A Strategic Guide for Building Effective Teams

By Mealiea, Laird; Baltazar, Ramon | Public Personnel Management, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

A Strategic Guide for Building Effective Teams


Mealiea, Laird, Baltazar, Ramon, Public Personnel Management


Managers must recognize that they play a central role in effective team building. However, to be successful, managers require a framework to guide their activities. The purpose of this paper is to provide such a framework in the form of a seven-step process that can guide managers in their team-building efforts. The model itself is built upon the assumption that there are identifiable team characteristics that, if present, will help ensure team success. The model presents a set of decision strategies for the selection and sequencing of team-building efforts and interventions. The model is an iterative, multi-staged effort that requires considerable planning and environmental knowledge to successfully implement.

In response to globalization, rapid changes in external environments, and a desire by organizations to remain competitive, organizations have continued to flatten, decentralize, re-engineer their business processes, downsize, and empower their employees. (1) To facilitate these changes and gain a competitive edge, managers are increasingly turning to team structures. (2) The actual team design used to support organizational goals may include such structures as cross functional teams, functional work teams, project teams, self-managed teams, intact work teams, employee participation teams, problem-solving teams, maintenance or support teams, and management teams. Cohen and Baily (3) indicate that in the United States, 82 percent of companies employing more than 100 employees have turned to the use of groups to support organizational goals. We must therefore draw the conclusion that "European and North American employees often do not work in isolation from each other but work in team." (4)

Unfortunately, the typical team-building effort proves ineffective, for three reasons. (5) First, it relies on the services of an external consultant, who is often unfamiliar with the particular characteristics of the business, the organization, and its people. Second, it involves off-site activities in artificial settings that fail to adequately reflect actual work-site conditions and therefore make transfer difficult. Third, it fails to plan for, monitor, and assess the transfer of team-building activities to the work environment.

In our view, the principal reason for the ineffectual outcomes of many teambuilding activities is the failure to use a critical team-building resource that is readily available in organizations--the manager. Managers play a critical role in maintaining a team climate through their day-to-day activities. For us, team building must be an ongoing activity internal to the organization. As such, it should be made one of the manager's primary responsibilities, instead of the responsibility of an external teambuilding consultant or third party within the organization.

A Strategic Model

To fulfill the team-building role, managers require a framework to guide activities. The framework should be action oriented and easy to understand and apply, while incorporating the critical factors associated with effective team performance found in the team-building literature. Our purpose in this paper is to provide such a framework in a seven-step process intended to guide managers in their team-building efforts. Figure 1 illustrates our framework. Each step in the framework is discussed in the sections that follow.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Our action framework assumes that managers, during their day-to-day interactions with others and when making decisions affecting their work group, can play a key role in facilitating team development. The framework also assumes that the target group of team building is an intact work group where members (a) work within an organizational context, (b) engage in a number of interrelated work tasks or activities, and (c) are psychologically aware of one another but do not necessarily perform in the same physical location.

Step 1--Identify Team Characteristics Considered Predictive of Team Success

Behavioral scientists argue that the success of team-building efforts is a function of the number of desirable team characteristics that can be built into a work environment. …

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