As we realized in the past model “Characteristics of teams and team development”, a lot of the magic that allows innovative and effective teams to function is a mysterious mixture of individual perspective, group dynamics, and organisational structure and support. We developed this model to act as your practical guide on how to gradually bring these various elements together during the five stages of your team’s lifecycle and to use them approprietly to build an effective and innovative team.
Self assessment I
Take a few minutes to think about the following questions:
1. Why do many teams fail to pinpoint their common goals?
2.a. As a leader: How can you define team goals?
2.b. As a team member: How can you support your team leader in shaping your team goals?
Don’t forget to write down your answers before you continue!
Self assessment II
Take another few minutes to think about the following questions:
1. What does diversity mean to you?
2. Do you have a diverse team or have you ever worked in a diverse team?
3. What are the main characteristics and challenges you faced while working with a diverse team?
Do not forget to write down your answers before you continue!
Defining team goals
One of the problems many leaders run into is giving priority to having an inspirational common vision instead of a set of metrics or milestones that will lead towards goals. While having an inspiring vision is important to create passion and motivation in a team, it is hard to meet your vision without a specific set of goals. To build a strong innovative team and setting it up for success and productivity, a leader needs to define a team’s goals and bring in the needed expertise to meet such goals. The best way to identify these goals is by defining the team culture, which in turn sets formal and informal rules that identify all the values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours required from the team. Having a well-defined team culture enables team members to take ownership of their contribution, to regulate how they work together, to continuously improve, to be guided towards a shared vision and to have concrete milestones. This in turn allows teams to work together to successfully reach the identified team goals. In order for goals to be attainable and achievalble they should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
Effective teamwork is the result of combining different skills and approaches to complete a task or a project. Confusion, overlapping work, missing important tasks, and demotivation are some of the symptoms of underdefined roles and responsibilities in a team. Every healthy team should therefore have a good balance between the various positions and roles, especially considering that we are all suited to different types of jobs and roles. Having a football team made up of 11 good goalkeepers will not win you any matches.
But how can a leader go about recognizing the what roles suit what team members, and similarly, how can team members identify what their preference is? One way to achieve this is to use a tool called the Belbin team role types model.
Meredith Belbin observed and studied numerous teams in the 1970s and is the author of “the Belbin Team Inventory”. This inventory initially identified eight and subsequently nine main role types for efficient and successful teamwork. The nine roles are:
- Implementer (IM): Disciplined, reliable, turns ideas into practical actions, and works well across different tasks and settings.
- Coordinator (CO): Clarifies team goals, understands the strengths of each team member, leads by good task delegation.
- Shaper (SH): Leads by focussing on task, dynamic, works well under pressure.
- Plant (PL): Creative, unorthodox, free-thinking, generates many ideas, and is likely to be able to solve difficult problems.
- Resource Investigator (RI): Enthusiastic communicator, explores opportunities, develops and builds contacts external to the team.
- Monitor Evaluator (ME): Discerning, evaluates team processes against project goals, weighs up all options.
- Team Worker (TW): Cooperative, perceptive and diplomatic, listens to others, avoids conflict.
- Completer Finisher (CF): Conscientious, attention to detail, provides quality assurance for team output, meets deadlines.
- Specialist (SP): Single-minded, self-starting, dedicated, provides in-depth knowledge and skills in a narrow subject (BELBIN 1981).
Even though these role types are setting the team up for success and effectiveness, they still reflect human qualities and are therefore not void of weaknesses. As a team leader it is important to identify these weaknesses ahead of time and prepare a plan of action to overcome them should they arise.
If you are eager to learn more about the dynamics of Belbin’s team role types model, do not forget to download our various worksheets and resources!
Another challenge of having an effective and innovative team is maintaining it and knowing how to navigate through its various lifecycle phases. Continue reading to learn about the influence that communication, diversity, and rituals have on our teams, as well as their main characteristics and challenges, and how can we overcome them to build efficient and innovative teams.
Our world has become ever more complex, interconnected, and globalized, dominated by technological advances and colourful social fabric. Our working spaces and teams are naturally reflecting these complexities and dynamics, bringing about challenges on multiple fronts that we need to deal with and account for to build innovative and high-performing teams. In this section, we will introduce the key elements that help leaders maintain their team:
Good communication is a crucial tool to reach efficient and innovative team performance and build trust between team members. Teams generally use a mix of verbal and non-verbal communication cues throughout the lifetime of a project to get the tasks done. The types of communication usually include: visual communication (such as charts, maps, images, videos, etc.), verbal communication (such as face-to-face exchanges, telephone, etc.), non-verbal communication (such as body language, eye contact, etc.), and written communication (such as emails, text messages, digital texting tools (skype, WhatsApp, social media, ….), etc.).
Communicating effectively is not only key for avoiding misunderstandings in teams but also for developing a healthy team culture and work environment where team members can thrive in and build trust . This in turn creates the right setting for team members to have more work motivation and satisfaction. We can therefore all ecognise the importance of good communication in a team, however many things can get in the way when trying to achieve it. When a group of individuals comes together to perform a mutual task there will almost always be some form of misunderstandings. If these misunderstandings are not managed approprietly the team might run into the risk of missing deadlines and even worse, of creating a hostile work environment which could ultimately break your team’s fabric. To avoid this scenario, teams can adopt strategies that will help maintain effective communication. One of the most well known strategies is refered to as the 7Cs of communication:
- Concrete: Make sure that the messages are clear, specific, logical, and based on solid facts and credible sources.
- Consideration: Keep your message relatable! keep in mind the receiver’s opinion, experience, knowledge, mindset, background, and feelings when preparing the message.
- Consistency: Stick to the point and keep the communicated message short and simple!
- Clarity: The purpose of the communicated message must be crystal clear and leave no room for wonder.
- Completeness: Complete your sentences and information! Do not leave anything out for team members to figure out on their own.
- Courteous: Stay positive! Communicating politely and with respect increase communication effectiveness and team morale greatly.
- Coherent: If the communicated messages and information are not coherent, in other words, have a logical flow, well-structured, and consistent in language, style, and tone, they are not effective.
The amount of diversity and inclusion within a team will also contribute to good communication and willingness to learn amongst team members.
Diversity is a key element for building an efficient and successful team. More diversified organisations tend to have a more positive social impact and have been said to even financially outperform the ones with less diversity (HUNT et al. 2015). Diversity is also a key driver for innovation
Although a work environment might be classed as diverse for having gender, racial, and ethnic diversity, the different layers and intricacies constituting diversity are much more complex and include differences in religion, politics, health, education, sex, socioeconomic background, and the list just goes on. Diversity can therefore not be achieved by simply filling in quotas and it involves continuously re-assessing how diversity (or lack of) manifests itself on an organisational level. Having said that, diversity alone will not make a team efficient and high-performing. Diversity must go hand in hand with inclusion and to achieve diversity and inclusion we must factor in stereotyping and bias. Stereotyping and bias are enormous challenges that shape the daily interactions of teams and can potentially lead to an unhealthy work environment where conflict increases and trust diminishes. One of the biggest challenges is identifying what is referd to unconscious bias, understood as the “The tendency of us as humans to act in ways that are prompted by a range of assumptions and biases that we are not aware of.”(THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH, 2020). Being aware of the unconscious biases that exisit in your team and that are deeply embedded in your social fabric will put you in a stronger position to identify and implement the right strategies for making your team more inclusive and successful.
Now that we know just how diverse a team can get, let us now talk about ways to bring team members together and build an environment of trust amongst them. One way of doing this is through what we term team rituals:
As we illustrated above creating a team culture is critical for defining connections between team members and for setting the foundation for building an innovative and efficient team. Creating team rituals is one way to achieve this. But what exactly is a team ritual? Simply put, it is an activity collectively performed by a team on a regular bases that fosters interactions, creates bonds, strengthens relationships between team members, boosts team morals and trust, and overcomes negative experiences. Rituals shape the team culture, create a sense of identity and meaning, foster unity and motivation within teams, and stimulate organisational growth. Above all, rituals should be authentic, human-centred and exciting for those involved.
There are many examples of organisational rituals such as reward and milestones celebrations, employee of the month, teambuilding activities, introducing “share a story” evenings, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, cooking together, organizing sport activities, having fun competitions, organizing team retreats in new places, inviting guest speakers etc. Each team ritual will have a different purpose, some rituals will be directed towards addressing organsiational challenges, whereas others will be simply directed towards having fun.
It doesn’t matter if you are in a management position or a team member in an organisation, building a dream team is never a straightforward task. Conflicts, tensions, and misunderstandings are always a daily challenge for working in a team. Why do they arise and how do you navigate them? The last section of this model will address these questions.
There's no doubt that building a cohesive team is easier said than done. Team leaders should understand and consider potential barriers, conflicts, and misunderstandings when building their team. Similarly, team members should make an effort to find the best way to be in harmony with the rest of the team. Patrick Lencioni has been studying teams for years. He summarises the main barriers a team might encounter throughout its lifecycle in what he terms the “Trust Pyramid”. The Trust Pyramid illustrates the five dysfunctions that may exist in a team. Lencioni suggests that these differen dysfunctions feed off eachother, leading to a vicious cycle of overall team dysfunctionality.
According to Lencioni, a team can go through:
- Absence of trust: If trust is absent a team is doomed to fall apart. Teams at this stage are often cautious to be vulnerable with one another and ask for help when needed to avoid looking weak. A leader has the responsibility of supporting the team members in getting to know one another. A great way to do this it to facilite team meetings, rituals, and events where team members can share their standards, values, and experience and build bonds and eventually trust eachother and create a mutual harmony (LENCIONI 2002).
- Fear of conflict: Conflicts occur regularly within a team. If approached correctly, a conflict arising can also offer an opportunity to open up a constructive discussion which can ultimately improve the overall work environment. Dispite this, most teams will avoid bringing up conflict in an open dialogue and will prefer to avoud confrontation, instead opting for a fake representation of harmony, or in other words an artificial harmony. A leader should build a transparent communication mechanism, define procedures and expectations, and facilitate open and one-on-one communication and discussions (LENCIONI 2002).
- Lack of commitment: In this stage, team members find it difficult to commit to decisions due to their limited involvement in decision making processes. Ambiguity, therefore, often prevails and team members start to feel demotivated and disengaged. A team leader needs to support the team in recognizing the different roles and responsibilities and support team members in developing a personal development plan that fits with the goals and vision of the team (LENCIONI 2002).
- Avoidance of accountability: Assuming responsibility is often linked with individuals more than with a team, yet the team as its own entity also has responsibilities. Ignoring responsibilities from smaller ones, such as starting work on time, to the bigger ones, such as missing deadlines, can lead to low organisational standards which will in turn lower respect and accountability levels on behalf of the team. To address this, a leader must track team members' performance, be clear on accountabilities and consequences and follow them through while staying fair and neutral (LENCIONI 2002).
- Inattention to results: This is mainly driven by ego and politics. Teams are often confronted with team members putting self-interest before the collective goals of the team. A team leader has the vital role to combat this by helping each team member create a development plan which is in line with the team goals, and having a clear picture of how the roles of every team member contribute to the overall achievement of teams goals. (LENCIONI 2002).
Figure 1.1. Trust Pyramid
Checklist for setting team goals that will determine the lifecycle of a team
Checklist for having effective communication
Checklist for creating a diverse and inclusive working environment
Checklist for creating inspiring team rituals
Each project undergoes three main phases in its Project Cycle Management (PCM). These are: 1. Planning (including the Programming, Identification, and Formulation stages), 2. Implementation (including the planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation stages), and 3. Completion (including Monitoring, Controlling and Quality Assurance, Closure, and Review, Final Evaluation stages).