Encouraging a Productive Environment and Leading Teams Towards Success

Most everyone realizes that today’s business world requires that people work together with others to accomplish a common goal. Teamwork and being a “team player” is integral to operating successfully in business and at work. Many jobs and tasks are highly specialized and no single worker can do everything.  Even if you believe you are superhuman and can do it all, you’ll eventually need the help of others who have skills or resources that you don’t have.  By trying to do it all yourself, you’ll eventually make mistakes or burnout.  Learning how to create a productive team environment will go a long way in fostering a successful outcome.

“None of us is as smart as all of us.” – Ken Blanchard

Everything that a team does together can only either move them towards the common goal or away from it.  Poorly led teams often waste time and have trouble staying on topic.  Furthermore, poor team development can even lead to feuding and fighting.  As a leader, you have the influence and the power to change the course of how things are going.  Don’t be afraid to step up and take the reins when it’s clear that no one else is leading the group.  A team who works well together has a clear direction and purpose with properly set goals and milestones.

STack of self supporting rocks

Stages of Team Development

There are many ideas and theories on how teams form and development. Understanding the basics of team formation and team dynamics will help you lead a team better. One of the more famous theories regarding the team development process was created by a psychologist by the name of Bruce Tuckman.  His theory explained team growth and development as a cycle of five stages.  These stages are: 1) Forming, 2) Storming, 3) Norming, 4) Performing, and 5) Adjourning.  Each stage of team formation is explained in more detail below.

Forming – Initially when a team is formed there is often anxiety and uncertainty.  At this stage, levels of trust are likely low and there is no sense of “team spirit.”  A team at this stage is unstable and searching for a leader to guide them and set the tone for the future.

Storming – During this stage, the team members begin exploring their roles and testing the boundaries of the group.  This is where subgroups or cliques can develop that, if not curtailed now, can impact the team’s future productivity and chances for success.

Norming – In this stage, a leader of the team emerges from within the group and takes control of working to bring everyone together to meet the team’s mission.  This leader is often well respected within the group and may not necessarily be the same person as the manager or supervisor.  Since the team leader is often naturally selected, a foundation of trust has already been built for which the next stages can be built upon.

 Performing – In this stage, the team is working well together and getting things done. Often there is little conflict and people are collaborating and helping each other succeed.  This primarily occurs under good leadership in conjunction with clearly defined goals and expectations.

Adjourning – In this final stage, the team has accomplished their mission.  The work is complete and people can take a step back and reflect on the team’s success.

A Great Team is Interdependent

A good team is well led and focuses on building trust and harmony between the participants. Trust between members is a cornerstone in having an effective team that can accomplish extraordinary things.  Without trust you have nothing. Along the same lines as trust, a good team that works well together has open lines of communication between all of its members.  Everyone should be able to rely on everyone else to do their part and to support each other.  The leader of the team should show that everyone is valued and that everyone’s contribution is important.

In any team, you have to remember that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  As one unified unit working towards a common goal, you can accomplish more than you ever could individually.  Each person has a skill or ability that only they uniquely possess.  As a leader, it’s your job to bring out the best in people and ensure that everyone is being utilized to their maximum practical extent for the greater good. When everyone is working well together, like a well-designed and well-oiled machine, you have achieved team interdependence.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” -Michael Jordan

The Relationship Between Morale and Productivity

Team Huddling up

It’s obvious that teams who are happy and enjoying each other’s company will work better together than those who don’t.  In addition, leaders who make the team’s job easier (and more rewarding) will likely see improved productivity and better results from the group.  When team morale is high, there is no limit to what your team can accomplish.  Little things won’t get in the way of productivity and people’s emotions will support productive behavior.

Improving morale is something that has to be improved over time as there is no “quick fix” for instantly boosting it.  If you observer low morale, start by speaking with each team member individually and explain your mission and vision for the group and then spend time asking them questions and listening to them.  Simply taking the time to listen to people and valuing their opinions as well as their personalities will help to set a great tone with the team.

Leaders should also challenge any policies, procedures, and processes that are hampering people’s ability to work efficiently which is often a big contributor to low morale. In my work team, we have had a few individuals who were unhappy with the software options and security settings on their computers. They felt it was slowing them down and making it difficult to do a good job. Furthermore, overly restrictive security measures added to the frustration when things that should be easy to do became extremely time-consuming. I took the grievances of the workers to heart worked with my supervisor and our IT Department to get things changed. We even got a “free pass” to purchase and install better software to the liking of the employees.  The results?  Morale went up as did productivity.

Another thing leaders can do to build morale is to take time to have some fun every once and a while.  As a team, work on a fun project, volunteer together at a local school or business, or just go out and have an enjoyable business lunch or dinner.  Some things that I have personally tried include having team lunches and holding contests and competitions (with rewards for winning of course).  For example, when working on improving our company’s website, I held a photography contest to get some great images.  Instead of people begrudgingly obtaining photos or avoiding the task completely, I was overwhelmed with great photos from almost everyone! Taking the time to have a little fun with your team will result in happier workers who want to contribute and perform.

Avoid Groupthink and The Asch Effect

team meeting learning chartWhen encouraging teams to work together it can sometimes be challenging to get individuals to speak up and speak their mind about issues or controversial topics that the team may be facing. In certain team environments, one or two individuals may dominate the conversation or make others feel uncomfortable.  If this occurs, it could create a situation where groupthink or the Asch effect takes over which can stymie innovation and creativity. The uncomfortable team members may just “agree to agree” or otherwise conform to the whims of the group to avoid being singled out, shut down, or criticized. Coerced conformity can also occur if leaders are overbearing or if the team is under excess pressure to perform and produce results.

To avoid these conformity issues, leaders need to take a step back and work to ensure that all team members have a voice.  In addition, it’s vital to make it clear that all employee opinions will be valued and that people won’t be criticized for their responses or contributions. Work with any dominating team members to help encourage a good team spirit.

In some team situations, it can help to use techniques like forming subgroups or asking for individuals to provide you with written information (perhaps anonymously).  This can help to bring about better responses from the team since they won’t fear being criticized by others.  When you can create an environment of trust, friendship, and camaraderie, the team will make better decisions and offer more well-rounded solutions to problems and challenges.

Why Some Teams Fail

Dominoes being knocked over.There are a number of reasons why teams may fail at accomplishing their goals.  First and foremost would be a lack of leadership.  Lacking individual and/or shared leadership amongst the team members can easily result in a team who is not productive and that eventually falls apart. Aside from poor leadership, one of the biggest reasons that a team may fail is that there is a lack of trust between the team members.  If no time is taken to build trust, or if things that break down trust are allowed to grow, the team will not work well together.

All teams are different and all teams are dynamic. Disagreements between members will occur at times. Disagreements can actually be a great thing for fostering innovation. However, disagreements need to be effectively managed in a civilized way so that it adds to productivity rather than taking away from it.

Other potential issues/challenges that can cause a team to fail include unresolved personality conflicts, resistance to change, unrealistic expectations, and a failure to have a plan. Lack of emphasis on the process and undefined or ambiguous goals can also make it difficult for a group to experience success. In the end, the leader’s role is to create an environment where the team can work cohesively together ultimately resulting in success and accomplishment of the mission.

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