Many managers don’t express positive sentiments about teams, groups, committees and meetings. They associate teams with delays, endless talk, avoidance of responsibility, and other unpleasant outcomes. Management teams could actually produce enthusiasm and encourage emulation, but only if it’s likely to produce shared responsibility.
Considerable research has shown that groups tend to make better decisions than individuals when the problem is complex and different people have different information (Bradford & Cohen). If the team members work collaboratively to solve the major complex issues facing the department, solution should be of higher quality than when the leader makes all the important decisions autonomously. Managers have to deal with natural limits to their personal control capacities, therefore they usually personal oversee a limited number of projects and subordinates. Another advantage of a mature team is that the amount of control in the unit is increased since its resources are multiplied.
Unfortunately, too few management teams come close to realizing the potential benefits from teamwork. Complaints about groups and their inefficiencies are rife in virtually every company. Working with executive teams in a wide variety of organizations, we have concluded that is possible to achieve performance and learning benefits only if managers are willing to give up their self centered style and work more in a developmental way.
Here following we show how to transform a collection of individuals who push their individual interests and hide or avoid the real issues into a mature, productive team. This process is never easy nor instantaneous, but it can be done.
A shared responsibility team has these characteristics:
- Clear roles. Everyone knows his/her own and other’s tasks well enough so that nothing falls through the cracks; everyone knows who he is and who should be, doing what.
- Support. Trust is so high that the group does not need to meet for every issue. Because all members know, and are committed to, the same overarching goal and know each other’s attitudes and positions on issues, any member can act in the department’s name when necessary, without seeking everybody’s approval. Each member is confident that no one, including the boss, would act without consultation unless there was a good reason-such as prior general agreement special expertise, legitimate time pressures, or unavailability of affected parties. And the person who does act would know that others would back any action.
- Efficiency. Such a group would not waste time meeting on trivial issues or limiting those who had taken individual initiative. A lot of individual work would be assigned to be done outside meetings, with reports and recommendations brought back to the team.
- Shared leadership. Members who were very clearly more expert than the others, in certain areas would be given great latitude to make the decisions on those matters.
- Global vision. If issues cross several areas or affect the department as a whole, members would seriously address the issues together, fight hard and openly for their beliefs, insist that their concern are addressed, yet also pay attention to the needs of the department as a whole. Everyone would be comfortable wearing different hats: for their job, area, department, company.
- Conflict transformation. Although skilled at persuasion and willing to fight hard over important differences, members would feel no obligation to oppose automatically initiatives from other members or the manager. There would be no competition for competition’ s sake. Members would enthusiastically support the positions or ideas of others when they happened to agree. Furthermore, when they were in opposition to one another, the battle would center on issues, not personalities. Differences would be considered legitimate expression of a person’s experiences and job perspective, not indicative of incompetence, stupidity, or political maneuvering.
- Encouragement. Despite members’ willingness to fight when necessary, the climate is pervasively supportive, encouraging members to ask one another for help, acknowledge their mistakes, share resources (people, information, or equipment), and generally further everybody’s performance and learning.
- Learning. The group pays attention to successful task achievement and to individual member’s learning; members are not restricted to areas where they have total competence and hence can’t acquire new expertise, nor are they so overloaded with learning experiences that group performance seriously suffers. Cautious members are pushed to venture into less secure areas, while overreaching members are reminded that new opportunities can’t supplant ongoing responsibilities.
- Assess and Improvement. Perhaps most important, the group has self-correcting mechanisms; when things aren’t going well, all members are ready to exanime the group’s processes, discuss what is wrong, and take corrective action. Whatever the problems – overly lengthy meetings, inappropriate agenda items, unclear responsibilities, lack of team effort, overly parochial participation, or even leadership practises-the group takes time out to assess its way of operating and to make mid-course corrections. Individual members as well as the manager feel free to raise questions of team performance. Nevertheless, the group is not so overly self-analyzing that it neglects its main tasks. High task performance remains a central concern.
Compare this traits with those belonging to your team and roll up your sleeves, you might have some work to do!
Adapted from Managing for Excellence, L. Bradford – A.R Cohen.