Teams are not automatic productivity enhancers. We know that they can also be disappointments for management. What common characteristics then do effective teams have? Research provides some insights into the primary characteristics associated with high performance work teams.
High performance work teams have both a clear understanding of the goal and a belief that the goal embodies a worth while or important result. Moreover, the importance of these goals, encourage individuals to redirect energy away from personal concerns and toward team goals. In high performing work teams, members are committed to the team’s goals; they know what they are expected to accomplish and understand, they will work together to achieve those goals. Effective teams are composed of competent individuals with the relevant technical skills and abilities to achieve the desired goals and the personal characteristics required to achieve excellence while working well with others. These same individuals are also capable of readjusting their work skills – called job morphing –to fit the needs of the team. It’s important not to overlook the personal characteristics. Not everyone who is technically competent has he skills to work well as a team member. High performing team members possess both technical and interpersonal skills.
Effective teams are characterized by high mutual trust among members. That is, members believe in the integrity, character and ability of one another. But, as you probably know from your own personal relationships trust is fragile. Members of an effective team exhibit intense loyalty and dedication to the team. They are willing to do anything that has to be done to help their team succeed. We call loyalty and dedication unified commitment. Studies of successful teams have found that members identify with their teams. Members redefine themselves to include membership in the team as an important aspects of the team’s goal and a willingness to expend extraordinary amounts of energy to achieve them.
Not surprisingly effective teams are characterized by good communication. Members are able to convey messages in a form that is readily and clearly understood, including nonverbal as well as spoken messages. Good communication is characterized by a healthy dose of feedback from team members and management in order to guide team members and to correct misunderstandings. Like two individuals who have been together for many years, members of high performing teams are able to quickly and effectively share ideas and feelings.
When jobs are designed around individual job descriptions, rules and procedures and other types of formalized documents clarify roles. Effective teams, on the other hand, tend to be flexible and continually make adjustments, so team members must possess adequate negotiating skills. Because problems and relationships are regularly changing in teams, the members have to be able to confront and reconcile differences.
Effective leaders can motivate a team to follow them through the most difficult situations. How? Leaders help clarify goals. They demonstrate that change is possible by overcoming inertia. And they increase the self confidence of team members, helping them to realize their potential more fully. The best leaders are not necessarily directive or controlling. Increasingly effective team leaders are taking the roles of coach and facilitator. They help guide and support the team, but they don’t control it. This description obviously applies to self managed teams, but it also increasingly applies to problem solving and cross functional teams in which members themselves are empowered. For some traditional managers, changing their role for boss to facilitator – from giving orders to working for the team – is a difficult transition. Although most managers relish the new found shared authority or come to understand its advantages through leadership training, some hard nosed, dictatorial managers are just ill suited to the team concept and must be transferred or replaced.
The final condition for an effective team is a supportive climate. Internally, the team should be provided with a sound infrastructure that includes proper training an understandable measurement system with which team members can evaluate their overall performance, an incentive program that recognizes and rewards team activities and a supportive human resources system. The infrastructure should support members and reinforce behaviors that lead to high levels of performance. Externally, management should provide the team with the resources needed to get the job done.