Teams are the backbone of most organizations – almost everyone who has been employed has been a member of a team at one time or another. This article seeks to explore the conditions that are necessary for effective team performance. Teams have a few things in common: they have clear boundaries on membership (you’re either in the team or you’re not), team members have a shared goal or objective, and they rely on each other to accomplish it. However, there is one very important thing that teams do not have in common: effectiveness. Ask yourself, When was the last time you were on a phenomenal team? Maybe a team that failed? What was it about you, your team, its leader, or the organizational context that made it so successful or unsuccessful?
Almost any time you put a group of people together and ask them to do something, their results and the processes they use to achieve them will be different. Teams have enormous variability in their rates of success and failure, which is something that is just as evident to those who have been on a couple of teams as it is to the scientists and researchers that study them. There are countless books that claim to know the secrets of successful teamwork, and while many of them have valuable insights, they are often based on the anecdotes and observations of a few stand-out teams. There is also a world of research out there that examines factors of team performance across large samples in multiple contexts. In one such review of decades of research, Larson & LaFasto specified conditions that are necessary for effective teamwork in that they all have significant positive relationships with effectiveness and satisfaction. Does your team demonstrate these factors?
Conditions for Effective Teams
- A clear and motivating goal
- Clearly identified individual roles and responsibilities (e.g., org charts that are easily available and regularly updated)
- A system that promotes effective communication (e.g., sending meeting agendas out to members two days prior; encouraging all members to openly share information)
- A system for monitoring performance and providing specific, relevant, and direct feedback to members
- Team members that are competent in both technical skills and interpersonal skills
- A shared commitment towards its goals
- A climate that promotes collaboration
- Clear standards for excellent performance
- Support and recognition from the organization
Assess your own team by creating a pulse survey and having team members rate the conditions above! Specifically, list each condition (above) as a single item then have members to rate each by asking “To what extent overall does your team have (insert condition here).” Use the following four-point scale to rate each item: (1) Not at all, (2) Somewhat, (3) To a moderate extent, (4) To a great extent. Also, make sure you protect their identity and anonymity (e.g., create a drop-box where they can put paper surveys or use SurveyMonkey to do it online and send them the link).
When you collect the results, calculate the average score for each of the nine items separately and use the scoring key to identify your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Items that are scored the lowest should be given serious review by your team and effort should be taken to improve them. This can be done in a collaborative way by asking team members to meet, brainstorm ideas for improving that area, create a clear action plan, implement and stick to it! The great thing about teams is that they can almost always be improved.
- 0 to 1: A clear weakness that is most likely hurting team performance… fix me!
- 1 to 2: A moderate concern that should be addressed in the near future – could lead to trouble if left unchecked.
- 2 to 3: Not a weakness but not quite a strong point either.
- 3 to 4: A clear strength that can be leveraged. This is contributing to the performance and satisfaction of your team – good job!
If you want to save time, we have developed several team effectiveness scorecards and would be happy to share them with you. Just drop us a line. Happy teamwork!
Related articles on teamwork and group performance:
- Virtual Teams
- Team Cohesion and Knowledge Sharing
- Project Team Effectiveness
- Why Should Teams Debrief?
Larson, C. E., & LaFasto, F. (1989). Teamwork: What must go right/what can go wrong. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.