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, August 8, 2016

ESTABLISHING AND MAINTAINING A HIGHLY EFFECTIVE TEAM

When people perform individually, it is relatively easy to identify and measure 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 (but are more than willing to accept accolades for positive outcomes). Organizations embracing the formation of teams before recognizing these human characteristics may never fully achieve their anticipated results – often thinking that great things happen when all contribute equally without considering that every team needs focus, direction and a driving force. When building teams, we should ALWAYS consider the following:

Management should provide the “content” to be considered (overall direction that defines authority, scope of activity and any boundaries that may exist) without controlling the “context” of a team’s considerations (allowing it to operate independently within established parameters).  
An effective team must provide workable solutions that receive the group’s endorsement and “buy-in” if it seeks to make significant contributions yet it must also be empowered to move forward towards a solution (without necessarily needing to see a destination prior to beginning the journey) and be allowed to learn from failure (without fear of immediate negative repercussions).

Do not expect team members to take untested ideas through a non-monitored process OR make decisions based on a “risk vs. reward” litmus until they have been equipped with the appropriate team-building tools to maximize their chances of success.
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.  A single focus must also be identified prior to “releasing” the power of a team with someone (formally or informally) designated to keep all efforts directed appropriately – tolerating detours but keeping them from distracting or delaying progress.  A formal (or informal) leader will serve to keep teams “on task” and focused - to push through individual preferences and outspoken contributors as solutions are developed. While teams are great “action units,” they often need to rally behind a champion to accomplish their collective goals.

Work teams should enhance individual contributions and refine singular efforts by stretching the limitations of each person’s knowledge, experiences and abilities through the power of group thought and interaction.  
When properly leveraged, the power of diverse thoughts and an inclusive culture can create new solutions not previously considered by applying different ideas and perspectives to tried and true processes.

Think of an emerging team as a young bird having the ability to fly but not yet knowing how to accomplish that objective.  If raised within a cage, a bird can learn to fly but will do so ONLY to fulfill its natural purpose of flight but without reason or purposeful destination.  If allowed to fly freely, however, a bird will grow, strengthen and explore previously uncharted regions but may wander to new territories that seem more inviting than “home.”  If trained and nurtured properly before being allowed to leave the nest, the bird will soar to the heavens, explore and accomplish much then return home to celebrate what was done before embarking anew the next day. 

When properly assembled, trained, and allowed to function without disruptive outside interference (from management, policy, practice or established procedures), teams pay dividends to those investing in their development and success.  Allowing a team to run free without parameters, training or oversight control provides complete flexibility but often inhibits its ability to produce desired results UNLESS the collective spirit of individual entities can be leveraged towards a single objective by an internal filter (leader) who makes sure all interests are served.  An overly controlling or inadvertently disruptive leader, however, can hinder the growth of teams AND their ability to contribute.

As with a young bird, when the team is trained, developed and allowed to explore within an area having defined parameters – knowing its potential AND its limitations – it will grow, contribute and find comfort “at home.”  If allowed to seek its own rewards for non-monitored activities that enter uncharted areas without at least passive oversight and control, a team MAY become successful but will often be without loyalty to its originator, accountability to organizational expectations or responsibility for the intended (or unintended) consequences of its actions – flying freely upon the wings you intended it to utilize for the accomplishment of a common good and a corporate objective.  Take time to nurture and build your team BEFORE setting it free IF you seek to harvest the fruits of your labor and share the resultant rewards with an empowered and effective team.