The Drama of Teams

teamworkWithin organizations, teams provide one of the most complicated, but necessary elements for success. Modern organizational practice incorporates teams at all levels and functions and relies on teams to bring together knowledge, experience, and innovation in an efficient and effective manner. Building and managing teams not only occupy a preeminent position in the hierarchy of manager competencies, but also contribute to the competitive advantage between organizations. Given the level of importance, why do we find that strong teams seem to be so elusive?

Teamwork is Hard

A 2013 University of Phoenix/Harris Interactive survey of 1,072 employed adults in the US indicates that 84 percent of respondents characterize working as a team as difficult. The primary sources of the difficulty relate to self-interest, increased workloads, reliance on technology, and a lack of training in leading as well as serving as an effective team member. Approximately, 45 percent of respondents feel that team members only look out for themselves, 40 percent sited less time to work on teams, 35 percent noted the shift to electronic interaction, and more than 60 percent pointed to a lack of training influencing team success. When asked specifically about why teams fail, a lack of training ranks the highest. Approximately 61 percent of respondents selected a lack of training as a primary factor. Similarly, 59 percent of respondents think that individual motivations significantly influence team success.

Missing the Behaviors

A recent survey by HCS posed a slightly different set of questions to a similar sample and found that knowledge and practice of acceptable team behaviors ties in closely to the issues related to training and self-interest. In other words, team members desire more training because the only behaviors they have confidence in are those individual-focused behaviors that have proven successful over time. For example, if an employee hordes resources in order to produce higher levels of output, then the means is justified by the ends. When an opportunity to share resources occurs, a “successful strategy” has to be altered. The 1,200 respondents identify understanding how to work together and create an equal or better result as a primary need (63 percent). A strong, second concern pertains to how best to work with others as equals (58 percent). The third most cited concern relates to how to manage in a shared resource environment (43 percent).

Lack of Consistent Results

Richard Hackman, the Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University and a leading expert on teams captures well the idea that teams may not be as magical as one might assume. Research finds that teams under perform, regardless of practices and resources allocated. The root of the failure arises from the tradeoff between issues with coordination and motivation vis-à-vis collaboration. Put simply, the cost of collaboration may be much greater than we realize. This cost may reduce the net gain to the point that forming a team no longer affords a viable option. Moreover, even a strong team eventually competes with other teams, thus reducing overall effectiveness.

Given these concerns, how can we improve the value and effectiveness of our teams?

We have to make sure that a team approach is the correct approach.
We have to incentivize the behaviors we want.
We have to train by giving knowledge as well as teaching behaviors.
Our leaders must model the desired behaviors.

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