two dimensions well:  content and process.  Any given team has – or should have – a clearly articulated challenge or mission to fulfill.  This is the substance of the issue, the “what,” the content.  Highly critical to the accomplishment of the team’s mission, however, is the process dimension.  This relates to all the aspects that determine “how” the team goes about dealing with the content:  its organization, composition, procedures, norms of behavior, personality dynamics, conflicts, etc., etc.  In order for a team to successfully address its challenge, it is always imperative that these issues of process are well managed.  Often it is preferable to provide teams with effective process facilitation and counsel from the outside if this skill set is not readily available inside your company.

(For more information on the requirements for an effective team, please visit our Team Effectiveness web page.)

What are the pitfalls of “teaming”?

Like democracy, teaming can be messy and inefficient, especially if not properly managed.  And even at its best, teaming is slower than highly-directive, unilateral decision-making and action.  However, “dictators” do not do well in most contemporary business environments where the requirements of managing independent-thinking “knowledge workers” and getting their “buy-in” usually demand a more collaborative style.

Trying to “ram something through” with the goal of “saving time” can turn out to be a “pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later” game.  The time saved up front can be more than wasted later on when thought-leaders in the organization, who were not a party to launching a change, reject it or drag their feet during implementation because they feel disenfranchised.  So it’s often better to spend more time up-front rallying the troops in order to speed mobilization for the change later when you’re ready to implement.

We always try to maximize teaming efficiency and productivity by designing and facilitating short-cycle, continuous teaming sessions  (see GEWork-Out) vs. the kind of teaming whereby so-called “task-teams” meet for a few hours a week for an extended period of time.  We find that with careful and creative project design, supported by expert process facilitation, teams can achieve impressive productivity levels within surprisingly short periods of time.  In this way, positive change can be greatly accelerated.

(For more on short-cycle, high-intensity teaming, see our “GEWork-Out” Core Capabilities page.)

How can facilitators be helpful to teams?

Facilitators can be critical to team success, especially when they play an effective, neutral, third-party role.  A facilitator with good process insight and skills can relieve a team of the burden of worrying about team process – the “how” – so that the team can focus their content expertise on their challenge or mission – the “what” (see above).  Also important, a good facilitator can relieve all team members of the very common and often valid concern that the person “running the meeting” is steering it in a direction favorable to his or her own “agenda.”

Consider, for instance, the difference between a strategic planning session moderated by the CEO – which is often the case – vs. a session run by a neutral party moderator or facilitator.  In the first instance, the meeting is being directed by the individual with the highest level of formal authority in the room.  The second alternative is far more conducive to a candid, egalitarian exchange.  It also relieves the CEO of the job of directing the meeting and frees him or her to participate more fully as an equal member of the team.