Why is it important to review team working?
For most teams it is a challenge to regularly take time out from the daily demands to reflect on how effective we are being as a team. Many team leaders and team members are time pressed and just getting the team discussions and tasks done consumes the available time. Taking stock of how we are doing gets put off to once a year or is ignored if we have the sense we are doing okay. It can also happen that we ignore or put up with some conflicts between people or over allocation of resources because we don’t want to upset the apparent harmony of the team.
But we do need to make a point of reviewing how we are performing as a team. Why?
- We could do things better and more efficiently. Having a regular review of how we work together tells us if we are achieving our targets and tasks in a positive and efficient way. We use milestones to keep us focused on the overall goals in order to address distractions or diversions that may be created by enthusiastically following operational or individual goals. We also need milestones to assess how we are working together to ensure we are using the collective team resource in the right ways and leveraging collaboration and synergy to achieve better results.
- Maintaining commitment and engagement. By having transparent and honest reviews of how we are working we can also surface and resolve conflicts (of resource allocation, of ideas, or style, of personal preferences) before they become destructive to individual or team performance and commitment. Surfacing and labelling the strengths of the diversity in the team helps each team member to see the value of diversity and the importance of their own contribution.
- Reviewing together objectively what is working and what is not working means that we can make changes to maintain our impact as a team and/or invest more in things that work for us.
- Checking that we are still doing the things that will deliver the team goals and objectives. This is important as it helps us to ensure that the individual and collective energy is being allocated to the rights tasks and activities and not getting distracted by individual preferences for investing in individual objectives. Misunderstandings and assumptions can easily creep in if we are not regularly talking about how we are working with each other. This also helps us to maintain a focus on performance and not just activity.
What to review – checklist for auditing our effectiveness
Here are the things we should be looking at in assessing our effectiveness as a team:
Team Objectives. Do we have a shared understanding of and commitment to the team objective(s)? Do we all understand the team objectives in the same way? Are all team members aligned behind these objectives? In increasingly complex organisations are there competing objectives that I need to deliver in addition to the team objective? Have we as a team a clear and shared understanding of how we resolve demands which compete with the team objectives? I am sorry if this sounds self-evident, but reflecting on the hundreds of individual confidential team assessment reports we have produced for different organisations in recent years, it is surprising how often there is a wide spread of responses on this question from bad to good. The team leader may consider it is communicated and shared but not all the team agree. Spending time here making sure is very beneficial as research has shown that it alleviates or prevents problems in other areas of team working. If the purpose and objective of the team is not clear and committed to by all, individual objectives and priorities take over.
Roles and Responsibilities. Are each of us as team members clear on our role and responsibilities within the team and is this shared by our fellow team members? What does each individual contribute to the team objectives and the team performance? Do we all agree with and respect each other’s contributions? Again team leaders may consider that this is self-evident and assume that team members automatically work out their role for themselves based on the team’s expectations and goals. However again our experience says that it is important to have, at some point, a team meeting where team members explicitly share how they see their role and contribution. Misalignment can be discussed and resolved. Demands on individuals, coming from outside the team, can also be reviewed and the implications for the team and its ability to deliver what is expected of it explored. Solutions and compromises can be found. But only if it is openly discussed.
Team Processes. Do we have clear team processes that we all understand and use?
- Planning and managing performance including setting milestones and review dates? Have we sufficient structure in terms of targets, milestones, deadlines, that facilitates the team tracking and managing performance and delivering the expected results?
- Making decisions as a team including constructive and positive challenge to support thorough analysis? Do we have an explicit process for how we make important team decisions?
- Gathering and sharing relevant information?
- Handling conflict?
- The nature of the team processes required will likely vary depending on the nature of what the team does as well as the make-up of the personalities in the team. The team should consciously identify the important processes and agree how they should work.
Interpersonal Relationships. Have we agreed how we should behave towards each other?
- How do we talk to each other including giving and receiving positive and constructive feedback?
- How do we recognise each other and individual achievements?
This can be either easy or difficult depending on the mix of personalities that make up the team. Modelling the right behaviours is important by the team leader and influential members of the team. People are different, have different preferences and see things differently. So naturally there will be conflicts. We need to have ways of behaving that provide the team members with a way of surfacing the conflict and resolving it as well as being open to different points of view. Developing the team in collaborative thinking and assertive communication can provide them with the language to do this in good ways.
Team Knowledge and Skill. Have we agreed how we will maintain and contribute to develop the teams knowledge and skills in order to
- Be more effective in our current work?
- Be equipped to respond to changing and evolving demands as our business environment and technology changes?
This is becoming more and more important as the pace of change accelerates. What do we need to learn as a team to sustain our performance? For how long can we continue to do the things we currently do and still be successful? The buzzwords are VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) and change and our business environments are increasing in these. Are we taking the time to equip ourselves as a team to be more prepared and effective in managing these?
External Interaction. Have we agreed how we will monitor how well we are collectively interacting with important stakeholders external to the team?
- What is the role of the team leader and each of the team members in doing this?
- How are we collectively maintaining our influence as a team and access to the resources we need as a team?
Facilitating the team becoming more effective
The key ingredients the team needs to become more effective are awareness and time to discuss and conclude on useful actions.
- You can generate awareness of how the team is doing by having each of the team members share their perceptions with the rest of the team. This will work for a team that is already comfortable being open and transparent. Where this is not the case a structured process for gathering the perceptions confidentially and bringing it to the team is valuable. This is what we have provided for a large number of teams using the team assessment process and instrument. It provides a mechanism to feedback to the team confidentially how they perceive the team is working. Areas that need discussion quickly become evident when the team reviews the pattern of responses.
- A second dimension of awareness for the team can be generated by using a psychometric instrument to help build a deeper understanding of the individual team preferences and the strengths and potential challenges they bring. There are now many instruments available from dedicated team instruments such as Team Management Systems to wider application personality instruments such as MBTI, Hogan or Harrison. The choice of which one to use depends on what is most beneficial for the team given the people in the team and their current way of behaving.
2. Time to discuss. The team members need to time to review and discuss the increased awareness. Quite often this is best done with the support of an external facilitator. The team leader or a team member acting as facilitator can work if he or she can maintain objectivity. However quite often they also have an interest in the outcome and it is making a very big demand on them to maintain their objectivity. Thus a neutral external facilitator is usually a good resource to help the team review the new awareness and conclude what may need to change.
Action – don’t put off reviewing – bite the bullet
Is now the time for your team to reflect and assess how it could operate more effectively and produce a better outcome in terms of both team working and results? Some symptoms to look for:
- Is all the energy for action in the team coming from the team leader?
- Is there a feeling of unequal contribution in the team?
- Are there conflicts between individuals or sub groups simmering below the surface?
- Is there a yes in team meetings to getting things done but a failure to follow through?
- Is the team tired and low in energy?
Don’t be put off by the apparent harmony in the team if there are symptoms visible it is time to help the team become a better working unit.
Get in touch with Gerry Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org to explore how we can help you.