How do managers create effective teams? The key components making up effective teams can be subsumed into four general categories: work design, team composition, resources and other contextual influences, and process variables that reflect the things that go on in the team.
Teams work best when employees have freedom and autonomy, the opportunity to utilise different skills and talents, the ability to complete a whole and identifiable task or product and a task or project that has a substantial impact on others. The evidence indicates that these characteristics increase team members' sense of responsibility and ownership over their work. They also make the work much more interesting to perform.
To perform effectively, every team requires three different sets of skills. It needs people with technical expertise, people with problem-solving and decision-making skills and people with good listening, feedback, conflict resolution as well as other interpersonal skills.
Personality significantly influences team behaviour. Teams that rate more highly in average levels of extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability tend to receive higher managerial ratings for team performance. The most effective teams are neither very small (under four or five) nor very large (over a dozen). Very small teams are likely to lack diversity of views while teams of more than 12 have difficulty getting much done.
Teams made up of flexible individuals have members who can complete each other's tasks. This is an obvious plus to a team because it greatly improves its adaptability and makes it less reliant on any single member. Not everyone is a team player. When people who would prefer to work alone are required to team up, there is a direct threat to the team's morale. This suggests that, when selecting team members, individual preferences should be considered as well as abilities, personalities and skills.
The three contextual factors that appear to be most significantly related to team performance are the presence of adequate resources, effective leadership, and a performance evaluation and reward system that reflects team contributions.
Work groups are part of a larger organisation system. As such, all work teams rely on resources outside the group to sustain them. And a scarcity of resources directly reduces the ability of the team to perform its job effectively.
Supportive resources include timely information, equipment, adequate staffing, encouragement and administrative assistance.
Team members must agree on who is to do what and ensure that all members contribute equally in sharing the workload. In addition, the team needs to determine how schedules will be set, what skills need to be developed, how the group will resolve conflicts and how the group will make and modify decisions. Agreeing on the specifics of work—and how to integrate individual skills—requires team leadership and structure.
How do you get team members to be both individually and jointly accountable? The traditional, individually oriented evaluation and reward system needs to be modified to reflect team performance. In addition to evaluating and rewarding employees for their individual contributions, management should consider group-based appraisals, small-group incentives and other system modifications that will reinforce team effort and commitment.
The final category related to team effectiveness is process variables. These include member commitment to a common purpose, establishment of specific team goals and a managed level of conflict.
Effective teams put a tremendous amount of effort into agreeing on a common and meaningful purpose that provides direction, momentum and commitment for members.
Successful teams translate their common purpose into specific, measurable and realistic performance goals. These goals help teams maintain their focus on getting results.
Conflict in a team isn't necessarily bad. Conflict can even improve team effectiveness, when it stimulates discussion, promotes critical assessment of problems and options and leads to better team decisions.