How to Make Teamwork WORK

People live and work in groups. Human beings, like it or not, are programmed to be in flocks, like birds or fish. Teamwork is built into our DNA. Originally, maybe, the flocks were based on families, then on tribes, all related to each other. Then, finally, on groups of strangers.

Close groups of allied people came together in common purpose and were bound together by the adhesiveness: the glue of common ‘liking’. Liking comes from predictability which comes from knowing each other. Groups tend to enhance predictability through group roles, rules and agreements and therefore, ‘liking’.

At the same time, people are individuals in spite of their social instincts. Each person loves having the freedom to make his or her own decisions. Membership in a group partly deprives the individual of the freedom he or she craves but has to sacrifice in order to be predictable in the group.

Barriers form that hold members of the group in and separate them from foreign and unfamiliar groups. Sometimes what goes on in groups accomplishes tasks much better than individuals would. Sometimes the dynamics of the group are destructive and create inefficiency. Sometimes the very closeness within the group and the barriers between groups causes intellectual chaos and delusion.

A team is a social group organised around a task where a number of specialised roles fit together. How much the roles fit together with not too much functional overlap and how well the occupants of each role actually do what they are supposed to do determines how well the team works together. After all, fitting into a role increases predictability, and predictability increases liking and adds to the glue (the group adhesion) that holds the team together.

People who like each other want the group to remain in existence. In a closely knit group, rule violators are rejected because they endanger the existence of the group.

Small groups research has shown that the efficiency of groups (how much being in a group is better than just having individuals working separately) depends on how clearly demarcated the roles are – how much they are contributing to different elements of a task plus how accurately and quickly the members of the group communicate. Groups suffer from “coordination decrement” when these factors are not optimal. Groups with high coordination decrement are less efficient than individuals working separately.

The group adhesion of work groups is amplified because the group enables income. If the income were removed the group adhesion would fall dramatically and the ability of the group to enforce roles and rules would drop. The group would probably fall apart because the force of wanting freedom and liberty would be greater than the force of mutual liking which once held the group together.

Manipulanda of Team Building:

What can be done to improve team performance?

  • Keep group adhesiveness high by increasing the rewards for group performance.
  • Increase the strength of roles in the group and reduce role overlap. (individual members can be cross-trained but should not be asked to duplicate function unless necessary).
  • Define roles clearly and enforce clear role conformity so that the behaviour of each role is optimally predictable by the rest of the team.
  • Reduce coordination decrement. Improve communication between roles. The military has developed precise language to reduce ambiguity in language. The best communication systems include feedback loops and “hand-shake” routines that make sure individuals in different roles receive messages correctly.
  • Allow for the persistent drive for people to be individuals by organising time-outs for the exchange of individual contributions and suspension of role behaviour.
  • Reduce the danger of group-think and other aberrations that occur in groups by maintaining regular inter-team communication and maintaining a regular flow of information from outside the group. Many team-efficient organisations advocate a team-of-teams approach, where each team fulfils a specified role in the larger enterprise.
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