Creating a high-impact team (practice group): the perfect storm?
As human beings it is almost impossible to exist without operating as part of a team, whether it is within the community, family, sport or work. Indeed, organizations are increasingly using team-based structures to increase organizational performance. The following definition of ‘teams’ highlights the common understanding across all teams:
“A collective of two or more individuals who possess a common identity, have consensus on a shared purpose, share a common fate, exhibit structured patterns of interaction and communication, hold common perceptions about group structure, are personally and instrumentally interdependent, reciprocate interpersonal attraction, and consider themselves to be a group.” (Carron, Hausenblas, & Eys, 2005)
The ultimate question is ‘what makes a team effective?’, or as is more commonly used within organizations, ‘how can we develop a high impact team?’ This term refers to teams who are highly focused and outperform in anticipated productivity or describe teams where the members also have high skill sets. It is implicitly acknowledged that this is not the case for all teams, however most teams have the potential to adopt ‘high impact’ qualities and perform better.
What makes a high impact team?
There are numerous factors required for a team to evolve from just performing, to hitting peak performance, these key factors are:
- Team goals
- Specific goals lead to higher performance than ‘do your best’
- Difficult goals lead to higher performance than easy goals
- In order for goals to be effective they need to be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, recorded and temporal.
- Goals are most effective when they are group-centric, i.e. they are designed to maximize each individual’s contribution to the group and have been shown to increase team performance
- Team diversity
Although teams consisting of similar individuals may appear harmonious, this homogeneity can stifle creativity and idea generation. After all, people who think the same tend to have similar ideas and approaches to problems or opportunities.
- Diverse teams were found to have higher team performance than those who were not.
- Diversity was related to increased adaptiveness and change effectiveness.
- Diverse teams more often avoid groupthink. Groupthink is a deterioration of thinking capacity, reality testing and moral judgements within a group. It is caused by in-group pressures for unanimity and tends to occur in cohesive groups. It is a trap teams who have worked together for a long time can fall into.
- Ultimately our physical diversity, be it ethnicity, gender, disability or age, are all only indicators for the diversity that is of real importance – and that is diversity of thought. If we do not have a physically diverse team, that is a surface level indicator that we may not have diversity of thought and perspective.
- Team size
There is a consistency in thought amongst experts that a team should not be too large. The arguments for small teams are that people can interact frequently, which leads to a natural flow of information. On the other hand, large teams have more resources and are more likely to operate in a more structured fashion. Research has shown the ideal team size is between 6-10 members.
- Team climate
Within any team, people tend to engage in one of two main undertakings: the maintenance of the tasks or the maintenance of the social unit. How much effort goes into this maintenance depends on ‘group cohesiveness’. Cohesion is essential for helping teams to achieve their common goal. T Cohesiveness can be created by equipping team members with a greater understanding of each other.
- Role clarity
Role ambiguity occurs when people do not know their role in terms of duties, responsibilities or authority. This is something which can have a detrimental effect on individual effort and performance. Power can be distributed throughout the team or it may lie with the team leader. Ultimately individuals need to know what level of authority they have, and the authority that others have. Sometimes it can be the case that authority levels have not been established and no one knows. This should be addressed directly and swiftly.
Leadership in a team has an impact on team effectiveness. The two most widely acknowledged approaches to leadership are transactional and transformational.
- Transactional leaders focus on enhancements and contingent rewards and punishments, to impact upon team members’ behaviors. They also manage by exception, therefore only take action when something is going wrong.
- Transformational leadership on the other hand, involves influencing team behavior through charisma and vision. Transformational leaders are enthusiastic and stimulate new perspectives and ideas, continually motivating their team. They also manage at an individual level, coaching and listening to individual team members in a style that works for each person.
- Team composition / training
The composition of the team is a mix of capabilities, skills, backgrounds, personalities, technical skills, levels of experience and interpersonal skills such as communication and conflict resolution. The risk of employing the wrong person for the job in terms of capabilities can be minimized through recruitment strategies. Selection procedures, training needs analysis and then training and coaching are all essential to ensure that members have the skills and support required to undertake the role.
Organizations cannot afford to not examine, identify and address team structures and the blockers to high impact. Realistically, there are too many variables that can go wrong to take the success of any team for granted. High impact teams are those which are aligned, optimizing team performance. Some high impact teams may occur naturally, although in many respects this is like the perfect storm – a rare coming together of the perfect conditions.