Teams are complicated, complex structures because they are comprised of individuals with different personalities, biases, strengths, and weaknesses. Before people can form into an effective team, they must first learn to work together. Participants must work through personal differences, find strengths to build on, and balance collective commitments against the demands of individual job requirements.
Leaders must deal with team needs that arise from the pressures of personal differences and the demands of the individual jobs apart from the team. Addressing these issues is as important as the team’s task of making organizational improvements. Often both leaders and team members underestimate the need to develop themselves into a cohesive group.
Teams that run smoothly can concentrate on their primary goals. Conversely, teams that fail to build internal relationships waste time on internal control conflicts and unfocused efforts.
It is important for leaders to understand that the more they know what to expect as their teams progress, the better equipped they are to handle difficulties and problems as they arise. This knowledge enables leaders to recognize many problems and work through the ones that can’t be avoided.
The most obvious team efforts are associated with the task of improving a process or solving a problem. This includes holding meetings, gathering and analyzing data, planning improvements, making changes, and writing reports. However, when individuals are formed into teams, the complexity of group dynamics seems to inhibit their ability to work well together.
The issues associated with group dynamics include hidden problems, concerns, and agendas that create specific undercurrents and distract the team from accomplishing its assigned responsibilities. Some of these undercurrents can be seen in a host of conflicting emotions: the excitement and anxiety of being a part of the team, an individual’s loyalty to his department or division, and a nervous anticipation regarding the team’s success. Left unaddressed, these conflicts can inhibit the team’s effectiveness.
There is a natural tendency to wonder how individuals will fit into a team. When individuals come together for the first time, there is apprehension, anticipation, and questions concerning the value of the team and everyone’s contribution to it. These feelings of uncertainty are greatly reduced for people who have worked together previously on other projects. The issues discussed here lesson are closely associated with these feelings of personal identity.
Leaders must involve their teams in activities that are not directly related to the assigned task, but that build understanding and support within the team. Only in this manner can leaders resolve these internal issues and undercurrents. Some of the common issues encountered by leaders in these areas include:
Membership inclusion. There are basic psychological needs associated with membership inclusion. Individuals have a natural desire to be part of a group and are motivated by a sense of being part of something larger than themselves. Leaders must be concerned about membership inclusion as individuals who feel alienated from the team’s vision and purpose will represent sources of continual conflict until the issue is resolved. Leaders can enhance membership inclusion with the use of team-building activities and assignments that will quickly unify the team and instill a shared desire to work toward mutual goals.
Influence, control, and mutual trust. Much of the apprehension and anticipation of new team members arises from issues of influence, control, and mutual trust. Within new teams, these issues will not be resolved until individual members naturally establish themselves and emerge as leaders and influencers. Mutual trust will not be obtained until individuals begin to work together and become familiar with each other’s personality differences. Deadlines, team pressures, and external crises increase team members’ reliance on each other, foster trust, and build team cohesiveness.
Mutual loyalty. This is built upon mutual trust, respect, and cohesiveness. Leaders can utilize these factors by developing and enforcing guidelines and boundaries that establish a foundation on which to operate. Without these guidelines, leaders will discover that individuals tend to dominate and intimidate other team members. Such domineering tendencies will destroy loyalty and trust, and greatly inhibit the team’s ability to operate effectively.
Relationship between team members. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, most people want their team to be successful and will cooperate toward that end. However, people are often personally concerned with the tone that will characterize the team—namely, whether it will be friendly and light at times or all business. Additionally, members want to know whether they can be open or have to be guarded in their comments and about the team’s ability to work together to resolve issues. These are specific issues that need to be addressed by the leadership of the team. The group dynamics resulting from the influence and control of leaders, and the guidelines enforced by the team, should be dealt with accordingly.
Organizational identity. Team members will usually identify with their departments and divisions. Their apprehension lies with any conflict that may arise with team membership. When conflict develops between group and departmental loyalty, leaders will see their team’s effectiveness diminish.
Because teams must also build relationships with the organization, it is critical for leaders to identify influential people who can champion the team and its projects. Leaders will find that this is a critical element in developing organizational support. The more visible a team’s contribution, the more motivated team members will be because there is a payoff in increased perceived value of their success.
This article is an excerpt from Developing a Team Approach (Majorium Business Press, 2011) in the Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series.