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Building a Great Team

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Feedback from our clients around the world tells us that Team Dynamics is one of the biggest barriers to production attainment. Chances are, you work in a team, as a member and/or as a leader. But what makes teams work effectively? Do you know of any teams that are holding back productivity and goal attainments?

“The world is so complex, no one person has the skills or knowledge to accomplish all that we want to accomplish. What’s changing is the understanding and appreciation that there is a science behind how to manage teams”. SUZANNE BELL, PHD, DEPAUL UNIVERSITY, CHICAGO

Start by recognising the deep level factors

Sometimes teams just seem to click without too much effort, working together seamlessly and producing great work. Other collaborations crash and burn. Surface level attributes of individual team-members – such as age, gender, skills background and professional reputation – are important to the team’s overall function, but they aren’t necessarily the defining factors; what matters most are the deep level factors such as team members’ personality traits, values and abilities. These deep level factors are the ABCs of teamwork (Attitudes, Behaviours, and Cognitive states) that collectively have a significant influence on whether a team achieves the goals and objectives.

TAKE AWAY #1 – Teams are complex systems. The more you can manage them using a scientific basis, the better your teams will be.

But be warned; this is not as easy as doing a course on ‘DISC’ or ‘Myer Briggs’! You are now entering the realm of consciously interacting with a group of individuals that have very different personalities.

Many of you will have taken “tests” to determine your personality (some that come to mind are DISC; Myers Briggs Type Indicator; IQ Tests; EQ Tests). These are generally useful to understand something of your team members attitudes and reactions to certain situations, however, no matter how much you try to understand your team members’ personalities, this alone will not increase the performance of your team.

The Magic Potion

An effective team requires the right science being applied to the ABC’s. Research has led to several core ideas. One such idea is the distinction between taskwork and teamwork. Taskwork is the work that teams’ members must do to complete a mission, assignment or to achieve on-going goals. Teamwork is the interrelated thoughts, feelings and behaviours of team members that enable them to work effectively together. Understanding the elements that allow teams to function well – team cohesion and shared mental models, for example – is important for forming, training and evaluating teams.

“How well people work together may well be more important than how well they work on the tasks. The secret sauce comes from teamwork”. Gerald F. Goodwin, PHD U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioural and Social Sciences.

 TAKE AWAY #2 – The task is important, but it will be the teamwork that makes it happen effectively

Why is this Team in existence?

A clear and relevant context plus ambitious but achievable objectives are relevant for any team; without which, the team is doomed from the beginning. By the way, this is relevant whether it’s an ongoing operations team or a project team with a sunset objective. In forming a team, the context and the objectives will provide the reference for planning and acquiring the skills, resources and mix of personalities required to make an effective team. For example:

  • If the team’s goal is to design a new digital, geological tool or survey tool, it’s a good idea to build a team with diverse thinkers who bring a range of knowledge, skills and abilities to the
  • If the team’s goal is to design more efficient processes, diverse attitudes may be less critical than immediate experience.

Once the team is formed, the context and the objectives are crucial to provide:

  • A common theme to encourage teamwork
  • A way for Team members to gauge their individual value in the team Measurement of progress and success of the team

TAKE AWAY #3 – Never underestimate the importance of the context and the objectives, without them the team is directionless, meaning your team of highly skilled, well-chosen team members will work their way to failure!

Team Cognition, Trust and Silo’s

Team cognition is what teams think, how they think together and how well synchronised their beliefs and perceptions are. It is what allows team members to understand intuitively how other team members will think and act in a given situation. Team cognition is important for teams that have to adapt to dynamic circumstances without having to communicate a lot. Team cognition will always be restricted when there is a lack of trust within and between teams.

It’s not unusual for a team to have a member that will regularly denigrate the ideas of others, not to present another opinion, but to make themselves “look better”. This indicates a severe lack of trust in the team.

Sometimes, it can be subtle and other times, it can be so rife, that it’s considered normal. A good example of this is when team members will constantly blame other people or other departments for their individual or team’s lack of performance.

Wide spread of ‘normal’ mistrust leads to “Silos”. Silo’s can sometimes be within a team and are often present across a series of teams. Silos are a significant barrier to achieving cognition and the exchange of ideas.

An important principle here that many forget – you don’t just want your managers to work as a team with their colleagues, you want all your department and section personnel to work as teams.

Organisations are political and every team in the organisation will be competing for resources, that’s natural, but it falls apart when a manager puts his or her departmental interests above the interests of the organisation.

TAKE AWAY #4 – Good leaders and managers must ensure all team members are thinking in the same way. They achieve this by ensuring team members understand the context and the objectives. Leaders and managers must also keep collaboration open and honest and related to the context and objectives.

Morale and engagement

If team cognition breaks down, mistrust is prevalent and the silos prevail, then morale will be low and employee engagement will diminish. The arguments between mining, processing and maintenance are historical, but if these disagreements are guided by mistrust and are not associated with common goals, then the rot has well and truly set in and the organisation will suffer.

Leaders and managers must recognise that their messages become immediately visible down the line. If their messages are contrary to the teams and organisations context and objectives, they will be creating the rod that will break the organisations back. Similarly, Leaders and Managers must recognise that constant wrong messages from team members will reduce morale and affect production. One person’s mood and outlook can spread, so a pessimistic team member could negatively influence the way the whole team performs.

TAKE AWAY #5 – Manage all communications and messages in context and keep them related to the organisations and team goals.


Training and development for Managers and Leaders

Getting back to the making it all come together, Leaders and Managers must apply the science. And the science needs to be learned and understood. Team building describes formal learning experiences that aim to improve specific team skills or competencies. To be a competent leader or manager, especially in the mining and engineering industries, you need to learn this science through education, learning, experience and practice.

“Team building is probably the No. 1 human resources intervention in the world” (Eduardo Salas, PhD Rice University, Houston).

Not all ‘team building’ is relevant. For it to be effective, it must be relevant to your organisation’s context and goals and show how to recognise, manage and encourage trust, moral and engagement while connecting silos. This training and development should also re-enforce your appreciation for the tools and systems your team needs to be successful.

TAKE AWAY #6 – No matter how smart you are in your chosen profession; this science of Teamwork requires specialist learning and experience.

“MONITOR ON PSYCHOLOGY” a special issue of American Psychologist (Vol. 73, No. 4, September 2018); adapted and augmented by Keith Bradley of the JAMIESON CONSULTING GROUP (June 2019)

Jacki FrohmullerBuilding a Great Team
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