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Reload this page Team Development

This describes how to develop teamwork -- to achieve better coordination and cooperation in an organization -- as a short tutorial with word definitions.

Topics: on this page Charter on this page Continuous Improvement on this page Cross Functional Team on this page Culture on this page Department on this page Diversity on this page Function on this page Ground Rules on this page Customers on this page Self-Directed Teams on this page Milestones on this page Size of Teams on this page Team on this page Work Unit


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Music: Theme song from the Quantum Leap TV show

Traditional Departmental Hierarchies:

Organization Charts graphically illustrate the delegation of authority for what people are allowed to do.

Traditionally, authority is delegated down from the top officer of the organization to Executive Vice Presidents who in turn delegate responsibilities to levels of Directors until responsiblity is accepted by front-line Managers who are ultimately responsible for the performance of workers in a department. Under this hierarchical order of organization, an individual manager (a “boss”) personally decides who is in the department and what they do. The manager provides to his/her workers the information and resources provided from above.

As work becomes more complex, managers often find that more can be achieved quicker with less effort if the workers communicate and coordinate with each other as well as with their common boss. They try to form a team.

The trouble with a top-down "feudalistic" approach to delegation of authority is that people at the bottom do not feel "empowered". Workers tend to ignore requests unless they come from legitimate authority. Requirement for a primatur of authority to accompany requests require people at the top to work frantically (at work that has no real value). This sets up people at the bottom to be criticized for not taking "initiative".

But "peons" fear to take initiative because they see those who do are reprimanded for stepping outside the bounds of their authority, for "going over the heads" of their bosses or colleagues.

Not Every Group is a Team:

“A team is 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.”

—From The Wisdom of Teams, Harvard Business School Press, 1993.

A group of people is not truly a team unless that group meets all of these conditions for being a team. All the aspects of a team as specifically defined here may not apply to a department.

Nevertheless, many groups are called teams on the hope that they will achieve the ideal conditions for being a team.

Functions and Work Units:

Improvements in communication technologies is allowing organizations to be less dependent on the physical location of people as the basis for control and teamwork.

In some companies, a worker in Singapore and a worker in Paris could belong to the same department reporting to the same boss in Los Angeles.

Technology and intense competition is forcing management to shift their emphasis from hierarchy to function.

Functions define what tangible product is created and what service is delivered by a Work Unit.

A Work Unit is a group which performs related activities.

Departments and functions are two separate viewpoints of work. A department within an organization could be responsible for several functions, and several functions could be performed by a single department.

“When we have a conflict, we used to look at the Organization Chart and find out who reports to whom. Our culture has improved. Now when we have a problem with someone, we pull out Flowcharts of how products flow through the plant and schedules when we could communicate.”

Culture, Climate, and Norms:

The culture of an organization is what that organization considers desirable or not desirable. For example, some cultures find it desirable for each individual to achieve his/her own desires at the expense of other individuals. Other cultures find it desirable for individuals to sacrifice to achieve a common desire.

The climate of an organization defines what is considered acceptable behavior to maintain the culture -- to achieve what is desirable and to reject what is considered undesirable. (“SNAFU” is slang term which is an acronym for Situation Normal — All Fouled Up). For example, one organization may have a climate of open hostility where people often yell angry accusations at each other. Another organization may have a climate where people interact with smiles, apologies, and questions.

Norms are usually un-written but specific guidelines for specific actions in response to what the group considers acceptable or not acceptable. Many groups have found that they can be more productive if they consciously clarify their Norms

These are often called the "process" issues. They define the culture of a group or organization and the climate under which life is lived.

Establishing these norms early in the life of the group will reduce the amount of time needed at each meeting to address procedural issues.

Ground Rules:

The Methods Teams Use to Avoid Difficulties provide the reasons why each team role and action is needed.

Successful teams have found that consistently enforcing their own ground rules helps to create and protect an atmosphere most conducive to their common purpose.

Many teams have found that having their norms written down on paper (and put up on the wall while they meet) helps the efficiency and success of their group for several reasons:

  • It reminds everyone of how they should behave.
  • It makes enforcement (Intervention on dysfunctional behaviors) easier (and less personal) when people look at the rules rather than each other.
  • It helps people new to the group be aware of what's expected of them without having to make assumptions and take the risk of behaving inappropriately.

An important ground rule which is often not discussed is the level of individual personal subscription to the philosophy of continuous improvement and the need for change.

Continuous Process Improvement:

“Continuous Process Improvement is a belief that even already excellent products and services can be made better by always improving how work is done.”

This belief is reflected in an approach to working which includes on-going examination of how work gets done — consistently and methodically identifying problems and anticipating opportunities to achieve better results. Much of the work of improvement teams is conducted in group meetings which provide a forum and structure for teamwork. People in improvement team meetings typically:

Stages of Team Development:

  • explain what they do in terms of their outputs and the tools they use;
  • clarify the words used to describe how they work;
  • Storming:
  • express how satisfied they are with their tools, the climate of their organization, etc. ;
  • identify problems and opportunities ;
  • focus on who the team can help.
  • Norming:
  • deciding scope of team's desired impact.
  • develop plans to make desired changes;
  • Performing:  
  • collect data needed for wise decisions;
  • make wise and mutually satisfying decisions related to future actions;
  • conduct experiments to test changes;
  • analyze the impact of experimental changes;
  • publicize their learning and train others.
  • Many believe that a climate of open communication based on trust, mutual respect, and commitment to a common purpose enables teams to achieve better results more quickly and with less stress and waste.

    Quality Philsophy:

    “An organizational philosophy of commitment to provide the best possible products or services in response to the needs and expectations of internal and external customers.”

    More and more, customers and accrediting organizations (such as ISO 9000) ask for proof that continuous process improvement activities are occuring in the company.

    Organizations that adopt a quality philosophy typically restructure themselves toward more team approaches with a commitment to Continuous Process Improvement.

    Team Charter and Mission:

    The charter for a team is a written document which formally defines the scope (the limits) of the team and confers authority to the team — what that team is officially allowed to do. Some charters also define the outcomes expected from the group, such as greater volume of work produced, improvements in efficiency, better customer satisfaction ratings, etc.

    The team's mission is the team's own understanding of why it exists. It may be written or informal.

    If a group lacks a mission, its approach may tend to be fragmented as each member tries to fill the void of meaning by introducing their own person agenda — thus diffusing the team momentum toward specific achievements.

    A clear and commonly accepted reason for why the team is together provides the team a "touchstone" for the way the team identifies issues to work on, establishes priorities, handles conflicts, and makes decisions.


    The scope of the authority given a group can be defined by the stages of a project:
    • Just gather the facts. The leader/team will decide what is the next step.
    • Identify the alternatives for the leader/team to select.
    • Recommend a course of action for leader/team review and decision.
    • Decide what to do. Delay action until leader/team approves the go-ahead.
    • Decide what to do and do it, but let the leader/team know so he/she can object.
    • Just do it. Inform leader/team only of exceptions.
    • Follow-up on everything. Don't bother leader/team with it.
    The scope of a group's mission could be also be limited by


      the stage of work task:
      1. Preparations
      2. Setup
      3. Starting
      4. During
      5. Ending
      6. Follow-Up
        or the phases in Purchasing:
      1. Awareness
      2. Interest
      3. Evaluation
      4. Trail Participation
      5. Adoption
      6. Repeat Orders

    Team Size:

    The conventional wisdom is that teams are most effective when they are small, usually having no more than 15 members, and often between 5 and 10. The most effective teams achieve a balance between the diversity from a larger group and the dedicated focus more easily achievable in small groups. The conventional thinking is that the larger and diverse a group is, the more difficult it is (and the longer it takes) for them to come to a common agreement.

    However, recent innovations (such as electronic mail, shared databases, and opinion surveys) now allow a larger number of people to productively participate on a team than possible before.

    Complementary Diversity:

    Ideally, teams benefit from diversity (variety) in its membership because it would have a greater richness of skills, knowledge, experience, and perspectives. This richness is often needed to achieve the critical mass needed to implement changes and make them stick. The special contribution that a team makes to an organization is the creativity possible from its unique combination of skills, knowledge, experience, and perspectives.

    Greater diversity can means greater thoroughness.

    However, being thorough often requires the team to expand its scope and make more decisions. A team may not have the time to sort out all its decisions. Each individual on a team may need a certain amount of the group's "air time" to feel heard and included.

    So limits on the size of a group should be coordinated with limits on the scope of that team's charter. Also, teams may not need to be large if people outside the team can feel included in discussions and decisions. The representative form of government is one which a group elects one person to speaks and make decisions for his/her constituents in a larger body of representatives which makes decisions for the organization as a whole.


    “Customers are the people or groups who benefit from the services or products which the organization provides.” External Customers are individuals or organizations from outside of the organization.

    For example, external customers of a medical University include students, parents, patients, researchers, corporations, and the general public. Internal Customers and Support Functions are individuals or organizations from Customers within the company.

    Departments like Human Resources, MIS, Maintenance, and other "support" staff and groups serve primarily internal customers.

    The success of service to external customers is more dependent upon effective service to internal customers than most people realize.

    In more progressive organizations, managers consider themselves a support function to those they are responsible for.

    Cycle Time, Creativity, Control, and
    Skill Develpment:

    Many customers are asking their suppliers to speed up the tempo of design, build, and service activities.

    Progressive organizations are coming to realize that cutting time for the physical movement of products usually required cutting the time needed to make decision by those who handle the product -- among front-line workers and their supervisors.

    Progressive organizations are recognizing that it is difficult to cut cycle time, so they need greater creativity from everyone in and outside the organization. They are learning that creativity can come from anywhere in the organization.

    When attempting to tap the creativity of workers, organizations inevitably face issues of control — how much front-line workers should be allowed autonomous decision-making power.

    “It is human nature for higher-level commanders to reduce their uncertainty, driving their organizational orientation to greater centralized control. The cost for more control at the top is less autonomy at the bottom.”

    Some managers are reluctant to allow workers greater autonomy because it may jeopardize their own personal prestige and freedom of action. Traditionally, the way to "get ahead" is to get promoted to a "higher level" in the organization. To get more money, it is assumed that one had to become more responsible for more people and more departments.

    The dilemma with this structure is that this often forced good technical people into becoming bad managers. This also drained technical talent from the front lines.

    So in order to keep expertise in the front-lines, many organizations are redesigning their training, compensation, promotion, and communication policies.

    Progressive organizations now realize that good leadership skill can be developed over time.

    The key ingredient to creativity is knowledge about what other people inside and outside the organization are doing. This knowledge cannot usually be acquired on the job, since active benchmarking with other organizations is needed.

    When a manager's role is to be a conduit of information from higher levels of the organization. that manager gained power from the ability to withold information from others.

    However, the ability for anyone to instantly broadcast information to everyone at once is changes how managers create value for an organization.

    The skill most valued in today's “information Age” is the ability to inspire creativity because it is creativity which creates more competititve value.

    Rapid information flow also enables groups to make wise decisions quicker. More importantly, smooth information flow enables individual groups to take actions which benefit the entire organization as a whole rather than just themselves.

    Organization assemble cross-functional project teams to provide opportunities to develop in their people the interpersonal skills for politics and persuasion.

    Cross-functional Teams:

    “A cross-functional team is a group of people brought together from different functional areas to make recommendations or decisions about processes or products.”

    Membership will come from a number of areas within the department or organization. Suppliers or customers of the organization may also be included.

    A common concern for cross-functional teams is the extent which each member legitimately represents functional areas and levels of the organization. This is why such teams need both a top-down mandate from workers on the front lines.

    The degree of independent authority given to a cross-functional team should be specified in its Charter. Cross-functional teams are often charged with the responsibility to implement the decisions they make and the changes they recommend. A Team Charter may be either short-term or long-term.

    Many organizations who have been successful with cross-functional teams usually take the next step into self-managed teams.

    Self-directed Work Teams and Flat Organizations:

    “A team made up of a group of employees who share responsibility for a complete product or process, or accomplishment of a significant part of a process.”

    Membership in such a team may be made up of employees from the same level or from different levels of the organization. A manager or leader may also be a part of the team, however the role of the manager or leader with such an organizational structure is usually to provide guidance and support and to be a liaison to other teams and other parts of the organization rather than to control and authorize work.

    Self managed teams often use different words to reflect changes to the scope of authority. Rather than having a traditional manager who directs the people, self-managed teams have a coordinator who facilitates work performance. This coordinator is often elected from within the group to represent that group.

    Less managers means a flatter organizational structure, with less layers between the top officer and front-line workers.

    Increasingly, workers are being asked to make decisions.

    A necessary foundation for self-managed teams is widespread personal individual adoption of the Continuous Process Improvement approach toward work. Ultimately, the self-directed work team needs to be able to thoroughly monitor and correct its own work in a timely manner.

    Scripture “May the God who gives endurance and couragement give you a spirit of unity.” —Romans 15:5


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