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Timothy F. Bednarz

Quality Insider

A Team’s Foundation Is Built on Structure and Focus

With no mission, rules, or boundaries, teams will encounter chronic problems

Published: Friday, January 4, 2013 - 10:18

Problems can arise throughout team development and management, but leaders must pay particular attention to the structure and focus of the team. There are many potential pitfalls associated with establishing a team’s mission and focus. These foundational problems can linger and hinder the team’s performance.

Teams can encounter many problem areas during their tenure, but most challenges arise during the establishment of the team. Without a strong foundation that includes a focus, a mission, rules, boundaries, and objectives, teams will encounter chronic problems. From the outset leaders must invest time and effort in team development to ensure long-term success. This process includes establishing a clear understanding of what to avoid to prevent future problems.

Quality improvement is a common task given to teams. Organizations with teams in this area often stumble into pitfalls and produce poor outcomes. Selecting the wrong process or process element for a team to work on is the main cause of inappropriately focused teams.

Select a project the team is interested in

As organizations assign and develop teams for various projects, one common problem stems from selecting projects neither managers nor team members are concerned about. Consequently, the project will likely die from inattention. Often individual team members are assigned to several teams and will only focus their attention on the projects they are interested in.

Often the only motive that sustains the effort of the team is the commitment of its members. If uninterested in a project, individuals will resist it, hampering the team’s ability to meet and work together effectively. When leaders develop new teams, the projects they assign should be meaningful to the active team members.

Involve teams in selecting a desired solution

Leaders tend to think they already know which improvements need to be made before a team meets to study a problem, analyze it, and make recommendations. Consequently, they pick a solution for the team to consider rather than have it look at the larger quality improvement process. This tendency does not empower teams to come up with changes and improvements, and their creativity is held back. As a result, the most creative and effective solutions may not be brainstormed, recommended, analyzed, studied, and considered, and the team’s effectiveness and productivity are diminished.

Although the leader’s predetermined changes may in fact turn out to be the best way to proceed, teams should be allowed to arrive at their own conclusions and be free to recommend actions they determine will yield the greatest success.

Don’t assign teams to projects in transition

As companies evolve, many processes and projects are in transition. It is wasteful to assign a team a project or process that is undergoing transition or is scheduled for change. The exception here is if changes occur in a process because of the team. In such a case, the team’s resources can be effectively used to study and evaluate the process and determine the best changes.

Select a project element to work on

Managers often delegate projects that are too ambitious and that should be broken down into smaller components. Properly focusing teams on particular elements of a project facilitates a better chance of success. In this manner they can concentrate their efforts and make recommendations that are easily implemented. Once improvements are made in one small area, teams can methodically move on to other areas. This method allows them to build on their successes and, ultimately, to affect the entire system.

Properly frame the problem

When problems are properly framed, team operational boundaries are defined. But teams can frame a problem too narrowly or broadly.

Broadly defined problems can create projects that are too vague or difficult to label. Consequently, teams quickly find they have neither the time nor resources to deal with such projects. Potential solutions also become broadly defined, ineffective, and difficult to implement.

Narrowly defined problems create ineffective solutions. Tight parameters prevent teams from exploring all aspects of the problem and its possible solutions. The final solution can result in issues and concerns that are ignored but should have been considered.

Edited excerpt from A Team’s Purpose, Function & Use: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011).

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About The Author

Timothy F. Bednarz’s picture

Timothy F. Bednarz

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D., is an accomplished author, researcher, consultant, entrepreneur, and innovator. He has founded three successful companies and has more than 26 years consulting experience in business development. As a critical thinker and transformational agent of change, he has the ability to view complex issues, identifying specific causes to develop meaningful solutions in simple terms. He has authored more than 125 books as well as a wide variety of high quality learning content. His latest book is Great! What Makes Leaders Great (Majorium Business Press, 2012). He is the author of more than 85 books in the Pinpoint Skill Development Training Series.