People Innovation Excellence

Creating a Team-Based Work Environment

Many organizations have realized the great benefits that teams can bring. And hopefully they also realize that it takes great effort to develop a group of individuals into a team that performs at a high level. A team-based organization is one in which much of the work gets done with and through those teams.
There are five conditions organizations should look at or consider before they determine whether they can create a team-based environment. Individual managers can also look at these conditions to see if they can transform their work groups into teams.
The more of these five conditions that are in place the better chance organizations and managers will have in developing team based organizations and high-performing teams. If any of the conditions are missing, it will be more challenging. Organizations and managers need to assess which of the conditions are missing and then develop strategies to make sure they are in place. I have never really seen a team-based environment or a high-performing team that did not have all of these conditions for transformation in place.

Condition 1. Managerial-Style Paradigm
Managers in an organization have to be behind their teams, support them, and want them to succeed. They have to be willing to engage in two-way communication and allow their teams to be involved in the decision-making process. They cannot be threatened by the team structure, and they cannot fear that their teams can or will know more than they do.

Condition 2. Team Skills
In addition to having the technical skills to perform their jobs, team members also need to be trained to work together as a team. Only when teams learn how to work on their own without close supervision from their managers or team leaders will a team-based organization ‘‘happen,’’ and only then will teams reach high levels of performance.

Condition 3. Empowered Team Members
Teams will not succeed or not form at all unless the team members really want to be members of teams. They must want or expect to engage in open communication with their fellow team members and managers and be actively involved in determining what is best for their teams. Many individuals would rather just come to work, do what they are told, and leave. And that is fine as long as they do what they are supposed to. However, for teams to thrive, the team members themselves have to want to be empowered. It helps if the organization and the managers encourage this empowerment and talk to the team members about the importance of their involvement in discussions and decision making.

Condition 4. An Open Approach to Change and Risk
Installing teams and creating a team environment, if it has never been done before, can be a risky proposition. There is no guarantee that teams will work out. Because this is the reality, organizations and their managers have to be open to taking some risks. Change is a risk. And going from work groups to teams is a very big change. If all of the other conditions for transformation are in place, then the risk is much lower.
Because of their cultures, different organizations have different views of risk. Type X organizations are open to change, demand it, and expect it. Type Y organizations are very careful, sometimes too careful, before they engage in change or risk taking. By the time they decide to make a change, they may have lost a big opportunity. Type Z organizations do not change or take any risks unless they are forced to. A team-based organization or high-performing teams have the best chances of succeeding in the Type X and maybe Y organizational cultures.

Condition 5. Human Resources Systems
If you want to get individuals and managers to buy in to the team concept, change your HR systems. For example, if you only rate team members and managers for their individual contributions, you will not really get them to buy in to teamwork. But if you also rate them, promote them, and pay them based on their team contributions or their team-leadership behaviors, then they will take the team concept very seriously. I also encourage organizations to develop a 360-degree feedback approach. Here, not only does the boss evaluate a manager,
but her peers, team members, and, if she has any, customers evaluate her work. She gets a true picture of how she is performing, and she knows that she has to work cooperatively and effectively with everyone. The 360-degree feedback systems are a vital ingredient for team-based organizations.

Source : Topchik, Gary S. 2007. “The first-time manager’s guide to team building”. New York : Silver Enterprise

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