Healthy Teams Achieve More

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PM Articles by Project Times. 

The carpet in an office building’s main floor elevator lobby read, T-Together E-Everyone A-Achieves M-More.

Having worked on many healthy teams I can attest to the power of teamwork. But then I thought, “do the teams in this organization live the slogan? Do they understand why dysfunctional teams achieve L less? Do they understand what dysfunctional teams and healthy teams are? ”

When you replace the M with an L you turn your team into a TEAL – a small freshwater duck. But joking aside, not every team does more.

Healthy teams do achieve more. Dysfunctional teams result in demoralized team members and inadequate results. So, if you want to make sure teams are healthy, that they achieve their goals, avoid unnecessary conflict, manage the necessary disagreements well, and learn from their experience, then look to the process.

Everyone Together

When it comes to teams, the key words are T-together and E-everyone. If the team members are together a team can achieve more than the sum of what the individual members can achieve on their own.

But what does together really mean? Team members may be together at the same time physically co-located or virtual. They may be together because someone assigned them to the team, or they joined on their own. But the most meaningful way they can be together is to mutually understand the goal, the work to be done to achieve it, and the way they will do it. Do team members have common purpose. Do they have their act together, are they sufficiently skilled and organized to achieve their goals?

And what if not E-everyone is together? If anyone on the team is not aligned with the goal, process, and values, there is an unstable foundation for team performance. The goal of storming and norming in team development is to achieve unanimity through dialogue, analysis, and negotiation.

Whether physically co-located, dispersed, or virtual, if everyone is T-Together regarding process and goal the team will be healthy.

Process Awareness.

The key to effective performance is to make sure team members are aware of process, both their personal process and the team’s process. Process awareness means understanding that since everything is the result of a process – a set of actions and relationships that lead to an outcome – changing the process will change the outcome.

Personal process is one’s “innerworkings.” This is the realm of mindfulness, self-awareness, psychology, emotional and social intelligence. The outcomes of the inner process are speech and behavior expressed in relationships and performance.

The team’s process includes the way the members communicate, solve problems, manage projects and products, manage relationships, conflict, and expectations, and how they critically assess performance. Values, culture, roles, responsibilities, authority, and the tools and methods to be used to achieve the goal are all part of the process.

With process awareness as a base the team can agree upon values and goals, and the tools, techniques, and procedures they will use. If they take the time and effort to assess, adapt, fine tune, and improve the process.

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Resistance to Process Awareness

It is difficult to argue rationally against process awareness. And yet, we find many teams that never address the way they work together.  Here is an example:

There is a small team in which one member refused to follow procedures  causing her teammates extra work and stress and resulting in delays for clients. That team had procedures but the members were not together even though they shared physical space. The team lacked effective communication, common values, and clarity about roles, responsibility, and authority. There was no meaningful performance assessment. The most important missing ingredients in this situation were communications and leadership.

Going Beyond the Obstacles

By confronting them, a team can go beyond these obstacles. In the end it may be necessary to change the process or to expel a team member who refuses to or is unable to come T-Together and be part of E-Everyone.

The confrontation may be initiated within the team, by client complaints, or by external management. It is motivated by the desire to improve performance and quality of life. Without confronting the issues that get in the way of optimal performance, improvement is unlikely.

Critical Factors

Confronting the problem involves five critical factors for improving team health: problem definition, cause analysis, performance assessment, on a foundation of candid communication and a shared value of continuous improvement.

Define the Problem

In our example, the problem’s symptoms are long waits by clients and frustrated team members. Frustration leads to unnecessary conflict and to a sense that management doesn’t care. More universally, the problem is team performance that can be improved.

Problem definition relies on the open communication of the symptoms. Communication is enabled by having regular performance assessments. Without that, identifying the problem requires the courage of individual team members to “blow the whistle” on issues, and risks that clients will be the “whistle blowers.”

Identify the Causes

There are many causes of poor team performance. For example, individuals who do not care about achieving the team’s goals, self-centeredness, not understanding roles and responsibilities, ignorance of the procedures, ineffective procedures, lack of skill, etc.

Everyone knows cause analysis is an essential part of improving performance. Yet resistance to candid cause analysis is still a great barrier to effective teamwork. This barrier is caused by sensitivities regarding personal process, blame, fear, perfectionism, and not accepting that errors are part of the process.

The sensitivities reinforce the attitude that “we don’t have time for looking at how we work, we can barely get all of our work done as it is.” This attitude is further reinforced by leadership that does not value process management and is unwilling to address interpersonal factors..

Apply Process Management

If you want healthy teams, look to the process. To change outcomes, change the process.

In our case example, the process was broken. Leadership failed to identify, assess, and address the problem, they had no process management process. The team members, in the absence of effective leadership, did not take initiative to raise the issue or resolve it themselves. Process awareness was missing. No-one was managing the process.

Are your teams achieving M-More? Is process awareness part of your culture? Do you take the time and effort to make sure E-Everyone is T-Together.

See the following articles for more on performance management: