Team Building in the Workplace

You will probably have been a member of several teams during your life - for example, a sports team, theater group, church group, bridge club, etc. As a result, you should already have some understanding of how teams function and what motivates them to be successful.

As useful as this knowledge is, it is worth pointing out some of the differences between these types of non-work teams and those teams that you will need to manage as part of your job.

Firstly, teams that are outside of a working environment are usually made up of people who have a common set of beliefs and have actively chosen to join. Secondly, the team objective will be clear and universally agreed. Thirdly, anyone who does not fit in with the group will tend to leave of their own accord. Finally, in the case of a sports team, the captain can field the best players and leave the rest on the bench.

Things are very different with workplace teams.

As a manager you will often be presented with a team to manage which may or may not have a track record of success. Some of the team members may be enthusiastic, but some may not. People who don't fit in or who don't agree with the goals of the team may be reluctant to leave and it may be impossible to get rid of them. In addition, the people in your team are unlikely to have a common motivator as each one is influenced by their own personal career aspirations. Sometimes, the goals that the team has been set may be either impossible to achieve or inappropriate.

Despite all of these constraints, there are certain core principles of team building that will help you get the best out of any team that you find yourself managing.

This eBook explores three very different teams and describes how the principles of team building can be applied to each one. These example teams have been chosen because they represent the three most common types of team in the modern workplace.

The first example is typical of a multi-disciplinary project team that has been assembled to complete a particular piece of work. In this example, the team leader does not have total managerial control over all of the team members, which is normal with this type of team.

The second example is typical of a team that is performing an ongoing business process, in this case a telephone support team. In this example, the issues facing the team leader have more to do with maintaining team morale than with the work itself, which is reasonably straightforward.

The third example is typical of a team that is engaged in strategic planning. In this example, none of the team members report directly to the team leader and the goals of the team are changing all the time.

The issues facing the leader of each of these teams are discussed in detail. Even if your team does not match one of these scenarios exactly, there are still certain principles that will apply to your own team and it is up to you to interpret how best to apply them.

A Note About Team Leadership
The most important part of leading a team in the modern workplace is to be the person that others choose to follow. Even where compulsion is possible, it tends not to work very well. If you want to take a leadership role, then the most important questions you can ask are:

Which leadership style is the most appropriate to my team?
How can I alter my behaviors to become this type of leader?

The answers to these questions depend on your role, your team, and the task at hand. This aspect of team leadership is covered in the eBook 'Team Leadership' which you can download free from this website.

Successful team building and motivation in the workplace has more to do with applying some key principles to the team you have been given, rather than recruiting 'perfect' team members in order to build an ideal team from scratch.

The four key principles of team building are:

Define Success Criteria
This means defining and communicating the team objective so that it is easily understood by everyone and allows all team members to contribute, regardless of their skills and experience. This Team Briefing Checklist walks you through the process of preparing a team briefing.

Lead by Example
Leading by example means exhibiting the same professional behaviors to everyone you interact with, whether they are inside or outside your team. This includes customers and suppliers as well as other people within your organization.

Value All Contributions
You will need to show that you value each member of the team and that their views matter to you regardless of the role they play. One simple way to exhibit this is by ensuring all views are heard when talking about issues at a team meeting or discussion.

Reward Success
You will usually have the ability to reward those team members you are directly responsible for. However, the extent to which you are able to offer truly motivating rewards, especially monetary, will be influenced by your organization's culture and the amount of decision-making power you have.

There will always be certain factors in any team management situation where you have little or no control. These may include: team membership, team rewards, and individual rewards.

The principles of team building offer a basis for your understanding but you will need to modify them to suit your organization and team composition. Remember, focus your time on managing the aspects of team building you can affect and work within the constraints you have to accept.

Academic Studies into Team Building - There have been two influential studies that you should be familiar with: Bruce Tuckman's 'Stages for a Group' and Richard Hackman's 'Five Factor Model'. This eBook describes both of these in detail and explains how they can help you with practical day-to-day team building and team leadership.

You may also be interested in:
Team Building Principles | Different Types of Teams | Project Team Example | Support Team Example | Steering Team Example.

Key Points

  • You may find it impractical to apply much of the advice you read on team building, particularly if it is based on academic studies or the work of management consultancies.
  • There will be certain factors in any team management situation where you have little or no control. These may include: team membership, team rewards, and individual rewards.
  • The principles of team building offer a basis for your understanding but offer little in terms of practical day-to-day advice and assistance.
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