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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Companies win through team building

By Carter Hammett
Special to The Toronto Sun

"Two's company, three's a crowd" states the old cliche, but in today's terminology, "three" can just as likely be a highly effective team composed of interdependent group members with a common goal at stake.

Today's management trends place much more emphasis on teams as cross-pollinating, multitasking units with collective input as decision makers and problem solvers. Burrowing through the barrage of buzz words, today's team theory supposes that the more ownership a group has over its work, the more pride and responsibility will be displayed in the final product.

Everyone brings skills, attributes, values and vision to a team, but when people come together to collaborate, there are two issues at stake: task and process. Task and problem solving are often the only things considered, but how the group acts as a cohesive unit can be just as important.

Teams generally tend to go through four stages in their life cycles: forming, storming, norming and performing.

During the forming stage, the group is busy trying to find its structure and getting to know each other and the task at hand.

Storming is characterized by a focus on personal relationships, group identity and positions within the group. Conflict about personal responsibilities and roles is frequent.

The norming stage happens when roles are finally established, members feel a sense of belonging to the team and start to communicate and share feedback. Individuals are more likely to accept tasks at this stage.

Performing occurs when the team achieves interdependence, begin working well as a group and focus on both the task, as well as the process of achieving collective goals.

At the performing stage, good, cohesive teams are concerned with the ongoing development of three things: the project, other team members and the larger corporation they are working for. If the team members feel well connected to their organization, they think of their performance in relation to corporate priorities, customer feedback and quality assessment.

A team well connected to each other will support group members voluntarily, cover for each other's weaknesses, share resources and congratulate each other. Commitment to the project can be displayed by working towards the goal and serving each other as "internal customers." They ask for feedback, engage in win-win negotiating over conflicts and demonstrate respect for the project and each other.

Team leaders play vital roles within the group and to an individual's contribution to the project. Once concerned with "top down" direction, today's manager is more concerned with promoting inclusion, confidence and competencies. The more team members contribute, the more the sense of ownership is felt.
Be inclusive!Acceptance of each team member is crucial. The piecing together of a team is like a puzzle, fraught with strengths and shortcomings. Remember that everyone has a different view to offer, and this is part of the group's strength.
Recognize habits, group behaviours and emerging behaviours. Meetings can become repetitive and unproductive. Throw in some games or stimulation exercises to get the group energized. In a few minutes, the group will look forward to contributing. Nobody ever said meetings have to be dull!
Focus on strengths and applaud the efforts of others.
Appreciate the risks others take. Because of the risks involved in building a solid team, look for every chance to applaud and encourage others for every effort.
Share information constantly and in many different ways. Offer opportunities to shadow each other and learn. Teams not committed to learning often get stuck in repetitive behaviours.
Provide opportunities for groups to discuss expectations of themselves, each other and the corporation. This takes time, but it's the forum where members learn to define their roles and determine how they fit in.

Team members also require steady and accurate communication, input, support and encouragement during the decision making process. When team members feel valued, involved and respected, they feel empowered and increase both commitment and productivity.

It's also important for team leaders to understand how groups fit into a company's business strategy. Leaders should be concerned about performance, management philosophies, accountability and organizational design, and realize there are many forms of collaboration. Managers are, in fact, partners with teams who are all working toward a common goal.

One model of team work should also not be applied across the board. Cross-training groups may come together for mere hours or several weeks. Self-directed teams have an established number working on a project for a year or more. Committees and focus groups may involve both core and supporting members for various and infrequent time frames.

It's crucial teams are clear on the purpose and mission of the group; that they operate in a collaborative structure to support the team's purpose. Chains of command, narrow job descriptions and hierarchies are gradually becoming things of the past. Today's teams are knowledgeable workers composed of diverse individuals who are concerned with sustainability, competence and ownership within the project, team and organization. As such, they are becoming more organic. When one part of the team is affected, all feel the loss.

A healthy team however, functions like a singer in tune with his song, and performs just as well.

(Toronto writer Carter Hammett [] is a Toronto-based writer, trainer and employment information officer.)

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