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Yes, WE Are an EFFECTIVE Team!

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effective-office-teamsBy Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

After watching Tom Cruise’s Oblivion for the hundredth time, I started to focus on one of the main themes of the movie—effective teams.

In the movie, Sally, the figure head for the aliens, asks Tom Cruise’s partner, Victoria, if they are an effective team. With the exception of one time, Victoria always responds that they are an effective team. Unfortunately, the first and last time that Victoria responds that they ARE NOT an effective team, she is killed.

Why did she believe that they were no longer an effective team? The teacher in me thought, “What can be learned from this theme”?

As more organizations recognize the value of team performance to the bottom line, it is important that we assess what makes a team effective. Leaders at organizations such as Zappos are convinced that flat organizations can be functional and productive if you motivate and coach your employees to work with one another for the common cause.

Nancy Martini posted a blog articled entitled, “Five Key Characteristics of An Effective Team” in 2013 and I believe the points are still valid two years later. Martini shares her thoughts on what the role of the manager should be in the development of an effective team.

I want to highlight how empowered employees can achieve the same results with minimum supervision as long as they understand the purpose and mission of the organization.

Meaningful Common Purpose

Martini’s Thoughts – Each team member has to understand and commit to the purpose and goal. The manager is responsible for defining expectations and responsibilities and that each person is properly aligned for his or her role.

Another Way of Looking at the Picture Through a Different Lens – Why should a manager be responsible for driving the process? At this point, there is an opportunity to secure employee buy-in by empowering them to be a part of the process. In today’s workplace, employees want meaningful and interesting work. As a result, more are inclined to be a part of creating departmental goals as they relate to the overall company mission. I would recommend having a big push on communicating the organization’s mission, vision, goals, and values to all employees in an effort to obtain support for the common cause. The manager can take a coach role and provide guidance throughout the team formation process. Allow the team to develop a shared charter, which will list roles and responsibilities as agreed upon by each team member.

[Related: Good Intentions, Poor Leadership]

Clear Performance Goals

Martini’s Thoughts – What does success look like and will you know when you have arrived? The manager is responsible for ensuring that team members know the end goal and the game plan.

Another Way of Looking at the Picture Through a Different Lens – We can build on the first characteristic by allowing the team to develop a timeline that will allow it to meet the organizational deadline. The organization is responsible for sharing the vision so that the team can establish what their role is and when they know that they have reached the end goal. The manager is still in the coaching role, but can obtain information from the leadership to pass down to the team so they stay on track.

Diversity of Skill and Personality

Martini’s Thoughts – Managers should consider having people with different perspectives and skills on the team in an effort to increase creativity and innovation.

Another Way of Looking at the Picture Through a Different Lens – At this point, there is an opportunity to allow the team to discover and become aware of the gifts and talents that each team member holds. The manager can facilitate an icebreaker that will encourage the team members to get to know one another. When I was in this role, I suggested each member complete the Myers Brigg Inventory. Once completed, the members had the opportunity to share their results and address whether or not they felt it was an accurate assessment.

Strong Communication and Collaboration

Martini’s Thoughts – Effective communication between the manager and team sets the foundation for collaboration. Behavioral data can assist managers with understanding individual communication styles and motivating factors, which can assist managers with predicting potential problems and how to approach shared goals.

Another Way of Looking at the Picture Through a Different Lens – How do we encourage collaboration between the team members? Sharing the information from the Myers Briggs Inventory allows each of the members to compare their style with the style of the others. Each member has an opportunity to see where and how he or she fits. This process makes completing the team charter easier as individuals take on roles and responsibilities that are conducive to their personalities and preferred work styles. In addition, the team has the opportunity to observe how each member compliments one another as well as what mechanisms need to be put into place if conflict arises.

Trust and Commitment

Martini’s Thoughts –If you don’t have trust, you can’t build rapport among the team. As a result, productivity can suffer. However, utilizing data on individual team behavior and motivators can assist managers with ensuring that an effective team is built and sustained.

Another Way of Looking at the Picture Through a Different Lens – What happened to Victoria’s character when she stopped trusting Tom’s character? She was killed. Lack of trust can kill a team. In my opinion, the team should build in checkpoints at certain milestones. The purpose of the checkpoint would be to take a time out and reaffirm commitment to the shared vision. It’s the perfect time to ask, “I’m okay, are you okay?” It is the manager’s responsibility to ensure that the environment is safe so that members can be transparent and authentic.

[Related: Competencies in Context]

About the Author: Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University System. She has over 25 years of experience assisting organizations and individuals with transformation and change.

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