Team work Featured

8:00pm EDT October 28, 2006
Successful teams and teamwork drive the accomplishment of a company’s strategic goals. Effective teams magnify the accomplishments of individual employees and energize individuals and companies to adopt newer and more challenging goals.

“Working in teams is not a natural phenomenon. We are raised in a society that values individualism, winning and ‘being the best.’ Families and schools reinforce the same,” says Sunita Iyengar, vice president of the Clinical Division of Devon Consulting, a professional staffing firm serving the IT and clinical trial industries.

“Work environments fail to support teamwork because they tend to nurture individuals working on personal goals for personal gain. Typically, goal-setting, performance appraisal and reward systems single out the achievements of individual employees. People identify career paths as being individual road maps to get to their goals.”

Smart Business spoke with Iyengar about building effective and dynamic teams.

What is successful teamwork?
Teamwork is not an event nor is it an end goal in itself. It is one of the strategies available to leaders to improve business results and profitability, and it has to stem from management philosophy and culture.

Fostering teamwork is building a work culture that values collaboration. For teams to be successful, they need two vital components, namely ‘shared vision/goals’ and ‘shared outcomes/fate.’ Both are critical to build successful teams.

What is the best way to assemble an efficient business team?
Team performance is a function of team motivation and team capability. Leaders establish the need, context and pace for team performance.

In order to create share purpose, leaders have to communicate the purpose of the team and convey why the team is better equipped to outperform the individuals of the team.

Leaders also set expectations of behavior from the team members. This includes standards for communication, collaboration and flexibility among team members.

Leaders also have to model behavior and sustain the team by supporting it with resources, time, recognition and rewards. Finally, leaders emphasize and value team performance over individual performance.

And to build team capability, it is imperative to hire the right people, both for attitude and skill. Heterogeneous teams are richer in experiences, cultures, backgrounds, thoughts and ideas.

What steps need to be taken to build and maintain successful teams?
Often, team building is identified with the team retreating to an off-work facility, maybe rock climbing or completing a rope course. While the group exercises may enhance fun and interaction in the team, their long-term impact on team performance is minimal. Successful teams seek fun as an intrinsic part of work and view teamwork as something that is done every day.

Since team focus is on performance, individuals are both accountable for their performance and to each other. Performance-driven cultures thrive on learning and experimentation and do not penalize failure. Even when there is a failure, the focus is on learning and improvement rather than assigning blame and holding individuals responsible.

Teamwork does not negate conflict, it promotes positive conflict. Effective teams appreciate positive conflict and respect the differences and diverse opinions that individuals introduce.

Companies should invest in training and enhancing skills of team members, especially decision-making skills, interpersonal skills and leadership skills.

Finally, meetings are important. Daily five-minute stand-up meetings review the day’s priorities and cheer the team on. Weekly and monthly review of progress will enhance communication and encourage improvement. Weekly and monthly meetings are also good forums to have icebreakers and small fun exercises where individuals on the team can get to know each other. Sponsor group events, trips to restaurants, sporting events, and potlucks. Celebrate success publicly as a team.

Is someone in charge of a team or is it autonomous?
All teams have leaders. A self-managed team is one where people work together in their own ways toward a common goal. The team does its own work scheduling, training, rewards and recognition.

However, even self-managed teams have leaders. The role of the leader may be more involved and tactical at the beginning. When teams mature, the role of the leader will become more focused on context, such as removing the barriers for team performance, channeling and directing energies.

People do not have to like each other to work well together as members of a team. It is definitely a bonus, but not necessary. Respect of each other’s strengths and knowledge is more important, and fosters learning from peers.

SUNITA IYENGAR is vice president of the Clinical Division of Devon Consulting, a professional staffing firm serving. Reach her at (610) 964-5749 or