- What is a team, and what makes teams effective?
A team is defined as “people organized to function cooperatively as a group.” Some of the characteristics of a team are that it has a common commitment and purpose, specific performance goals, complementary skills, commitment to how the work gets done, and mutual accountability.
Some of the practices that make a team effective are that they have a sense of urgency and direction; they set clear rules of behavior; they spend lots of time together; and they utilize feedback, recognition, and reward.
- How do teams develop over time?
Teams go through different stages of team development, which were coined in 1977 as Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development by educational psychologist Bruce Tuckman. Tuckman’s model includes these four stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. A fifth stage, Adjourning, was added later to explain the disbanding and closure of a team at the end of a project.
Forming begins with team members being happy and polite as they get to know each other and understand the work they’ll do together. Storming starts once the work is underway and the team is getting to know each other, and conflicts and project stress begins to seep in. During Norming, the team starts to set rules of the road and define how they want to work together. Performing means that the team is underway and is having some successes and gaining traction. This is definitely not a linear process. Teams can regress to earlier stages if there are changes in team members or work orders that cause disruption and loss of momentum and clarity.
- What are some key considerations in managing teams?
Managing a team is often more complex than people would admit. Although a team and the team leader may be focused on the task or project work, it is actually the people dynamics and how the team works together that will make a real difference to the goals and outcomes. Managers need to remember that most of their time will be spent managing the people dynamics—not the tasks.
Managing teams also means a certain amount of paradox. A team has both individual and collective goals that need to be managed effectively. A manager needs to foster both team supportiveness and the ability to engage in conflict and confrontation. A team manager also needs to help the team with its boundaries and act as a buffer, a stakeholder manager, or a strategist when the situation calls for each. Exercising influence with key stakeholder groups external to the project group is one of the most critical functions in managing a team.
- What are the benefits of conflict for a team?
Conflict during team interactions can feel like it derails progress, but it is one of the most important experiences that a team can have together. A team that can productively work through conflict will end up stronger, building more trust and being more open to sharing opinions. Team members will feel safe buying in and committing to decision-making as a team.
One of the other key benefits of conflict is that it encourages a greater diversity of ideas and perspectives, and it helps people to better understand opposing points of view. If a team doesn’t work through conflict well and doesn’t feel comfortable with the sharing and debating of ideas, it loses the opportunity to effectively vet ideas and potential solutions. The result is that the decision or solution will be limited, as team members haven’t fully shared their concerns and perspectives.
- How does team diversity enhance team decision-making and problem-solving?
Decision-making and problem-solving is so much more dynamic and successful when performed in a diverse team environment. Much like the benefits of conflict, diversity can bring forward opposing points of view and different perspectives and information that might not have been considered if the team were more homogeneous. Diverse teams are thus made “smarter” by bringing together an array of information, sources, and experiences for decision-making.
Other research on diversity indicates that diverse teams excel at decision-making and problem-solving because they tend to focus more on facts. Studies indicate that diverse team members may actually sway the team’s behavior to focus more on proven data—possibly because of the prospect of having to explain and back up one’s perspectives if a conflict should erupt on the team. In a more homogenous team, there is more risk of “groupthink” and the lack of challenging of ideas.
- What are some challenges and best practices for managing and working with multicultural teams?
With the increase in globalization over the years, teams have seen the addition of multicultural individuals on their teams, who bring with them their own diverse backgrounds and perspectives. There are very positive aspects that result from the added diversity, as discussed in the previous questions. There are also challenges that we need to be aware of when we are managing these teams.
Challenges can arise from communication styles and accents, but can also appear in the form of decision-making norms and attitudes toward hierarchy. There are some team manager interventions that are best practices for addressing these challenges. There are also some best practices for building the cultural intelligence that will make the team more adept at understanding and dealing with differences among cultures.