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The teamwork fallacy: not all teams get things done.

I OFTEN HEAR TEACHERS say that they use teamwork in their classes because it is needed by business. This may be true, but does simply working in teams actually improve team performance? Although educators excel at placing students in groups, I suspect they less often actually teach teamwork skills. Let's explore this issue and think about ways we can improve the quality of teamwork.


The Importance of Teamwork

Teamwork is a critical need in the workplace. In the 2006 report, "Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers' Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce," teamwork is considered one of the most important skills for success at work. The report also says that employees frequently lack this skill. Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a 'Team, has an explanation for this. He says that teams are never easy because "we tend to look out for our own best interests, and not necessarily those of the team." He also says that managers often leave team problems alone, "hoping they will work themselves out without any heavy lifting."

Based on this need for teams, will practice improve team performance? It may help, but if teamwork skills arc gained by simply being on teams, then we should all be experts. Our families are a type of team, as well as a circle of friends, sports and club groups. However, low-functioning teams continue to be a problem. It is obvious that simply being on teams docs not guarantee teamwork skill. I believe there arc three main ingredients when teaching teamwork. Students should learn interpersonal skills, decision-making and team-management skills.

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are the skills needed to interact with others effectively. In order to do this, students should know about teams, functional conflict, interaction styles, and groupthink.

Teams are different from groups. Pi. group is a collection of people gathered together. However, teams are groups of people placed together to use the strengths and talents of each person to solve problems or reach a goal. So, a team is only successful if everyone participates.

It may be surprising to know that conflict is a necessary part of healthy team discussions. However, this is Functional conflict, not dysfunctional conflict. Functional conflict involves sharing ideas respectfully, which is important for teams. Dysfunctional conflict occurs when team members compete and become angry with one another. Effectively using functional conflict is an important part of team success. Functional conflict requires an awareness of interaction styles that people use. The goal is true collaboration, where everyone works respectfully and openly together to develop the best solution. Most other styles result in a loss of ideas in the group. Let's examine these styles:

* Avoiders, also known as social loafers, simply sit back and let others in the group take over. They contribute almost nothing.

* Accommodaters will share ideas, but they want to "just get along," so they will quickly give up their ideas.

* On the other hand, competers openly share ideas but they are focused on having their ideas win. If they succeed in winning, almost all other ideas are lost, and hard feelings can result.

* Compromisers openly share ideas, but they can be quick to blend their ideas with others, even if it is not the best idea.

* The ideal style for everyone on a team is collaboration, where people share ideas and keep working until the best solution is reached.

In daily life we may use all of the interaction styles (avoider, accommodater, competer, compromiser, and collaborator), depending on the situation. For example, if someone is having a bad day, you may accommodate them to avoid an argument. In sales, you compete to sell products. All the. interaction styles can be useful in daily life. However, it is important to strive for collaboration in teamwork. Using the other styles often results in a loss of ideas.

Team members should be aware of groupthink. Groupthink is a result of too little functional conflict on a team. Simply put, it means "going along to get along." When one or two members dominate a team, and others keep quiet to avoid conflict, this can be the result.

Decision-making Skills

Team decision-making is actually a type of problem-solving. Problem-solving can be taught in a variety of ways, but I like to use the Hey Wait, Think, See, So model because of its simplicity. The first step, Hey Wait, simply means to identify the problem before trying to solve it. The second step, Think, means think about solutions. This is the stage where a large number of ideas are generated without criticism, so this is the time lo introduce the concept of brainstorming. The third step, See, involves choosing a solution and trying it out. In the So stage, you look at your finished solution to sec if the problem is solved. If not, then small changes are made or, if needed, you start over. It's a simple problem-solving model, but it works very well.

Consensus is a useful technique for making decisions. Team consensus is agreement on a solution, but not necessarily perfect agreement. Reaching consensus means that all, or almost all, team members support the decision, although some may still prefer a different approach. No one has complete veto power, in which case one stubborn person can stop decision-making. Team consensus may not be the perfect solution for everyone, but the goal is to have everyone on the team accept and generally support the solution.

Team Management Skills

Successful teams require management. This includes methods to keep the team organized and on-task. A team leader leads team meetings and develops the meeting agenda. A recorder takes notes. For teaching purposes, it is useful to rotate these roles so everyone has a chance to experience them. Consider placing some meeting ground rules directly on the agenda. For example: show respect by being on time and on task, and doing your fair share; contribute ideas; listen to others' ideas without interruption; and aim for collaboration.

When using teamwork in classes, consider choosing teams yourself to ensure a mix of styles and abilities. Another consideration is size of teams. Five to seven is typically the maximum number to be sure everyone is involved in decision-making.

Closely monitor teams, especially at the early stages of formation. Be careful about leave-alone, zap, where you ignore the teams, but then later take drastic action because the team is not functioning well. Teamwork, like other skills, requires guidance to be sure it is being done correctly.

Consider evaluating individual performance on the team as well as overall team performance. For part of the individual performance, you can have each person confidentially evaluate everyone on the team. Examples of forms used for this purpose can be found by doing an Internet search for "peer evaluation form."

Teaching teamwork skills provides students with crucial knowledge about how to perform on a team. When we do this we can proudly say that we are thoughtfully teaching critical teamwork skills that have an impact on career success.

Charles Johnson, Ed.D., is the dean for the School of Technology at Dolton State College, Dalton, Georgia. He can be reached at
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Author:Johnson, Charles D.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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