Are you sure you are part of a team? Or are you one of the unfortunate many aiming for ‘team’ but not making it?



Are you sure you are part of a team?

Or are you one of the unfortunate many aiming for ‘team’ but not making it past:

  • Club
    group of like-minded souls, who have ‘get togethers’ to ‘touch base’ instead of ‘meetings’ to ‘make decisions’, who never challenge each other, who are there to play, not perform
  • Troop
    rife with rank, run by the one who’s most senior, with the others complying, and who are there to ‘tow the line’
  • Group
    a collection of individuals pursuing disparate tasks under a flag of convenience

If such descriptions are too close for comfort, back to the drawing board may be best…

The Design

The basic components needed to have even a chance of engineering an effective team:

  • The need:
    decide first if the task to be addressed really is one for a team; ie don’t use a hammer to crack a nut
  • The size:
    too large, and it’ll be hard to hear all voices or to keep track of who’s doing what; too small, and the team may be spread too thin; 5-8 is the often suggested optimum size
  • The mix:
    should be a combination of chemistry (balance of personalities and approaches to work eg the creative, the thinker, the doer) and expertise (the functional knowledge they have to offer)
  • The focus:
    should be crystal clear from the outset; encapsulate their goal in a simple, effective statement, eg a slogan ‘to move the needle’, or a target ‘to save £1m’
  • The wherewithal:
    in terms of resources (time, equipment, money etc) made available to them
  • The support:
    e.g. from their departments and senior management; are those outside the team prepared to act on the team’s recommendations?
  • The structure:
    the two main alternatives for team management structure are:

    1. Externally controlled management can appoint a leader who serves as a ‘mole’ on the inside; can ensure discipline, and that the work is done the way management wants it; but key question: could it be sending the message that the team is not trusted?
    2. Self-directed the team runs the show; key questions to address:
      • How will the work be split?
        could be by function, ie the accountant crunches the numbers; but to develop people individually, best to rotate them across different responsibilities outside their field of expertise, eg the marketing person moves onto the accounts
      • How to ensure accountability?
        set up specific responsibilities, deadlines, behaviour ‘boundaries’ and penalties
      • How to lead?
        the team can appoint a facilitator, or rotate leadership to avoid power plays, some teams rotate leadership on a weekly, task, or even meeting basis; others opt to let team members lead work which falls naturally in their area of expertise, eg the marketer leads the marketing (see also ‘facilitating teams’)

The Mechanics

While input from managers and outsiders may be welcome and even necessary at the design stage, once set up, there are 3 key procedures which the team ought to settle for itself:

  1. Behaviour/norms – the ground rules
    what is the team’s ‘code of conduct’; if imposed from above, the team may round against them; but the risks of setting the code themselves include:

    • Peer policing
      leading to suspicion and finger pointing between team members
    • Laxness
      the code is ‘there is no code, because we’re all team mates together, and the boss isn’t around to check up on us’
  2. Decision-making
    will it be by majority-voting, or consensus? does the team leader have a casting vote or right of veto? should the functional expert take the final decision on issues in their field of expertise? key problems to watch out for:

    • ‘Decision drag’
      teams are rarely as decisive as the individual
    • ‘Decision by committee’
      where the entire team takes even the most trivial decisions together: this eats time
    • ‘Decision dilution’
      where a decision is couched in such broad terms as to allow many interpretations; when the time comes to act on the decision, each team member has a different perception of what was agreed
    • ‘Decision-maker awe’
      where team members defer to the superiority and judgement of individuals in their area of expertise, so decisions go unchallenged
  3. Dommunication
    how to keep each other informed? how often to meet? which people to inform when? which info to how? here, teams should beware:

    • ‘Technology tag’
      wasting time bouncing faxes, e-mails and voice mail messages around the team; agree set times for conference calls
    • ‘Meeting mania’
      going to the opposite extreme of endless meetings on issues which could be solved by a phone call; establish tight meeting management procedure (see also ‘managing meetings’)
    • ‘Paper push’
      firing off multiple versions of multiple documents; establish the habit of marking documents with the date + version no. to keep track of updates

The Fine-Tuning

For the team: a self-evaluation prompter to assess how you work as a team. Rate your team’s performance from 1 to 4, where 1 is poor, 4 is excellent. Then compare with other team members’ views to see if you’re in sync …

Area Assessment
Focus clarity & understanding of team objectives
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
team’s ability to stick to the point/objective
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
Communications team meeting follow-up
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
frequency & quality of communication
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
Decision-making effectiveness of team decision-making process
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
Progress team’s adherence to deadlines
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
team’s efficiency
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
my individual learning in the team to date
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
Dynamics trust between team members
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
team members’ commitment to the team
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
team’s handling of conflict
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
effectiveness of team leadership
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
fairness of work distribution within the team
1 – 2 – 3 – 4
Support extent of support from outside the team
1 – 2 – 3 – 4


So what’s it to be – club, troop, group or team? and are you any closer to knowing how many team members it takes to screw in a light bulb?