A Conference For, By And At The
Establishing Teams: The Agony &
Irving Berlin underscored the popularity of dancing "The Turkey Trot" back in 1911, when he wrote a tune claiming "Everybody's Doin' It." Popularity tends to be like playing "follow the leader." If it weren't for the lure of fads, what would have happened to all those hula hoops, Cabbage Patch kids and Beanie Babies?
Lest companies hop too quickly onto the "Let's form a team" bandwagon, Diane Beal and Dick Beal, of Quality Breakthroughs in Brainerd, Minn., suggest taking an informed look before leaping.
According to the Beals, setting up a team without a sense of unity, with no accepted guidelines or well-established goals, can often be worse than no team at all. As with the lad who cried "Wolf" once too often, every false start may adversely affect the organizing of successful teams when they are urgently needed.
"In forming a team, you cannot assume that everyone will be excited," Diane Beal quickly adds. "Teams may need alignment."
She goes on to point out that in her experience as a management consultant, she has encountered a variety of teams. Some are, by the nature of their objective, permanent ones; others are short term. Some may be structural or organizational; others focus on a single project, problem or improvement. But whatever the objective, she says, the process begins with setting up a team that will prove successful in achieving its objective.
"Some companies regard problem-solving as a far too serious business. Humor and camaraderie are considered out of place. They regard reason, logic and practicality as good; intuition, feelings and 'wild ideas' (brain-storming) as bad.
"To others," he continues, "tradition may be preferable to change. Team members may suggest changes, but, quite clearly, the only ones that win out will be those that don't make waves. Mistakes cannot be tolerated, at least none that may cost money."
Other organizational cultural norms which he mentions as barriers to effective teamwork include a crisis management atmosphere in which everything is "needed yesterday;" a lack of cooperation or trust within the organization itself or a lack of reinforcement or rewards for the team as a whole.
"There are also individual barriers to effective teamwork," Ms. Beal breaks in. "For example, a team member who is unable to see a problem from various viewpoints or one who sees only what he or she expects to see, which is a kind of ingrained stereotyping."
"There may be prospective team members who are emotionally insecure; they lack self-confidence and fear failure. They are not likely to offer much input."
The consultants go on to say that some
team members may be too eager, latching onto the first
idea that comes up or not wishing to take enough time to
seek a better answer; others, like young Dick Beal, may
just not want to join the team. They lack
Forming, Storming, Norming and
"Precisely," he comments with a grin. "Typical member behavior in the forming of a team is one of apprehension and uneasiness. Don't answer. Wait to see what happens next. Participation is hesitant; people are afraid to speak up."
In the Storming phase, member behavior
is likely to go in the opposite direction.
"Things begin to settle down during the stage we refer to as Norming," Diane interjects. "Members begin to avoid conflict for the good of the group. Beginning to know each other better, they share personal experiences and confide in each other. With a sense of cohesiveness, a common spirit and clearer goals, team members complete a moderate amount of work.
"Then comes the part which is the most productive and certainly the most fun," Diane continues. "It's the fourth and final stage: Performing. As members experience insight into the interpersonal process, constructive self-change comes about. They trust one another and are committed to team goals. They become interdependent and a great deal of work is accomplished."
Setting Up A
"It may be a company-wide problem
causing a great loss of revenue and sales. Or it could be
an issue requiring the expertise of members from various
Are there ever any reasons NOT to
form a team?
"We had a client who thought
self-directed work teams would be the answer to all his
management problems. Unfortunately, he thought that
people intuitively knew how to function in this new
environment. They didn't."
"Another reason not to form a team is
when only two or three people are involved with the
problem at hand," adds Dick Beal. "It will be more
expedient to have them come to some agreement than to
have the overhead of an entire team when it is not
"Wait until a real problem presents
itself, then teach them the team building skills they
will need to address and solve that real issue. Let them
learn by doing.
Finally, Diane stresses not setting up a team when explaining an existing policy would solve the problem.
"Sometimes a common sense approach
indicates that a policy just hasn't been followed or
completely understood. Better communication is the
Advice from the
Diane Beal's prime piece of advice toward empowering a team effort is that of seeing that a charter is first prepared by the sponsoring organization or individual.
"It should state the purpose or mission for establishing the team and focus on a problem to be solved or a goal to be achieved. It should identify the sponsor and answer likely questions, such as, Who is going to be team leader? Who is to direct and conduct the meetings? Is there to be an internal or external facilitator? Who shall be team members, and why? What are their areas of expertise? Will it mention customers and their needs?
"What is the team's scope or its boundaries? Are its objectives specific and measurable? Identify some of the positive or negative factors. State the available resources. An initial statement covering most of these issues can save many hours of confusion once the team effort gets under way.
"A charter doesn't specify how to bring about changes," Diane explains, "but it must establish the objectives and the focus. It doesn't say 'how,' but it does explain 'why.' It's up to the sponsor - the senior member or officers of an organization - to set the objective and to make clear who is to receive the team's information."
What about the
"Finally, as I've said before, don't set up teams just because everybody's doing it."