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You have heard it and most likely you have experienced it too. Team building, team effectiveness training, and catchy slogans like TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More and There is no I in team. I have seen so many challenging situations, not to say horror stories in which I think the acronym TEAM could instead mean, Tearing Everyone Apart Mostly!! We’ve also learned the four stages of team; forming, storming, norming, and performing. However, for many the reality is more like a regular swing between storming, out of storming and back in storming! This could be nicely expressed with Muse’s lyrics from their song Starlight, “High hopes and expectations, black holes and revelations”.
There are certainly factors that lead to more effective team work, don’t get me wrong, I recognize and value them. Factors such as having common and clear objectives, strong commitment and building trust are often referred to in the team effectiveness literature. The establishment of business objectives is the easiest (I did not say simple) and most natural for leaders working in teams. The common issues and often most delicate is the way team members resolve different point of views, disagreement and potentially conflict. Avoiding debate on different opinions is not recommended, in fact, we want debate.
An interesting literature review done by industrial psychology Ph.D. students, including Mathieu Forget from Optimum Talent indicated that cognitive conflicts are positively correlated with organizational performance. In other words, healthy and fact based debates are constructive for the team and the organization. The literature review also indicated that affective conflicts are negatively correlated with organizational performance. In other words, unhealthy relationships with pervasive effects and negative emotion lead to poor business performance. But here is the trick, cognitive and affective conflicts are correlated at .57, i.e. when there is a healthy debate, the odds are that a negative emotionally charged discussion will erupt. Here lies the critical and most important factor that can make it or break it for any team: the capacity to resolve various levels of differences, from the different point of view, to the strong contradicting opinion up to the open conflictual arguments – and still maintain effective working relationships.
The behaviour that can be improved by most team members is the way to have effective meaningful dialogues and debates, in such a way that the sender and the receiver of the message feel respected, involved and valued. All the while leaving the highly charged negative emotion at the door, not a small feat.
The more team members trust each other, the stronger the team will be. Trust will be built with behaviours such as team members consistently following through on the commitments; team members depending on one another to act in the best interests of the team and team members believing in each other to be competent and capable in their respective roles, including the team lead.
Working in teams is more and more frequent in modern organizations, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Avoiding the team approach is not really an option; and facilitating light and slogan driven interventions will not have the durable effect you are looking for. Understanding some key elements such as the necessity to be effective in having healthy debate and building trust will make an important difference. You now know where to focus your effort. Matt Bellamy from Muse also wrote “Don’t waste your time or time will waste you”!