Teams and Teamwork

People within an organization should work together in a structured, formal environment in order to achieve common goals, objectives and visions of the company. Employees that make up a team come from different backgrounds, education levels, temperaments and experience. Thanks to these differences, every employee has distinct perspectives on what should be done in a company. The use of these differences to create synergy and not discord is what teamwork is.

First, it is important to know what makes a group of employees a team. A team should be small. A team of ten is more likely to succeed than one of fifty because of more efficient coordination and interaction among the members. In addition, it is easier to manage smaller teams logistically in terms of a meeting place and time.

Members of a team should have complementary skills. Such skills include technical and functional expertise, problem-solving and decision-making skills as well as interpersonal skills. A team should also be committed to a common purpose and performance goals, which should go together. The short-term performance goals of a team should be tied to its overall purpose in order to avoid confusion and make sure the members have cohesive performance behaviors.

A team should also develop a common approach. Members of a team must agree on task responsibilities, skills needed to accomplish their goals, the schedule of regular meetings, and decision-making processes. A common approach such as this will ensure that the team is integrating individual skills and implementing action plans towards achieving team goals.

The most important requirement for a team is that it holds itself accountable. Accountability goes beyond responsibility and is supported by trust and commitment. When members hold themselves accountable to the team's goals, each will be committed to achieving this goal. Accountability and commitment make it possible for members to openly express their views about all aspects of the team effort while the others listen to them constructively.

These components of a team are what is necessary to ensure a high performance. However, what the members of a team need to get energized towards achieving a goal is a set of shared values known as teamwork. Teamwork is defined as a set of values which encourage certain behaviors, including listening and constructively responding to others' points of view, giving other the benefit of doubt, recognizing the interests and achievements of others and providing support to those that need it.

While technically, the entire workforce of a company can never form a single team, it can believe in and practice teamwork. Leaders and managers can develop and promote teamwork and in this way help the various teams in their organizations reach superior performance. Managers should be team leaders who build, empower and maintain effective productive teams. Within a company, team building improves problem-solving skills and communication channels between employees and senior management.

Teamwork excludes the idea of people looking out for themselves. Team players do not try to do things for their own benefit but try to achieve the team goals. If employees compete with each other, instead of focusing their energy on competition outside the company, they could put at risk the organization's survival. When employees work together as a team, this can significantly affect profitability.

The traditional autocratic style of management involves rigid control and centralized coordination of activities, with an authoritarian and egocentric boss forcing performance out of people. However, this management style is a throwback and modern organizations no longer need it. Instead, as part of the new style of management, people are considered to be an asset and managers look to maximize the return on investment from them. The modern manager's emphasis is on people and team-working, decisions are supported to boost productivity and to provide an atmosphere of empowerment.

If employees in a company are not effectively managed, office politics can result in weaker productivity and damaged employee morale. Modern managers should not only provide guidance, implementation and coordination, but also coach employees of their company to develop teamwork in order to achieve organizational objectives. In organizations with rigid department boundaries and fixed teams, team building helps give way to ad-hoc groups whose members could change with every project. A business needs team players in order to achieve lasting success, because in the competitive environment that requires fast decision-making, the forming of teamwork collaborations will make it possible to quickly establish objectives through a knowledge-base and innovative decision-making or deal with the source of the problems before they take root.

Teams and Teamwork: Selected full-text books and articles

Groups That Work: Structure and Process By Paul H. Ephross; Thomas V. Vassil Columbia University Press, 2005 (2nd edition)
Why Teams Matter By Katzenbach, Jon R.; Smith, Douglas K The McKinsey Quarterly, No. 3, Summer 1992
The Concise Adair on Teambuilding and Motivation By John Eric Adair; Neil Thomas Thorogood, 2004
Managing Group Process By Marvin R. Gottlieb Praeger, 2003
Groups at Work: Theory and Research By Marlene E. Turner Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001
Teamwork at the Top By Herb, Erika; Leslie, Keith; Price, Colin The McKinsey Quarterly, Spring 2001
Team Performance Assessment and Measurement: Theory, Methods, and Applications By Michael T. Brannick; Eduardo Salas; Carolyn Prince Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
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