Five steps effective teams take on their way to a goal

When confronted with a business challenge involving product innovation, customer service, manufacturing or distribution, business leaders often rely on teams to come up with solutions.

“Every company is looking for good team leaders who are skilled to bring out the best from teammates for the benefit of their business,” said Sarri Gilman, executive director for Leadership Snohomish County. “We’re all for raising people so they in turn strengthen their respective companies and bring positive impact to their community.”

The notion that two heads are better than one — and perhaps five are better than two — implies that as individuals we are limited in our knowledge and skill base. Add to this the biases and paradigm that some may be locked in and it is no surprise that some complex problems are best suited for a group to tackle.

As companies grow, the tendency for functional teams to reside in silos will create inherent problems. Group think is common within departments where participants are all of the same mindset and see the world through a common type of lens.

In this case, forming cross-functional teams will shake things up by introducing other viewpoints or raising issues requiring thoughtful attention.

It looks good on paper. While bringing diverse thought, expertise and life experience into the mix is bound to open participant’s blinders just a shade; it also has the potential for getting quite messy.

In practice, teamwork can also bring on its own set of challenges. There are certain strategies and tools that can help any team leader be proactive in setting a team on a productive course. An upcoming Leadership Snohomish County workshop Oct. 18 at Everett Community College featuring local experts will help local business leaders identify best practices.

Researchers suggest that teams formed in a workplace will often experience the following distinct life-cycle phases as part of their process. These generally follow a sequential progression more often than not:

Forming: Teams can be established through ad-hoc organizing or very formal selection processes. In some cases teams may be self-selecting; other times based on the manager’s direction. Formation ultimately answers the question of who will be on the team.

Storming: Learning to get along and play nice in the sandbox is just as important for adults as it is for youngsters. And the storming phase in teambuilding is where we see personalities and attitudes surface that may cause disagreement or tension. It’s totally normal from what experts observe. Scheduling meetings, days, times can start the battle of the wills. Tasks and objectives are debated and discussed. And sometimes there is genuine effort to reach consensus.

Norming: Roles become well defined in the norming phase and the team discovers who can be trusted to complete assignments and tasks on time. Participants on the team will typically establish their personal strengths as positions of leverage to benefit the process and outcome.

Performing: Productivity and outcomes are now delivered and the team is often experiencing varying degrees of synergy where there is realization that none of the members could produce individually what has been accomplished by the group.

Adjourning: Most teams will have a time horizon that defines their existence. Once the task is completed or the term is finished, then the team experiences an adjournment. This can be a very formal activity or simply saying thanks.

Some might argue that with all this drama, wouldn’t it be better to simply tackle the job on their own? Perhaps you’ve heard it said: “If you want to get the job done, and done right, it’s easier to do it yourself.”

What’s missing from this sentiment is the potential synergy that teamwork can deliver. You also run the risk of setting a very low bar for “done right.” Oftentimes this will morph into a result that barely measures up to good enough.

Teamwork also creates a greater sense of purpose amongst participants. Members are often charged with a task, project or issue that requires thoughtful dialog and creativity. The end result will often energize and refuel employees who’ve sensed that they’re trapped in a smaller sandbox.

Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member for the Everett Community College business program. Please send your comments to entrepreneurship@everettcc.edu.

Workshop on teams

High Performance &Virtual Teams is a workshop coming to Everett Community College on Oct.18. Sponsored by Leadership Snohomish County, presenters Catherine McHugh and Thomas Mann will facilitate best practices and strategies that will improve team outcomes.

For more information or to register, go to www.leadershipsc.org.

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