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Why teams don't work and how to fix them.

Most teams are not as effective as organizations want them to be, according to a series of in-depth interviews with business leaders and a survey conducted among 4,500 teams in more than 500 organizations by Wilson Learning Corporation, a worldwide training and development firm located in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

Much has been written about teams, but few systematic studies exist. Here's what one of the few studies indicates. While 15 percent of the survey respondents cited team-specific factors -- group problem-solving, meeting and conflict management -- as the barriers to overall team effectiveness, the vast majority indicated that it is organizational and individual factors that limit team performance.

"Collaboration -- interactions based on a common purpose with a focus on teams, individuals and organizations -- is what facilitates the success of a team. According to the survey results, it is collaboration, rather than the traditionally defined team, that enables companies to turn a limited team process into a positive driving force for the entire organization," says Wilson Learning Corporation's Michael P. Leimbach, Ph.D., who analyzed the survey research.


The organizational barriers to team performance mentioned most frequently by study participants are:

* Rewards and Compensation

80 percent of the study participants indicated that their rewards/compensation system focuses on individual performance. Team performance is generally not considered. As a result, the team has little incentive to perform well, and individuals are encouraged to pursue their own agendas.

* Personnel and HRD Systems

Only 10-20 percent of the respondents confirmed that team performance is considered in their performance appraisal. The majority of the respondents stated that their appraisal system does not consider team issues. As a result, team-focused efforts can be inhibited because there is no incentive to function as a team player.

* Information Systems

A team's ability to access information can impact its performance. In many organizations, pertinent information is not made readily available. One study participant stated, "In general, top management has not done enough to push strategic information down to the employees because they assume the material is not necessary for productivity." As a result, teams spend valuable time trying to access the material.

* Top Management Commitment

Most top management groups fear that their staff cannot handle the responsibilities of team leadership. Without top management's support, teams cannot move forward with their efforts.

* Organizational Alignment

A large number of study participants stated that the structure of their organization fosters internal competition, which limits group effectiveness as energies become scattered.

Issues relating to individuals, that limit a team's productivity, according to survey respondents are:

* Personal Mind Shift

Most team members are not willing to set aside position and power, nor are they willing to give up past practices. These individual agendas make it difficult for the team to function.

* Individual Abilities and Characteristics

Every team member may not have the ability, knowledge or skill to contribute to the group. As a result, the group does not function smoothly because some participants shoulder more responsibility than others.

* Team Membership Factors

As team members, individuals often encounter conflicts or challenges to their own personal beliefs. What works for the team may not work for the individual. Still, it is important for people to retain their identities while working on a team, in order to push the group further by contributing unique ideas.


The survey revealed that most corporations utilize five or six types of teams: functional teams, continuous improvement teams, product teams, project teams, management teams, problem-solving teams. Only 12 percent of the respondents are involved with one team; most people work on three to four. As a result, their energies are channeled in many directions and it becomes difficult to attain peak performances from each team.


Collaboration not only helps teams; it also helps entire organizations function. Here's how it works:

* Collaboration develops the skills of individuals, and allows individuals to transfer their newly learned skills from team to team.

* It enables corporations to put team support systems in place.

* And, it does more than just support the team process. Collaboration also develops the organizational culture that supports team efforts.

In collaborative organizations, top management groups are strongly committed to breaking down departmental and functional barriers and limiting internal competition. They also avoid singling out individuals for personal recognition or achievement. The collaborative organization maximizes diversity of opinion, experience and expertise, and provides an information system that supports interdependent achievement.

Here is how the survey respondents evaluated the effectiveness of collaboration:

* 84 percent of the respondents used task outcomes as the primary measure of success. The most effective teams are judged by their ability to bring tasks to conclusion, provide ontime completion, and produce quality outcomes.

* 53 percent of the interviewees mentioned that use of effective group process (the ability to stay focused, efficiency of meeting and knowledge of how their team operates and develops) indicates success.

* 41 percent of the respondents stated that team member satisfaction with the collaborative process indicates critical success.

Says Leimbach, "The survey results show that the collaborative process eliminates organizational and individual barriers that limit team success. Collaborative decisions and problem-solving increase quality and speed of action for entire organizations. What we hoped teams would accomplish in the 70s and 80s, we feel collaboration will actually achieve".
Team Focus and Collaboration Focus
Creating Teams Creating Collaboration
Team structure Ways of interacting
Single team Multiple teams
A-cultural action Values and behaviors
Procedures Process
Focused on team Focus on team, individual, organization
Static Fluid
This chart summarizes how team focus differs from collaborative
COPYRIGHT 1993 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:work team management
Author:Koze, Stephanie; Masciale, Eileen
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Previous Article:Organizational change and employee stress - a recession strategy.
Next Article:Middle management is not for sissies.

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