Keeping the team spirit alive

Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student
November 2002

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success ~ Henry Ford.

Whether you are a team player or not, at one time or another in your life you will have to perform in some sort of group. Admitted, some of us make better team-members than others, but for all of us it remains a fact that you cannot work in a large corporation, take on a large project, become a star sportsperson, or reach the top charts as an artist if you don't know the basics of team performance.

One of the main focus points for every leader, manager, or supervisor in any possible environment should be to determine under which circumstances a team makes sense. Sometimes it may just be better to give people isolated assignments and "mold" them together yourself at the end. However, the larger an undertaking, the more likely will it be that you will have to establish one or more teams to get the job done.

Let's now evaluate some of the most important advantages of a team. First of all, several heads are more productive, creative, and thorough than one: In a team where the members get along well there will be synergy, which entails that the output of the team will be far richer than the achievements of the members individually. Secondly, different people have different skills: If your team harbors members with complementary skills, you can assign tasks based on the members' specializations, and have a guaranteed faster and better result. Thirdly, the members of a team will, in a pleasant environment, obtain satisfaction and knowledge from their team performance. This will ultimately benefit the entire organization since it has been proven that a person's performance multiplies when he or she experiences satisfaction.

Of course teams also have their downsides. The phenomenon of "free-riding" comes to mind. There is nothing more disturbing to a hard working team member than to find out that one or more of his or her colleagues are counting on the rest of the team to get the job done. Discovering this works as a major turn-off, and may negatively affect the entire team's performance. Personality conflicts may also be a great disrupting issue toward successful team operations: If one or more members have incompatible work attitudes, work styles, problem solving approaches, or just incongruous characters, adequate team performance may as well be forgotten. If the team is not well organized, either through lack of well-defined goals, responsibilities, and tasks, through different personal agendas from the members, or through bad definitions of team structures (Who is the key person? Who does what? When do we meet? What will we do first?), the output will also be unworthy of the efforts of putting the team together in the first place! Last but not least, if the team falls into the habit of groupthink, which is the loss of its critical evaluative capabilities, the team output will descend to a meager and team-unworthy result. The problem with groupthink is that the team loses its vital analyzing skills, stops questioning possible solutions, and instead accepts every decision without further investigation. Advice or criticism from outside is not accepted.

So, now that you're updated on the most important pros and cons of team existence, what can you do to increase the chance for success if ever you have to establish and/or perform in a team? Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure the team goals and the expected time frame of the team's performance are clear.
  • Have everyone be aware of his or her specific tasks.
  • Keep meetings brief, well structured, interesting, and productive.
  • Involve all members in the decision process, even if it is just through notification (which, by the way, should rather be an exception than a regularity).
  • Create room for feedback from the team members.
  • Attract members with complementary skills, but at the same time, with matching or workable personalities and a good work attitude.
  • Give members recognition for their achievements.
  • Alternate motivational, servant, and situational leadership by applying them at the appropriate moments. Motivational leadership is important to boost team members' energy toward optimal performance; servant leadership will enhance identification from team members with you as the leader, since you don't place yourself on a pedestal but stay highly accessible; and situational leadership will allow you to apply the most suitable leadership style in any given situation.
  • If you execute these simple guidelines, you will encourage your team to at least perform up to set expectations, and at most exceed them! Remember, being a team player truly has its advantages, but so has being a loner. Yet, the art is to be able to perform well in both settings when required…and make the best of it. "The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime" ~Babe Ruth.