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Section 10  Characteristics of Effective and Ineffective Teams

            There are many variables that influence team effectiveness. Team members should be alert to these variables and do what they can to establish and maintain conditions that facilitate team functioning.

Organizations need to become aware that there is the possibility that teams can fail and therefore produce a drain on management. Characteristics of effective and ineffective teams can be described as the following.

Atmosphere 

        Effective  teams have a tension-free atmosphere. Team members are considerate of one another and even appear to enjoy working together. There are no signs of unhealthy aggression or boredom.

        Ineffective  teams have an atmosphere of indifference that is demonstrated by a lack of attention and side conversations. Cliques within the team may even form. There exists a feeling of tension and formality laced with antagonism.

Discussion

        Effective  teams encourage a lot of participation and topic or issue related discussion. When discussion gets sidetracked, someone quickly gets the group back on task.

        Ineffective  teams have discussions, which are dominated by one or a few staff members. Off topic comments are frequent and there is little done to keep discussions on track.

Objectives

        Effective  teams know their objectives and understand them. They discuss the objectives until they are well formulated.

        Ineffective teams do not seem to know their objectives and tasks at hand. Staff members often have a general idea based on an initial directive, but there is no indication that the staff members have accepted a common objective. In fact, various team members may have their own objectives or agendas, which may be in conflict with team objectives. 

Listening

        Effective  teams listen well. Staff members indicate interest in one anotherís comments and ideas. Discussions are focused, and every idea is given an opportunity to be heard.

        Ineffective teams do not listen well. Discussion jumps from topic to topic. Ideas are ignored. Staff members seem to be making speeches rather than sharing ideas.

Dissent

        Effective  teams disagree comfortably and constructively. Differences of opinion are viewed as a helpful part of the process; therefore, opinions are not suppressed. The teamís tries to examine issues and find resolution rather than override dissent.

        Ineffective  teams do not deal effectively with disagreements. Dissenting opinions are suppressed to eliminate conflict. Formal votes or other bypass methods are used to force a decision before other points of view have been heard and examined. In general, only aggressive staff members have their ideas heard and considered. Other staff members tend to give in or give up.

Self-Expression

        Effective  team members promote self-expression of ideas and feelings about group problems and operations. The staff members are candid and seem to know how other staff members feel about topics or issues being discussed.

        Ineffective  teams avoid discussion of personal feelings or ideas. The general attitude is that discussion of feelings is inappropriate or potentially dangerous.

Decisions

        Effective  teams make decisions after reaching consensus. They infrequently use formal voting in order to have a discussion of issues and get input from all members.

        Ineffective  teams often fail to consider and resolve underlying issues. They generally think that discussion of feelings is inappropriate or potentially dangerous.

Leadership 

        Effective teams have shifting leadership. The various leaders focus on success, not power.

        Ineffective  teams are usually led by a ďchairpersonĒ who is clearly in control. This group does not allow leadership to shift and likes a ďstatus quoĒ assignment of leaders.

Assignments 

        Effective  teams make sure that their assignments are clear, accepted, fairly distributed and understood by all.

        Ineffective  teams fail to make sure that assignments are understood and accepted.

Maintenance 

        Effective  teams routinely stop to evaluate themselves and their progress on specific issues. They try to discuss any barriers to success and discuss problems openly.

        Ineffective  teams avoid self- evaluation and maintenance. They discuss problems outside of the team setting and rarely solve problems or really address issues that come up.

There are many variables that influence team effectiveness. As a team member it is important to become alert to these variables and do whatever you can to establish and maintain conditions that facilitate team health and functioning.

Team development is a long-term, ongoing process. It becomes part of the  today-to-day process of work. While strong teams have defined characteristics, they need to focus on building team strengths and improving performance, so their efforts can result in superior work teams.

Setting Team Goals

Setting goals and getting all the team members on board and thinking along the same lines will definitely increase effectiveness. Setting team goals is a common challenge and the difficulty may arise for the following reasons; 

        Team members often spend 80% of their time doing 20% of whatever the team is responsible for, while some key tasks and commitments remain undone.

        Team members may be saying all the right words in the planning meetings, but the implementation breaks down quickly.

        Team members want credit and appreciation for insignificant tasks done well.

        Crucial time is often wasted because of different perceptions of what the members are supposed to be doing as a team.

Very often team members donít share the same specifics, standards or values. Some team members are likely to have different ideas about the purpose of the team. Written mission statements or goals may be available but inadequate to explain the details of what the members actually need to do. Even tougher to deal with is the problem of getting commitment to goals that team members seem to agree with by virtue of not having expressed any disagreement.

If a team member doesnít personally see why it needs to be done, he or she will give it little attention and the objective may be very hard to accomplish. Even after agreement in a meeting, staff members often abandon jobs they feel to lave a low priority.

In setting team goals Philip Possner has suggested the following action steps for team members that may be helpful: 

Communicate formally the team goals.

Before a discussion begins about what the team is responsible for, make sure that everyone has copies of any written goals.  An example might be, memos from the boss that may relate to the teamís mission or any other material that describe what management or the organization expects of them.

If the team is composed of staff members whom themselves initiated the team statement of the teamís goals, then distribution to all team members is essential. If a team member discovers glaring contradictions about their mission as itsí described in the written materials, then confront and deal with the problem immediately.

Check for contradictions in the official mission.

Carefully charging the team with its mission can save much work later on.  This step is particularly important for teams that did not originate a project or were not involved from the beginning formation of the team.

Many teams have learned the hard way, what they think they are supposed to be doing may be a world apart from what higher management thinks they should be doing. If there are problems, conflicts, or misunderstandings, its far easier to work these out in the beginning of the project rather than after the project is underway. 

Discuss and clarify the goals to reach a common understanding among team members.

Every team member may have a different personal view of what the team should accomplish. Therefore, it is important to devote at least one full meeting to a discussion of what each member understands about the teamís goals.

An idea might also be to go beyond the written material provided and ask everyone to say in his or her own words what is the major function of the team. Write down the different interpretations and let the team members fully explain what they mean. All team members should be on the lookout for team members who are quietly disagreeing with those who dominate the discussion.

Drawing out the more reluctant members is crucial if the team is to utilize its full resources. Very often it is this clarifying goals stage that teams steer themselves in an unproductive direction and later come back to a suggestion made all along the way by a quiet member.

Although the team leader of facilitator will play a key role in this step, itís important for all members to fully exercise the shared leadership needed to launch the team successfully.

Define goal setting in project steps.

Using the SMART method for teams to lay out their project steps. He suggests that goals and standards should be: 

Specific

Measurable

Agreed upon

Realistic

Time-framed

Even though measurable may only mean defining an organizationís needs in a short time, it gives a target that can be looked at later and planned from, if necessary.

Set plans for how the team will accomplish goals.

It might be necessary to identify help and resources that will be needed from managers or others. Decide who will request the resources and divide up the tasks needed. When designating which team members will do what, think strategically about the teamís best interest rather than an individualís wish to be the one to do a certain task. Teams often get into trouble when all team members are encouraged to do what they feel they are best at. This is the time for a critique and to check on the teamís focus. 

Look for conflicts to resolve.

It is important for teams to resolve conflicts about the necessary priorities. Each team memberís ideas about what is most important, least important or not important at all may differ from what the other team memberís think. Watch particularly for silent disagreements by openly asking team memberís what they see as top priorities.

This can open a discussion of differences. Bring up a potential difference of opinion about priorities may also be a consideration. Looking at the reasons and how it can be resolved will be necessary.

Regularly check for commitment.

Make it a priority to check for commitment and mutual understanding on a consistent basis because this problem can undermine your efforts again and again if it isnít tackled head on. If commitment falters, consider opening a full discussion of the issues so that team members can clarify positions and recommit to the teamís up-to-date understanding of their goals. 

 [Philip Possner. Effective Project Planning and Management  (Boston: Crestview Publishing Company, 1994), 213]. 

Benefits of Team Effectiveness 

          Teams enhance an organization by bringing together a diversity of colleagues, according to Kenneth Fisher. All of a sudden there is a broader view because ďwe are all in this together.Ē Success and rewards belong to the team. Further benefits of team effectiveness in an organization include: 

        Speed. Teams get things done quicker, especially in product or project development.

        Complexity. Complex problems are more easily solved through the use of group brainpower.

        Customer focus. The organizationís resources are focused on satisfying the patientís needs.

        Creativity. The creative capacity of an organization is enhanced by the diversity of the staff memberís experiences and backgrounds.

        Organizational learning. Team members more easily develop new technical and professional skills and learn to work with colleagues from other cultures and disciplines with different team-player styles.

        Single point of contact. A team structure promotes more effective cross-teamwork by providing one place to obtain information and make decisions.

        Patient care and critical paths. Teams use critical paths to ensure that treatments and tests are delivered on time. The primary goal is to expedite patient treatment and ultimately discharge by focusing accountability for the patientís stay in a few hands.

        [Kenneth Fisher. Leading Self-Directed Work Teams: A Guide to Developing New Team Leadership Skills  (New York: Mc-Graw-Hill, 
        1993), 24].