by Maria Lahiffe
There is a big difference between a group of employees and a team. “A group is a collection of individuals who coordinate their individual efforts. On the other hand, a team is a group of people who share a common team purpose and a number of challenging goals. Members of a team a re mutually committed to the goals and to each other. This mutual commitment creates joint accountability which creates a strong bond and a strong motivation to perform.” 
Turning a group of people into a team takes work, but that work is more than worth it in the increased productivity and retention you will achieve from people who are all pulling in the same direction and supporting each other’s efforts, rather than exerting effort independently. How do you achieve teamwork? Studies show that there are four main factors which contribute to team success: commitment, contributions, communication, and cooperation.
People will commit to a project when they understand its objective. They will commit to an organization when they understand and share its vision. It is not possible to over-state the importance of clear direction. People need to understand how their individual efforts contribute to the overall objective, and move the team’s accomplishments towards the goal.
To build team commitment, it is best to ask each work team to develop its own team mission, vision, and values. This needs to be in agreement with those of the organization but should also reflect the team’s own originality and unique purpose.
A team’s effectiveness will be directly related to the talents and efforts of its members. Every team needs leadership to set direction and take ultimate responsibility for outcomes, but every team member has a responsibility to contribute. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, like I said before, a team can only accomplish the sum total of what the members put in. Secondly, there is a real risk of member indifference when only a few people are making the bulk of the contributions.
If you see that a few people are doing most of the work, it is important to scratch the surface and ask why. Does everyone understand their role in the team? Everyone should be uniquely valuable to the team in some way. Do the high-achievers share the workload, or keep it all to themselves? Is the team paralyzed by standards which are too high (and thus unattainable) or two low (and thus demotivating)?
Everyone on the team must feel free to speak their thoughts, ask for help, and contribute new ideas, without fear of judgement or reprisal. People work together when the group culture is one of showing concern and believing in each other. Show an interest in your team-mates not just as work associates, but as whole people, with whole lives.
The best teams foster interdependence among their members. Team members must be able to trust that when a colleague agrees to take on a task, that task will be done. Everyone needs to be aware that their work impacts everyone else on the team. Everyone also needs reasonable expectations placed upon them, to make sure that they are not being over-loaded, which brings us back to communication – team members need to feel comfortable letting their team-mates know when they are overloaded or under-worked, so that the work can be spread around most effectively.
Effective teams do not spring up overnight. They take time to cultivate, and need ongoing support to keep working well as a team. If you would like to learn more, come to our upcoming workshop.
Volunteer Ottawa offers a comprehensive suite of courses related to organizational operations. Click here for more information, and to register. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.
Like what you've read? Subscribe to our RSS feed so you never miss a post! We have a general RSS Feed for all VOices blog posts, as well as an Operations RSS Feed which will focus on topics related to organizational operations.