Assessing your work team

WHEN I am asked how I assess my work team without psychotherapy or climbing ropes in an adventure course, I usually answer with a couple of questions: “Are you sure you have a team?” and “What exactly are you looking for?”

Work teams are actually quite specific things and it is useful to recognise the difference between these and what I would call workgroups. Team development gurus, Katzenbach and Smith, define a work team in terms of: “A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

Would your people fit this definition? A small number is probably less than 10 at work (as opposed to the possible size of a sports team, by contrast). When work teams exceed this number they tend to splinter into sub-groups socially and this will affect their dynamics and sense of unity.

Complementary skills can range from wordprocessing to Chartered Accounting, providing that the people are prepared to collaborate and work towards objectives with a consistent level of commitment. It is not enough to have a group of ‘stars’ in a team if they won’t share the black holes as well as the limelight.

There must be a sense of mutual responsibility separate from hierarchy to derive genuine benefit from working together.

If your people are unable to share these attributes, chances are they are a workgroup. If this is the case then their capacity to collaborate effectively will diminish significantly.

Consequently, developing people in such formats will deliver different outcomes – which brings us back to what you are looking for when you assess your people.

There are a number of useful headings for standardised team assessment, which I have put into a table (see above)

I usually get the team leader and the team members to fill in this questionnaire separately. It quickly gives an idea about what are the most important aspects of your team on which to focus.

Whereas goal agreement may be as clear as crystal in the mind of the team leader, it is amazing how differently it may be seen by members.

A typical case is where getting a late document in the mail may be seen by the clerical person in the team as more important than advising the client of the delay (which may be the leader’s priority).

Leadership covers a wide range of issues, from delegation to training. Feedback related to these requires honesty from the team leader and candour from members. Conflict may be founded around the quality of communication in the team and the ability of members to negotiate with one another.

Role clarity is often linked to performance outcomes. These can be complicated by changing priorities or peaks and troughs in demand.

Skill development may be overlooked in very busy teams.

This can lead to dissatisfaction over time. Inter-group relations may deteriorate and may need direct intervention by leaders, or else social activities to break down ‘us’ and ‘them’ antagonisms.

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