Do we need to operate as a team? If the answer is yes, what do we mean by team?
'But I don't need to work as part of a team.... I work on my own most of the time!'
Taking teams forward is not only about meeting organisational needs for team development but also about matching those needs with an understanding of those of the team members themselves. It is also about considering the implications for the management and leadership style of the organisation.
Teams are a fact of life, whether a genuine team or an organisational unit. Taking teams forward is about asking whether the way people work together in that team is helping, or hindering, the purpose of the team.
There are many different forms of team. People need to explore what sort of team is appropriate so that they may satisfy the business or organisational environment they are in. This is team development, not fitting teams into a model or structure, but allowing a team and it's leader to work out what they need.
When to be a team?
Consider a group reaction to two situations, one that has precedent and one that has not. The first stimulates the group to draw upon it's experience, to discuss it's range of options and to exploit the situation. There is very little need to consider how the group will work.
What is the reaction to the second, uncertain situation?
Publicly it is probably an attempt at similar activities to the first. However, within members of the group there will be many feelings of uncertainty, doubt or exposure. Unless these are recognised they will under-mine any attempt to look for new solutions. There is a high need to share within the group. The group needs to operate as a team.
The question of mode of group work is addressed by Critchley and Casey, who link the degree of uncertainty facing the group to the need to share and hence the need for teamwork. Teams need to be able to diagnose when genuine teamwork is needed as well as understanding what makes a team.
What sort of team?
The discussion needs to go further than when to be a team. Today we have project teams, cross functional networks, alliances between suppliers and customers as well as formal work teams, each with their own behavioural and managerial requirements. Higgs and Rowland relate the two dimensions of formal - informal and permanent - temporary to help identify the range of team types that exist.
Teams and their managers need to be able to examine what style of operation their type of function requires, what sort of team they need to be and the behaviours that requires.
Leadership and teams
This has implications for the leadership and management of teams. Do senior management, team leaders, and the team have the same understanding or expectation of the role of the team? What support can management give to team concepts?
Team development needs to take place within a strategic framework which is developed to consider the needs of the organisation and the teams.
Underpinning all of this is the need to honestly identify what strengths and weaknesses each perosn brings to the team, and collectively how this may impact the way the team deals with pressure, makes decisions etc.
We have found the Belbin Team Role Model to be an incredibly useful tool for diagnosing what any given team needs to sustain what works, improve allowable weaknesses (and fix some of the non allowable ones) to genuinely move forward together.
So, when considering any form of team event it is important to give the team the opportunity to diagnose when and how they really need to operate as a team. Teams are increasingly important in fast moving and increasingly complex environments.
Teams may not always be the answer but a group of people need the opportunity to ask the question "Should we operate as a team?" followed by "If it isn't a team, what is it?"