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What Makes Teams Succeed?

March 1, 2008 by Jill Geddes, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

Teamwork is the single most important reason why organizations succeed or fail. One of the biggest barriers to building a successful team is the lack of investment by an organization in team development, whether that investment comes in the form of time or money. Building a thriving team is hard work and time consuming, which can pose a challenge for business leaders today as they want a return on their investment too quickly. It takes the commitment of the organization, team leadership, and team members to build winning teams.

The Organization

Upper management needs to understand and be fully committed to the time and resources it will take to build teaming skills and the proper level of trust within the organization. Companies must set a plan to continuously invest in their people and persevere to implement and evolve this plan as the organization grows. Many companies claim they invest in their employees, but the direct impact felt in the trenches is often much different. The gap happens between making the plan and actual follow through.

It is also important for management and teams to understand that success doesn’t happen overnight. In order to convert a working group into a successful team, the organization needs to take the time to invest in team building to prove their commitment to the employees. Team building plays an important role in the organizations plan to increase productivity, customer satisfaction, and differentiate the organization in the marketplace.

Team Leadership

Managers make all the difference in the success of a team. Effective managers have a variety of qualities, including the ability to foster good communication, create a collaborative climate, set goals and priorities, demonstrate adequate technical know-how, and manage performance.

The roles for managers are continuously changing as teams go through the evolutionary process and various team stages. In the beginning managers are expected to provide direction, and the team members are very dependent and sometimes even fearful of the unknown. As individuals get to know each other and learn more about the process and expectations, trust begins to grow and self-confidence builds. Managers begin to do more coaching, sharing and delegating responsibilities, and ownership begins to shift.

Eventually the team becomes confident and efficient. The manager lets go of more and more responsibility and continues as a role model to support and encourage the team, providing the necessary resources as the team performs at higher levels.

Team Members

The most important ingredient of a successful team is the mix of people. In order for a team to thrive, all the necessary skills and experience should be present, and everyone should have a good understanding of the work and communication style of others on their team. Hard skills are easy to identify through evaluating past work experience and education. It is the soft skills that are difficult to detect and teach. The heart of most team problems stems from miscommunication. Teams are most successful when managers take the time to invest in understanding the working and communication styles of each team member.

Like any successful relationship, building a winning team requires everyone to be committed to learning how to deal with one another and adapting their style to work well together. A team is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Working as a Team

Teams succeed when they are set up right. Three things that are needed for team success are:

  • Set Clear Goals: Efficient and effective teams always have a clear understanding of the vision and team goals of the organization that everyone can articulate and commit to. Successful teams have informed managers who are committed to creating a clear process and guidelines.
  • Capitalize on Each Team Members Strengths: The best managers do not try to change the style of their employee. They are aware that their people differ in how they approach problems and challenges, how they deal with others, how they handle change and pace in their work environment, and how they work with procedures set by the organization. The best managers recognize, capture and utilize the unique style each person brings to the team.
  • Set a Plan to Measure Team Success: There must be measurement tools in place that drive desired behaviours and performance. There must also be a rewards and recognition program that addresses what is in it for me?

Rate Your Team

Take some time over the next month to evaluate your team, whether you are an executive, manager, or team member. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if your team is reaching its maximum potential:

  • Does your organization invest in developing their teams?
  • Does the team produce consistent results to their full potential?
  • Does the team leader tailor their management style to suit the working and communication style of each team member?
  • Do team members have a good understanding of one another?
When organizations start to invest in developing teams, employees feel energized and excited about what they are doing. People will contribute and make improvements in everything they do. Productivity will steadily increase. Quality and customer satisfaction will also improve and eventually become the key drivers and key measures of success.

What Is Team Building?

January 1, 2008 by Ruth Gmehlin, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

Team building conjures up many different images and ideas. This article is written to help you navigate through the different types of team building available today and identify what is right for you and why. Team building exercises can be a hit or miss if they are not well chosen to deliver benefits to the organization and team members. Poorly chosen team building events could waste your time or even have a negative effect.

Team building has become an overused term and catch-all for anything to do with a group of people whose relationship is first and foremost based around the fact that they are working together undertaking an activity other than their daily work duties. By this definition something as simple as eating lunch together is considered a team building event, and to a certain extent, that is correct. However, in organizations today -- be they multinational corporations, small nonprofit agencies, or even our schools and churches -- face the pressures of increasing productivity without increasing resources or expenses. Team building, in whatever form it takes, is the answer to leveraging the most vital resource in an organization - its human potential.

Why Invest in Team Building?

There is no doubt that spending time and money on a team building event produces valuable and measurable results. Top benefits include:

  • Increases retention. Over 90% of employees leave because of a bad manager or a dysfunctional team, rather than a desire for more pay. Team building intensifies loyalty, and lets your employees know you care about them as people - not just as contributors to the bottom line.
  • Creates motivation. When employees are involved with a team building event, they feel connected to their jobs and their co-workers. Having good relationships at work is a strong predictor for being a happy, more productive and motivated employee.
  • Reduces conflict. A strong team is made up of different working styles. Naturally when diverse styles work together there is bound to be outright or underlying friction. A team building event can be a neutral setting to address and resolve these challenges.

Types of Team Building

Team building activities generally fall into two distinct categories:

  1. Games and outdoor adventure with a focus on fun.
  2. Management training and employee development.

Some forms of team building are purely for the purpose of having fun as a group and getting away from the office. Activities like sailing, river rafting, golf, or a games day are all fun and certainly have their place. Everyone can use a day away from the office to spend some time with their colleagues in a different setting. This is important if you want the team to get to know each other in a neutral environment where everyone is on equal turf and the organizational levels are flattened. It is also a great way to create collective memories that are not connected to the office.

True team building, often labeled management training and employee development, focuses on using the experiential learning approach to strengthen, build and increase team performance. Experiential learning fosters an environment of accelerated learning through self-discovery and participation. People see, understand and experience how their own behaviour significantly impacts their job performance when experiences are linked to real-world situations. A day spent learning to understand, recognize and adapt behaviour and communication styles leads to mutual appreciation and a better work environment. This is a valuable use of a day to refine your team goals and figure out how to capitalize on the strengths of each employee.

Which Type of Team Building Best Suits Your Needs?

The next time you are considering a team building event, use the following guidelines to determine which type will get you the results you are looking for.

Management Training and Employee Development

  • When managers are looking to understand their team dynamics and improve communication effectiveness within their team.
  • When there are frequent disagreements among team members; employees are consumed with politics rather than focus on their work.
  • When the team has formed cliques that work well with each other - but not with the whole group.
  • When a team has experienced change, such as: a new manager, new employees, merger, acquisition, layoffs or new products.

Games or Outdoor Adventure

  • When managers are looking for a fun day out of the office where people will enjoy each other in a non-business setting.
  • When managers are looking to reward their team for hard work and achieving specific goals.
  • When a company wants to inject their team with creativity and inspire their imagination to come up with new ideas.
For businesses to thrive in the conditions today, we must work together in a new paradigm. Now more than ever, we are dependant on the talents, strengths, know-how of each other. The need for interdependence and working in teams has been driven to new levels. Teams that are highly effective, with managers that excel at facilitating interrelation between co-workers, have an undeniable edge at becoming the success stories of tomorrow.

Managing Employees - Capitalize On Your Employees Talents

October 1, 2007 by Ruth Gmehlin, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

Ask anyone to recall their best manager and one individual always stands out. Now ask what set this manager apart from all the others, and you will get as many answers as people asked. There is a common thread however. Each of these best managers recognized, capitalized on, and appropriately rewarded the unique talents and strengths of their employees. This process not only makes good people sense, but also good business sense.

The Common Managerial Mistake

In terms of employee development, the traditional focus of a manager has been to identify the weaknesses of their employees and help develop a plan to overcome them. What is the result of only focusing on weaknesses? A well-rounded group of mediocre employees, all adapting and striving to be equally good at the same things, curbing their natural abilities and letting their unique talents wither, while focus is placed on bringing their weaknesses up to par.

Assuming that the hard skills required for the job are acceptable, mediocre managers define what they perceive to be weak behaviour and then create a plan with the employee to work on this before their next evaluation. For example, an assertive manager feels that their employee is not being aggressive enough in meetings and suggests during the review process that the employee needs to adapt their style to be more dominating. This manager does not realize that the natural style of the employee to influence coworkers is through networking and relationship, yielding the same results, with a different approach.

The Mindset of the Best Manager

The best managers do not try to change the style of others; they are aware that their people differ in how they approach problems and challenges, how they deal with others, how they handle change and pace in their work environment, and how they work with procedures set by the organization. The best managers recognize, capture and utilize the unique style each person brings to the team.

Some tools managers use are behavioural assessments, one-on-one discussions, and team workshops to learn about the styles and strengths of their employees and then put strategies in place on how to profit from th unique offerings of each person.

The Supporting Research

As important as it is for managers and their employees to be self aware and know their weaknesses, it is even more important to be aware of their strengths and capitalize on them. Research in social learning theory and cognitive psychology proves that self-assurance, which means to be truly aware of the strengths of others, is the strongest predictor of a persons ability to set high goals, to persist in the face of obstacles, and ultimately achieve success. By contrast self-awareness or too much focus on weaknesses has not shown to be a predictor of any of these outcomes, and in some cases it appears to hinder them.

The Benefits of Capitalizing on the Strengths of Employees

  • Retaining employees. It costs an organization up to three times an employees salary when they leave to attract, hire and train a new employee. Employees feel fulfilled when their managers recognize and reward their strengths. Over 80% of people who leave organizations do so because they are not fulfilled by their manager or the work environment, not for monetary reasons.
  • More productive work environment. When a manager focuses on what is unique about each employee they introduce a healthy degree of disruption into the environment. This challenges the status quo of an organization and thus helps the company become more vital and able to continuously grow to meet the changing demands of the marketplace today.
  • Job satisfaction. This process makes each person more accountable and incites them to take ownership for their job performance. Capitalizing onthe strengths of each person gives a stronger sense of team, creating a healthy interdependency and helps people appreciate the particular skills and talents of others. Their coworkers fill in where they are lacking, and the unique abilities of each person come into play, supporting the old adage famously amended by Michael Jordan: There is no I in team, but there is in WIN.

Take Time to Invest in People Today

It takes time and effort for managers to learn about their employees strengths and motivators. Using a behavioural assessment tool to initiate the process is an excellent starting point. Consider the famous tale from Steven Covey about Sharpening the Saw. Suppose you came upon someone in the woods working to saw down a tree. They are exhausted from working for hours. You suggest they take a break to sharpen the saw. They might reply, I do not have time to sharpen the saw, I am too busy sawing! If they had stopped to take time to sharpen their tool, it would only take them a fraction of the time to actually complete this task and cut down the first tree. The point being illustrated here is that your employees strengths are your tools and it is important to recognize and take time to sharpen and hone them.

The best managers know that the most effective way to invest their time is to sincerely understand and appreciate the individual strengths of each employee and figure out how to best incorporate those strengths into their overall plan.

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