How to build successful work teams: 12 tips for team building

People in every workplace talk about building the team, working as a team, and my team, but few understand how to create the experience of team work or how to develop an effective team. Belonging to a team, in the broadest sense, is a result of feeling part of something larger than yourself. It has a lot to do with your understanding of the mission or objectives of your organization.

In a team-oriented environment, you contribute to the overall success of the organization. You work with fellow members of the organization to produce these results. Even though you have a specific job function and you belong to a specific department, you are unified with other organization members to accomplish the overall objectives. The bigger picture drives your actions; your function exists to serve the bigger picture.

You need to differentiate this overall sense of teamwork from the task of developing an effective intact team that is formed to accomplish a specific goal. People confuse the two team building objectives. This is why so many team building seminars, meetings, retreats and activities are deemed failures by their participants. Leaders failed to define the team they wanted to build. Developing an overall sense of team work is different from building an effective, focused work team when you consider team building approaches.

Twelve Cs for Team Building
Executives, managers and organization staff members universally explore ways to improve business results and profitability. Many view team-based, horizontal, organization structures as the best design for involving all employees in creating business success.

No matter what you call your team-based improvement effort: continuous improvement, total quality, lean manufacturing or self-directed work teams, you are striving to improve results for customers. Few organizations, however, are totally pleased with the results their team improvement efforts produce. If your team improvement efforts are not living up to your expectations, this self-diagnosing checklist may tell you why. Successful team building, that creates effective, focused work teams, requires attention to each of the following:

Clear Expectations:
Has executive leadership clearly communicated its expectations for the team’s performance and expected outcomes? Do team members understand why the team was created? Is the organization demonstrating constancy of purpose in supporting the team with resources of people, time and money? Does the work of the team receive sufficient emphasis as a priority in terms of the time, discussion, attention and interest directed its way by executive leaders?

A lack of clear performance expectations is cited by readers as a key contributing factor to their happiness or unhappiness at work. In fact, in a poll about what makes a bad boss – bad, the majority of respondents said that their manager did not provide clear direction. This factor affected their sense of participation in a venture larger than themselves and their feelings of engagement, motivation, and teamwork.

Critical Components of Clear Performance Expectations
The process that results in employees who clearly understand and execute their performance expectations contains these components:
•A company strategic planning process that defines overall direction and objectives.
•A communication strategy that tells every employee where their job and needed outcomes fit within the bigger company strategy.
•A process for goal setting, evaluation, feedback, and accountability that lets employees know how they are doing. This process must provide opportunities for continuing employee professional and personal development.
•Overall organizational support for the importance of clear performance expectations communicated through cultural expectations, executive planning and communication, managerial responsibility and accountability, rewards and recognition, and company stories (folklore) about heroic accomplishments that define the workplace.

Communication of Clear Performance Expectations
Communication starts with the strategic planning process of executive leaders. How they communicate these plans and goals to the organization is critical to create an organization in which all components are connected and pulling in the same direction. Executive leadership must clearly communicate its expectations for the team’s performance and expected outcomes to align each area of the organization with the overall mission and vision.

At the same time, leadership needs to define the organizational culture of teamwork desired within the company. Whether a department team or a product, process, or project team, team members have to understand why the team was created and the outcomes the organization expects from the team.

Communicating Clear Performance Direction Through the PDP
The Performance Development Planning (PDP) process translates these higher level goals into the outcomes necessary for each employee’s job within the company. After the quarterly PDP meeting, employees should be clear about their expected contribution. Goal setting at these meetings should include a performance evaluation component so the employee knows how he or she has been performing.

Leading up to the PDP meeting, the employee self-evaluation guides each employee in thinking about their performance. The six-eight goals set at the meeting, or continued from the previous PDP, establish performance expectations without micromanaging the employee. Deciding how to accomplish the goals empowers, engages, and motivates the employee.

The manager maintains needed contact with the critical steps in the employee’s performance plan through weekly meetings and coaching. (No, it’s not a free-for-all when each employee’s work affects other employees and must mesh to accomplish the whole.) Additionally, this step ensures that employees are accountable for accomplishing their jobs.

Consider following this same process with each team you establish for the same sense of interconnectedness and understanding of clear performance expectations.

Continuing Support for Clear Performance Expectations
Your organization accomplishes performance expectations in three key ways.
•You need to show constancy of purpose in supporting individuals and teams with the resources of people, time and money that will enable them to accomplish their goals. When you provide the resources teams need to succeed, you ensure the development of teamwork and the team’s best chance for success. Sometimes, this requires the reshuffling of resources or the renegotiation of goals. But, the visual application of resources sends a powerful message of support.
•The work of the team needs to receive sufficient emphasis as a priority in terms of the time, discussion, attention and interest directed its way by executive leaders. Employees are watching and need to know that the organization really cares.
•Finally, the critical component in continuing organizational support for the importance of the accomplishment of clear performance expectations is your reward and recognition system. Clear performance expectations accomplished deserve both public recognition and private compensation. Publically cheering and celebrating team accomplishments enhances the team’s feeling of success. The recognition clearly communicates the behaviors and actions the company expects from its employees.

Use clear expectations to help your employees develop accountable, productive, meaningful, participatory teamwork. I trust these guidelines helped you see the role of your organization’s expectations in achieving your objectives and teamwork.

Context: Do team members understand why they are participating on the team? Do they understand how the strategy of using teams will help the organization attain its communicated business goals? Can team members define their team’s importance to the accomplishment of corporate goals? Does the team understand where its work fits in the total context of the organization’s goals, principles, vision and values?

In an effective team culture, the concept of context is addressed. Team members understand why they are participating on the team and how the team fits within their organization. In an effective team culture, team members understand where the work of their team fits in the total context of their organization’s strategic plan and success goals.

When the organization culture supports teamwork, team members understand how the strategy of using teams fits in the total context of their organization’s strategic plan and success goals. Team members understand why using teams will help their organization attain its business goals. In fact, they understand the context of a team culture so well, they are convinced that teams are the only way their organization will excel.

In a successful team culture, teams understand where their work fits in the total context of the organization’s mission, goals, principles, vision and values. Team members spend time defining their team culture by agreeing upon team norms and expectations within the company’s overall team context.

Finally, team members understand that 20% of the problems they will experience as a team will fall within the context of the task or mission the team is assigned to accomplish. The other 80% of the problems will relate to their team culture and the processes team members establish and commit to for interacting.

Commitment: Do team members want to participate on the team? Do team members feel the team mission is important? Are members committed to accomplishing the team mission and expected outcomes? Do team members perceive their service as valuable to the organization and to their own careers? Do team members anticipate recognition for their contributions? Do team members expect their skills to grow and develop on the team? Are team members excited and challenged by the team opportunity?

The depth of the commitment of team members to work together effectively to accomplish the goals of the team is a critical factor in team success. The relationships team members develop out of this commitment are key in team building and team success.

You need to answer a series of questions to assess the commitment level of team members to work on a team.
•Team Choice: Do team members want to participate on the team? Do they perceive that they had a choice about working on a particular team?

Tapping into an employee’s commitment is much easier if they are participating by choice. When possible, I recommend voluntary team participation. On all social teams and work teams that are ancillary to an employee’s core job, employees should choose to participate.

Even participation on a mandatory team garners more commitment when the employees on the team are empowered to set direction, establish goals, and make choices.
•Work Is Mission Critical: Do team members believe the team mission is important? Are members committed to accomplishing the team mission and expected outcomes?

Team members want to feel as if they are part of something bigger than themselves. They need to understand where their team mission falls in the bigger organizational scheme, the overall leadership vision. Team commitment comes from team members knowing the expected outcomes and where the outcomes fit in the whole organization’s strategic plan.

•Team Members Feel Valued: Do team members perceive their service as valuable to the organization and to their own careers? A double win is accomplished if team members find themselves valued by the organization and also receiving ancillary benefits. These can include growing and developing their skills and career by participating on the team. Making new contacts and perhaps, finding new mentors who are committed to their growth is a plus, too.

•Challenge, Excitement and Opportunity: Are team members excited and challenged by the team opportunity? If so, the chances of their commitment to the process and the outcomes is magnified.

•Recognition: Does your organization have a track record of providing recognition for successful teams and their projects. Almost everyone likes some form of recognition. Make sure recognition is available at successful milestones, too.

Pay attention to these areas and to the additional recommendations in all of the components suggested for successful team building. The more you can foster the appropriate environment for team success, the better your teams will perform, and they will wallow less in dysfunctional behavior.

Source: Humanresouces.about.com, January 2013
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Author: Susan M. Heatfield (for more information)

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