August 22, 2014

Developing a Corporate Team Strategy

There is an inordinate amount of information available today about teams, team working and what constitutes good teamwork. Despite a high dependency on teamwork for achieving organisational goals, the vast majority of organisations do not have an organisational team strategy.

Know your team types

Team work is a quintessential element of working life. Teams come in all shapes and sizes and are created and disbanded with a high degree of regularity. Teams change in terms of objectives and composition, again with surprising regularity.

Today's fast-moving and changing environment has seen the emergence of TWGs (Teaming Work Groups). These are work units that are permanent, but are in a constant state of change in terms of composition e.g. a hospital ward shift or an airline flight crew where the same group of people seldom combine for two shifts in succession. This type of grouping still needs to exhibit teaming behaviours, maybe even as a greater imperative due the constant change in composition.

Virtual teams are a phenomena of the last ten years with team members seldom, if ever, meeting face-to-face. This creates a whole new set of challenges for teamwork. Project teams, assembled to solve problems, innovate and drive change are increasingly evident and are created and disbanded in very short time frames. And there is the more recognisable traditional or "intact" team such as the Finance team, a Production team or a Sales team.

Organisational Team Typologies

Not just an intervention

The approach to team development for many organisations is ad hoc. Team development is something you do for a failing or problem team. Little thought is given to the principles of ongoing team development—that every team can be more effective than it is at present.

Teams are taken as a given and expected to perform. When a team struggles, the organisation might intervene with a team initiative and, more often than not, this is one-off in nature. It is not an intervention embedded in a strategy that has been designed to deliver the most appropriate team skills and behaviours for that organisation. In many cases the nature of team intervention can be different across an organisation with no connection between the initiatives being deployed.

Team strategy for competitive advantage

Organisations today commit significant resources to developing, implementing and refining strategies for recruitment, talent management, absenteeism, retention, performance, discipline, compensation, promotion, leadership, education and training. Where is the team development strategy - the strategy that guides the quintessential and major element of organisational life?

Not every issue or challenge requires a team solution. However, so much organisational output is dependent on teams of varying types that it is imperative to have a robust strategy to deliver effective team work.

Not all work groups constitute a team and this is an important distinction that must be made. A team is a group of people with a common goal, dependent on each other to deliver that goal with a single leader. As our world becomes more challenging, any competitive advantage is important for success. Unfortunately many organisations fail to realise the advantages available through effective teamwork. Not every team can be as effective as every other team, but all teams can be more effective than they are today.

For most organisations, team interventions and team development strategies are for problem or failing teams. This is an error of judgement and a failure of OD policy and strategy. If 90% of an organisation's output is dependent on teams, surely it makes sense to support teams—as is done with individuals—to continuously develop and improve?

Examine and reflect

Every team in an organisation should commit time on a regular basis to examine and reflect on its own operation, allocation of roles, goal clarity and skills needs. The vast majority of team meetings are focused on, and deal only with, operational imperatives and seldom on their own effectiveness. For this type of ongoing reflection and awareness to be a reality for teams, a team development strategy is required.

Continuous improvement

Organisations with a strategy that supports teamwork will have more effective teams and will be more capable of responding when teams need help. Most importantly, organisations with a team strategy will ensure that teams have the opportunity to continually improve their effectiveness.

An organisation’s team strategy must provide an integrated programme to enable effective teamwork across the organisation. Like all cultural initiatives, teamwork and the approach determined by an organisation must be modelled from the top down. The senior leadership must not only demonstrate good teamwork amongst themselves but also with their respective teams.

When and when not to team

The cultural disposition of an organisation can have a major impact on teamwork and teaming behaviour. Those that favour and reward individual contribution above team contribution will hamper the development of an effective team strategy. Those that favour the team approach over the individual contributor can tie people up in team structures that are unnecessary and unsuitable for the task at hand. A balance must be sought for each organisation determined by its needs. Remember teamwork is not a panacea. There are times when it is the correct answer and times when it will only serve to slow things down. Only through an organisation-specific team strategy can this differential be clearly determined.

Understanding Teamwork

Every organisation needs to consider the impact and importance of teamwork. It must define what it means by teamwork and what type of teams are required. It should then determine the requirements, behaviours and nature of the teams.

Organisations must clearly understand the common model on which they wish to base their teamwork. It is then necessary to develop a common team language and develop and deploy the infrastructure and support that will enable effective teamwork.

Build and maintain effective teams

Teamwork is essential for success in an organisation but it does not happen by chance. Effective teamwork requires careful preparation, support, research, constant refinement, persistence, and evaluation.

Understanding teamwork and being able to recognise different types of teams and ways of working provides a strong platform on which to build an effective team strategy for developing and maintaining effective, productive teams.

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