Teams - a group of individuals brought together with a specific purpose in mind - have been around since time immemorial. Yet it is only within the last quarter century or so that the importance of teams has been recognised as an important aspect of business.
During this recent time much has been written about the need to understand the processes involved in team building and working. Teams, it must be remembered, are not created overnight, they have to develop, mature and sometimes eventually to end.
Writing in the mid-1960s, Tuckman suggested that it is possible to identify four distinct stages of development through which teams pass:
- Initially the members meet and begin to learn about each other. The team is simply a collection of individuals who are finding out about one another and about the task, even though at this stage the task may not be clear. Team members are at this stage uncomfortable with each other. This is the so-called ‘forming’ stage.
- The second stage is called ‘storming’ because there is conflict. The ideas, attitudes and behaviour which team members have brought with them are challenged and sometimes dismissed. Competition between team members is typical at this time, but if the members come through this stage then a strong team will ensue.
- The third stage, called ‘norming,’ is so called because the team is settling down and establishing the norms under which it will operate. Experiments with ideas establish the norms. It is at this stage that the team establishes patterns of behaviour, levels of trust and decision methods.
- Finally, the team is complete, working together and capable of performing to its full capability. Conflicts, roles and problems of adjustment have been resolved, the team has entered the ‘performing’ stage.
However, more recent writers have noted a fifth stage, that of ‘dorming.’ This is the dangerous stage, the team has become complacent and lost interest, its sole concern is self preservation.
Students often confuse Tuckman’s interesting ideas on teams with those of Belbin. The difference is quite clear; Tuckman deals with the process of formation, whilst Belbin describes the roles undertaken once the team has formed and is working.
Teams are in their way complicated bodies. Other writers have noted that when a team has been established, everyone must share the same goals, objectives and tasks. However, Woodcock for example, writes that there are many barriers to successful team building and activities.
These include ineffective leadership and unclear objectives, a lack of motivation in the team or from management and poor interpersonal relationships and communication. If teams do not perform, it is often because of lack of leadership and, as so often with management, everyone knows what a leader does until asked to describe such a role.
Leadership is multi-skilled and recognises that the completion of a task is dependent upon leading and motivating others. It includes the ability to inspire confidence, to explain decisions, to motivate and the ability to communicate objectives clearly and concisely.
This multi-skilled approach reflects modern thinking on leadership, which dismisses the outmoded idea that a leader need only possess just one skill. In reality, modern writers assert, leadership involves a number of skills, based on three factors:
- the needs of the task
- the individual
- the group or team.
This idea has become known as ‘action centred leadership’; the leader is striving constantly to balance the relative priorities of all three factors whilst maintaining effective leadership. He or she has to consider the needs of the task in hand, the objectives, planning and control whilst also attending to the needs of the team itself, such as education and training. The development of individual skills and motivation also needs attention.
Above all, leaders and team members need to communicate; effective and accurate communication is vital in all organisations. Communication within an organisation is also complex, but can be simplified by controlling the flow of information, lessen feelings of isolation by walking about and avoiding ambiguity and encouraging simplicity.
The message itself can often be the problem, messages should be simple, to the point and free of jargon and complexities. Feedback is, of course, essential to ensure that communication is understood and acted upon.
The simple way to communicate is on a personal, face-to-face basis, so that ideas can be clarified, motivation improved and listening skills developed. This, of course, pre-supposes that any message being communicated is relevant, structured, jargon free and understood.
Team building, leadership and communication do not just simply happen, they need to be understood and practised.