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LEADING ORGANIZATIONS: Leading Effective Teams

Effective teams are ones that meet their objectives while maintaining their ability to sustain performance and providing satisfactory experiences for the team members. Leading teams requires attention not only to how the team does its work but also facilitating the collaboration process.

  • What are the key success factors for leading a team?

The four most important things leaders can do to help their teams be effective are:

1. Set a compelling direction

  • The purpose or goal should have three characteristics:

  • Challenging: Is it something that will inspire commitment and motivate extra effort?

  • Clear: Is it specific and can it be stated in one sentence?

  • Consequential: Is it something of significance that team members will care about?

2. Establish clear roles and responsibilities

  • Creating a structure for the team provides guidance for how work will be done and by whom:

  • Team composition: Do the team members bring all the needed knowledge, skills, and expertise?

  • Task design: Will team members see their assignments as significant and challenging?

  • Roles: Do team members understand who is responsible for what, including making decisions?

3. Facilitate interpersonal relationships

  • Monitoring how people interact and stepping in to smooth relationships and resolve conflict will help the team collaborate and be productive.

  • Norms: Are clear expectations set (and maintained) about how team members will work together?

  • Team relationships: Is there trust and open communication among team members?

  • Intergroup relations: Does communication with other groups or departments take place when coordination is needed?

  • Problem-solving: Do team members take responsibility for the group's performance and for how well its members work together?

4. Coach the group to enhance its performance

  • Coaching demonstrates a commitment to the success of your team members. Team coaching differs from one-on-one coaching only in that it addresses the needs of the team rather than any one individual. Team coaching consists of three separate activities: motivation, consultation, and education.

  • Motivation: Are you aware of how best to encourage effort for team members?

  • Consultation: Do you take advantage of opportunities to provide advice about performance improvement, including how to approach tasks?

  • Education: Do you identify ways to share your own expertise, detect skill deficits, and offer learning opportunities?

The first two are best done when a team is formed or when it has begun work toward a new goal. They can be revisited and adjusted as the needs of the organization and the team require. The second two are on-going activities during the life of the team or workgroup. They are among the most important responsibilities of a leader.

How do I help establish constructive team norms?

Having clear norms of behavior can eliminate ambiguities and misunderstandings that can lead to interpersonal conflict. Helping the team establish its own ground rules ideally takes place during the team’s first meeting. It can also be effective when done during a meeting called expressly for that purpose.Steps to follow in establishing norms include:

  1. Set aside time at a team meeting to discuss ground rules. All team members should have a chance to provide input.

  2. Ask team members to discuss prior group experiences. What worked well? What created problems?

  3. Ask the group to describe what they would like to happen when they work together.

  4. Write down the ground rules to which the team has agreed. Each member should have a copy.

  5. Ground rules should be reviewed periodically.

It is especially important to develop a shared understanding of how team members will collaborate.

  • What are the standards for meeting attendance, promptness, and participation?

  • What roles need to be filled (timekeeper, notetaker, facilitator, etc.) and how will they be assigned?

  • How will the team gather data and feedback from team members and other stakeholders?

  • How will team members share information?

  • How will team members communicate with each other (voice mail, e-mail, etc.)?

  • How will decisions be made (e.g. consensus vs. majority rule)?

  • How will conflicts be resolved?

What are some tips for being an effective team coach?

While team-coaching should be an ongoing activity as opportunities arise, there are points in the team’s work where different types of coaching can be more effective. Motivational coaching matters most when the team has begun its work. Consultation works best as the team is completing its tasks. Education is especially valuable when the team is assessing how it did at the end of a project.

In addition, there are some general guidelines for what makes for effective coaching:

  • The best coaching takes the form of a conversation, not a monologue. It does not blame or criticize, but instead involves active listening and asking questions to clarify ways the person being coached can improve.

  • When providing feedback or effort or skills, it is important to provide specific examples rather than general observations. This makes it easier to link specific behaviors to outcomes, and thus provides clear direction to where development and learning are needed.

End each coaching session with an agreement about the next steps, which might include a check-in to assess progress or the need for additional guidance.

Source and inspiration: University of Colorado and Harvard University.


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