Monday 4 April 2016

No 'I' in Team!

Every year in Cambridge we have a number of festivals featuring talks and events that range from the serious to the downright silly. One of the major events in the calendar is the Science Festival which showcases new discoveries and thinking from across the University. One of the talks that caught my eye was entitled How Teams Work. Since starting the CILIP Leadership Programme last year I've become very interested in all things leadership related. Add this to the fact that I've recently joined a new team at work and was looking for some insights it seemed like a good idea to book myself a ticket!
The talk was given by Lezlie Wallace who explained her research on teamwork which took place in the building sector. During her research she found a total of forty-eight factors which can lead to a successful team. Lezlie chose to focus on what she considered the top eight of these for her talk.

Common aim
Working towards a shared goal or a collective mission is the fundamental purpose of any team. Everyone contributes towards this goal in their own way but they must contribute for the team to be a success. The problems can start when team members differ on what the goal actually is. All teams are subject to the needs of their stakeholders but it's worth remembering that individual team members are stakeholders too and their needs need to be thought of. Lezlie advised that the best thing to do was allow everyone to have input into the mission followed by discussion. It's inevitable that not everyone will agree but at least you will be able to get people to understand what the mission is and take it from there.

Open dialogue
Once you have established the mission of the team it's important to promote an open atmosphere between team members. To do this communication needs to be multi-directional rather than just from the top down. If team members feel that they are actually being listened to rather than being dictated to they are likely to feel more valued. I'm sure we have all been in teams where we have had no input and it's not a good thing. It can cause a lot of bad feeling and undermine what the team is trying to do.

Team spirit
Give me a T, give me an E... Seriously, you don't have to get your cheerleader pom-poms out but having team spirit can be a real asset to the team. Lezlie pointed out that in an ideal situation this exists between all members although it seldom happens naturally. Teams are made up of individuals and this can cause friction as everyone has their own priorities. Building from her two previous points Lezlie showed that working towards a common goal and maintaining open communication can go a long way to creating team spirit.

All contribute
Much like members of the victorious Boat Race team (go Cambridge!!) everyone has to contribute to the effort for the team to succeed. This is where having a common goal comes in handy as everyone knows that they are aiming for. Team members need to be prepared to pitch in and help each other when they need to which means that they need to be flexible. I'm sure we've all been involved in situations where it is all hands to the deck to get something done to deadline. It doesn't hurt to go the extra mile for your colleagues once in a while.

Problem solving
Lezlie argued that one of the key benefits of team working is synergy - the team as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is particularly evident when it comes to problem solving as it can help to come up with creative solutions that would not be possible individually. Of course there will be conflict (unless you work in Stepford and everyone agrees with everything!) but this is a natural part of the creative process. People need to come up with wild ideas sometimes to create something new and exciting. Remember that Henry Ford said when asked how he had thought of the Model T: "if I had asked them what they wanted, they would have said faster horses"!

Mutual trust and respect
Following on from earlier points, Lezlie showed that this needs to exist between individuals in a team. It takes time and effort to create and can require compromise between members but it's well worth aiming for. Unfortunately there is no magic wand to wave to make it happen but by building on the steps outlined above it can be achieved in time.

Non-adversarial atmosphere
Conflict in any team is inevitable and as Lezlie pointed out it can be a benefit. The danger starts when teams move from constructive conflict into a toxic atmosphere. The solution to this is to have an authority figure who can lead negotiations over various issues. As the team becomes a more cohesive unit conflict will reduce, although never disappear completely. Lezlie also pointed out that negotiation doesn't mean eliminating certain viewpoints but rather incorporating all viewpoints into something people can accept. This is something I will definitely remember as it's all too easy to overlook when trying to get your point across.

Win/win outcome
The final factor was the outcome that is in the best interests of the team. At this point the team achieves its goals and the team members have a positive experience. This is the ideal but it can take a lot of work to get there! However at least if you have something to aim for you know when you're getting close.
My main takeaway from the talk was that although there are many different ways to work in or lead a team, the same factors need to be taken into consideration to ensure success. I've studied many different leadership models over the past few months and I can see patterns starting to form which gives me hope that they know what they're talking about! It may take time to get all of these interconnecting cogs to work but hopefully it will be worth it to create a strong team which gets the job done.

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