There has been much made of the importance
of teams in the workplace. Whether you are
implementing TQM, or just want to increase
effectiveness or employee morale, developing
effective cohesive teams is a good tactic.
But teams ain't simple. We are going to
devote the PSM supplement to examining some
principles related to team-building with
particular emphasis on the role of the
manager or supervisor.
What Is A
Mark Sanborn, an expert
on teams, outlines a few characteristics of
First, Sanborn defines a
team as being composed of a highly
communicative group of people. Poor
communication means no team.
Second, Sanborn suggests
that a team must have members with different
backgrounds, skills and abilities, so that
the team can pool these things to be
effective. In other words a team with no
diversity in it will be unlikely to work in
an innovative fashion.
Third, and perhaps most
importantly, a team must have a shared sense
of mission. Whether we are talking about a
temporary work improvement team, or a
branch, all members must share the sense of
Fourth, a team must have
clearly identified goals. A team must be
able to gauge its success, and know what it
is trying to accomplish.
How Does A
Team Differ From A Work Group?
Sanborn suggests the
Work groups tend to
compete inwardly, with members competing
against each other for favor, recognition,
etc. High performing teams compete, but with
those outside the organization.
Work groups tend to be
task-oriented and characterized by members
who follow their own personal agendas.
High-performing teams are goal-oriented.
Members work towards the achievement of the
team goals and agenda, rather than pulling
in different directions.
Work groups tend to be
autocratic and hierarchical in nature.
Teams, on the other hand, tend to be
participative and self-steering within the
goals of the team.
Work groups tend to
tolerate each other, while teams tend to
enjoy each other. Differences in teams are
welcome and encouraged, while in work
groups, differences and disagreements are
Work groups tend to avoid
risk and maintain the status quo. High
performing teams tend to accept risk.
It is unfortunate that
many managers want to stimulate the
development of high-performance teams, but
do not see themselves as active players in
the process. Sometimes, this comes from a
mistaken idea that a team should be
self-contained and owned by the team
members. In fact, teams should be owned by
its members, but the manager or supervisor
plays THE KEY ROLE in setting the climate
for the development of teams.
We can't overstate this
point. If you want to encourage team
functioning, it is very likely that you,
yourself will have to change. If you don't,
any team approach is doomed to failure. If
you look at teams in other contexts, you
will quickly realize that leadership
determines success. A sports team has a
coach, a symphony orchestra has a conductor.
These teams don't spontaneously develop
without effective leadership, but develop
and grow with the help and guidance of a
leader whose job is not to control, but to
teach, encourage, and organize when
necessary. A good way to describe the role
of the manager is a catalyst, a force that
causes things to happen for other people,
and the team.
Not only is the manager's
role critical, but it changes over the
lifespan of the team-building process. In
the beginning of the process of
team-building, the team members may need a
good deal of help developing their mission
and purpose, identifying what they want to
accomplish, and, more importantly, with the
development of interpersonal and group
skills such as conflict resolution, meeting
management, etc. They may also need constant
reminder that the manager is serious about
the team, meaning that its activities and
decisions or recommendations will be
implemented wherever humanly possible. The
manager may even be called upon to act as a
mediator, when conflict cannot be resolved
by the team members.
As a team grows and
matures, the manager might become an equal
team member, or may find that the team
doesn't require ongoing involvement. Or not.
We can describe some
important leadership factors that will
affect the team building process, and its
success. While these are particularly
applicable to the formal work unit leader
(i.e. the manager), they apply also to team
members who are performing in a leadership
inter-personal skills and understanding
of some basic psychology regarding what
makes people commit to, and perform.
Must recognize the
importance of balancing between tasks
(getting the job done) and people
(ensuring that team members are
satisfied with the process of getting
the work done).
Willingness to listen
and ability to communicate. Leaders must
have a preference to listening and
understanding rather than controlling
Show Constancy of
Purpose. Leaders must commit themselves
to the team, and not give up when the
going gets rough, or success is slow to
Show Consistency in
Behavior. Leaders must behave in a
consistent manner regarding team work.
Leaders who sometimes encourage team
process and sometimes bypass the team
confuse the hell out of everyone. When
this happens, nobody takes teams
Model Desirable Team
Behavior. The team will take its cues
from its leader, or the manager. You
cannot break inter-personal rules, not
listen, and use autocratic prerogatives,
and expect members of your team to
believe that you REALLY value working
Be Able To Deal With
Problem Team Members. Sometimes a team
does not have the internal resources to
deal with a member that is uncooperative
or so unskilled in group behavior that
he or she becomes a barrier. A manager
must be able to coach when necessary,
problem-solve, establish consensus and
In this month's
supplement we have outlined a few of the
basic elements of a team, and have suggested
that the manager must be able to contribute
to the establishment and maintenance of the
team. We have only scratched the surface,
and will return to the issue in future
editions of The Public Sector Manager.
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