The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Monday, February 27, 2012

PARALLEL THINKING PATTERNS OF EFFECTIVE TEAMS








Teams can allow for the efficient pooling of ideas when developing practical solutions to complex worksite challenges. They can also create complex solutions to practical challenges if not checked. Many organizations rush headlong into the dissolution of traditional management structures, eliminating one (or more) layers of management, anticipating that employees will immediately embrace the opportunity to “make a difference” and work together towards the accomplishment of a single corporate objective. Sadly, such a transformation rarely happens easily.

When people perform individually, it is relatively easy to identify and measure both the effort expended and the results achieved. It is human nature, however, that people prefer to accept credit without blame, exhibit authority without wanting accountability, and make decisions without assuming responsibility for potential negative consequences. Organizations embracing the formation of teams before recognizing these characteristics may not realize their anticipated results. Before abandoning an even marginally successful “traditional” management structure, consider the following:

Teams must receive training to understand how each member fits into the process, leveraging every member’s unique abilities to make the “sum of all parts” a greater contributor to the Organization’s bottom line than would have been their potentially conflicting individual efforts.

Teams should receive an overall direction that defines their authority and any boundaries that may exist before they can operate independently. Management should provide the “content” to be considered, not necessarily the context with which to consider it. Do not try to control a team. An effective team should provide workable solutions that result in the group’s endorsement and “buy-in,” which will help to assure success in its efforts.

Most effective teams have a leader. A formal (or informal) leader will serve to keep the team “on task” and focused - to push through individual preferences as solutions are developed. A spokesperson will typically arise within a team – do not discourage the process. While teams are great “action units,” they often need to rally behind a champion to accomplish their group goals.

Teams should act through consensus rather than taking a “majority rules” approach. To achieve the best chance of success, every team member should agree on a solution prior to its being implemented as taking a vote and moving towards the solution that MOST feel is acceptable does not provide for group buy-in AND tends to create “win/lose” situations.


Work teams introduce multiples into an organization – stretching the limitations of an individual through the power of group thought. This power creates new solutions by applying different ideas and perspectives to tried and true processes. Do not expect team members to achieve success by taking untested ideas through an unmonitored process with little or no training.

Teams are like electrical circuits. Teams that “think in series” (one action accomplished before moving on to the next):

Accumulate a number of ideas before working through them one at a time.

Are like a single electrical wire extending over a long distance carrying a defined amount of power through a limited channel. All productive activity stops if the singular focus of such a team is disrupted.

Since all actions are funneled through a single “thought-line” in a series circuit, it will take a longer time to distribute the power of the team.


Teams that “think in parallel” (many actions taking place at the same time focused to produce a single result) establish alternate routes, paths or patterns in the problem solving process allowing great things to happen through grouped abilities. When teams “think in parallel” they:

Anticipate obstacles before they occur to function more effectively.

Channel a “defined amount of power” through multiple lines, carrying it to its pre-determined destination quicker.

Allow activity to shift to another avenue (rather than being taken off-line) should a disruption occur.


Teams properly assembled, trained, and allowed to function without disruptive outside interference pay multiple dividends. Several heads are better than one when multiple and diverse thought patterns can be melded into a singular action accomplishing significant results. Focusing on the importance of individual contributions tends to minimize the effectiveness of teams. When creating teams, however, leverage the collective spirit of individual entities – but focus a team’s actions through an internal filter (leader) to make sure that all interests are served, all ideas are gathered and everyone is “on the same page” when action is taken.