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What is a team? The label is often used interchangeably with 'group' and yet team as we understand it has a very specific meaning. The difference very largely lies in the direction of action. A group can exist and yet not achieve much. A team, on the other hand, is ACTION ORIENTATED. It has a clear purpose and it is a purpose

What is a team?

The label is often used interchangeably with 'group' and yet team as we understand it has a very specific meaning. The difference very largely lies in the direction of action. A group can exist and yet not achieve much. A team, on the other hand, is ACTION ORIENTATED. It has a clear purpose and it is a purpose
which is shared by its members.

There are a number of features of a team which make it different from a group:
  1. In an effective team, members share a high level of commitment to achieving the common objective.
  2. Members of an effective team experience a high level of satisfaction from being part of and working with the team.
  3. In an effective team, members work well together in an integrated way, with a high level of awareness and appreciation of each others' strengths.
  4. An effective team shows a high capability for solving its own problems. The skills exist and there is a willingness to act.
  5. Most important from the organization’s point of view is that an effective team is one producing high quality results. High quality results, it could be reasonably argued, are the outcome from the other characteristics of the effective team.
The qualities of an effective work team are, therefore, identifiable, quite specific and measurable. Although any group can possess any or all these characteristics, an effective team must display them all.

What conditions make a team effective?

Clear Objectives: The team's overall objective needs to be identified and defined in terms which allow each member to understand the same goal. The leader has an important role in communicating a clear picture of what the organization expects from the team. A style which encourages a questioning approach is likely to reveal any members' doubts, misunderstandings or resistances which need to be positively managed.
Appropriate Leadership: Leadership is a shared function based on the need of the task rather than through consideration of formal role or position-based power. This requires considerable flexibility in recognizing and allowing other team members to exercise real leadership when a member's skills are more appropriate to the team at that time. There is an important leadership function. It is one of using skills to develop the team and making sure that time is allocated appropriately for team-building activities.
Suitable membership: For a team to be able to work productively, its members must display the range of skills, knowledge and experience and the right 'mix' of these for the task it is undertaking. Members are valued for what they can contribute and are encouraged to develop. Little time is wasted on considerations of what members cannot do. The emphasis is on strengths, on the positive.
Commitment to the team: Team members experience real strength from their membership and the sharing of goals. They are willing to invest considerable energy in the interests of the team. Membership is highly valued and member behavior is strongly influenced by considerations of team success. This is very different from the rather simple and (from the work effectiveness point of view) rather unproductive 'WE' feeling that is part of the experience of simply being with a group of people who get on well together and enjoy each others' company.
A supportive team climate: The order of the day is participation and personal responsibility. Members are trusted to contribute in a mature fashion. Self-control replaces imposed control. Responsibility is widely shared throughout the team on a rational basis, given the skills and other strengths among members. Members are encouraged to contribute ideas, take risks and question the team and its activities openly without fear of censorship, disapproval or reprimand. The only condition is that the members' behavior is with the best interest of the team and its performance at heart.
Getting things done: The successful team not only knows where it is going, it knows when it has arrived. It sets performance targets and milestones and establishes ways in which the team's movement toward achieving the targets can be measured. It is important that performance targets are ones that represent something of a challenge to the team and its members without being unrealistic and consequently demoralizing. When the right performance standards are set, the team's energy is directed towards achieving results. Team performance is constantly being appraised, in order to identify any problems in the team's path or being experienced by members. This is an important responsibility for the team leader.
Working techniques: The team needs to invest time and effort into developing working techniques, methods, procedures and ground rules to move the team toward its goal in the most efficient way consistent with preserving those other qualities associated with effective teams. These include techniques for making decisions, solving problems and generally coping with anything which gets in the way of progress.
Learning: The team and its members learn from their experiences, including their mistakes. Mistakes made in good faith do not lead to heavy penalties, but are incorporated into expectations about the team and its members maturing over time.
Problems are analyzed for what they can contribute to the individual and collective maturing process. Constructive criticism, based on logic and rationality and intended to help the team and its members grow in competence is welcomed. These places a premium on fact-to-face skills associated with coaching and giving feedback. They will be particularly highly valued skills when used effectively by the team leader.
New members: New team members are quickly integrated into the team, their strengths identified, and contribution defined. Every effort is made to help the new member prove his/her value to the team quickly.
Managing the group: An effective work team recognizes the importance of monitoring the team itself and the way in which it is working. Understanding something of 'group dynamics' is an area of knowledge and skills which is highly developed in effective teams. Allocating time and energy to understanding and managing relationships is an important investment. The team leader should be able to display considerable competence in this respect. Responsibility for monitoring events is not invested in the team leader alone. It is shared among members, although some will be more competent than others and show preferences in the direction of 'team maintenance'.
Relationships with other teams: An effective team also invests time and energy into developing ground rules for managing its relationships with other teams in a positive and productive way. This includes identifying areas of work where collaboration would clearly help one or both teams achieve results more efficiently or effectively. It includes maintaining open contact and frequently reviewing tasks priorities. Resources are shared where this will help progress toward a broader, but understood and shared, organizational objective. Joint problem solving is widely adopted and the tendency to 'blame others' is replaced in effective team working with a direction of effort toward understanding problems and finding solutions.
Success: The effectiveness of a team grows. All the conditions set out above develop more extensively and readily to the extent that the team meets with early, continued and acknowledged success. The cliche, "Nothing succeeds like success," is entirely applicable to the development of effective teams and in the process of developing and reinforcing the conditions underpinning demonstrated effectiveness. Two possible problems exist for very successful teams. First, they may be seen as so competent that they attract more work than they are able to handle resulting in overload and decline in performance. They may have to learn to say "no". Even if they attract more resources of money and people to handle the extra work, they may suffer from problems of "bigness" and will almost certainly need to restructure into smaller satellites if they are to continue successfully.
The second problem for the successful group is one of complacency. They can become fat cats. Their very success and cohesion becomes their own worst enemy, and they find it difficult to respond to new circumstances. Some groups guard against this by ensuring that they get a fairly regular turnover of people to keep them on their toes.

Team leadership / what makes an effective team leader?

Although it is likely that the leadership role will shift one team member to another, determined by task demands on skills and other resources, the fact remains that there is normally a team leader designated by the organization and considered responsible for the outcomes from his/her team's performance.
Setting values: The effective team leader is instrumental in establishing a set of values from which standards of performance, acceptable methods and member behavior emerge in a consistent way.
Clarifying objectives: The team leader is in a crucial listening role and communicating between the organization and the rest of the team. An important factor in the link man role is that of helping team members understand expectations held by the organization concerning the team's goals. This will often require the translation of ideas into operationally useful information.
Provide a model: In many respects, especially in managing relationships and setting the kind of group climate conductive to meeting many of the conditions already discussed, members will regard the leader's own behavior as an appropriate model. The effective team leader is a trend setter in relation to many of those behaviors which effective team members display.
Identifying members' strengths: The effective team leader has considerable responsibility for ensuring optimum use of resources. This includes knowledge of individual member's strengths, and ensuring opportunities are made available for their use.
Delegation: A key characteristic of the effective team leader is a willingness to genuinely delegate. The delegate trusts the people he is delegating to and encourages team members to push existing skills on further and to take reasonable risks in doing so. The team leader is a front runner in providing a supportive, positive, building climate within which team members can experience maximum personal achievement, growth and contribution to the team.
Getting help: The leader knows when the team needs help from outside and communicates the group's needs to those who can provide the appropriate resources. This means being aware of realistic limits to existing team competences and recognizing that seeking help under the right conditions is a sign of strength rather than weakness.
Flexibility of approach. Different styles suit different task conditions. Given an atmosphere of participation and personal responsibility, team members will look for a leadership style that 'fits' the prevailing circumstances. It is perfectly reasonable for an effective team-leader to be highly controlling and autocratic under difficult or critical circumstances where a quick response is essential. Team members will not only accept it but expect it.
Represent the team: In managing its affairs with other teams and other parts of the organization, the team leader is a front runner. The team leader operates in this respect from a consideration of the team's objectives, standards, resources and the importance of maintaining a mutual respect and collaborative climate between teams, protects team members against unjustified or irrational attack, ensures that outside influences do not impose unreasonable or excessive demands on the team or its members, negotiates with outside bodies on behalf of the team and with the interest of performance paramount. The team leader also develops and encourages his/her members to develop a wide network of useful contacts both within and without the organization.
Develops team members: Makes sure that team members experience opportunities for achievement through personal growth. This requires special skills from the team leader, especially in coaching (identifying performance-related and development needs, and helping team members identify means of satisfying them). Counseling skills to deal with performance related problems is another crucial skill area.
Feedback: The team leader is one of the most important and credible sources of feedback to the team and its members on performance. The emphasis should be on positive feedback. Even when performance related problems occur, the emphasis is on seeking solutions rather than witch hunting.
Is available: The team leader is there to collect ideas and information and to sell ideas and influence people. He is also there to involve people, where realistic, in decision making, especially that relating to decisions likely to influence the team's goals, methods or performance targets/standards. The effective leader also encourages feedback from the team as the basis for monitoring personal effectiveness.

Team roles

The characteristics of team roles have been the subject of Dr Meredith Belbin's research for many years (see Belbin M. Management Teams: Why they Succeed or Fail, 1981 Heineman)
He has attempted to identify and isolate the characteristics of a number of roles. These at present number nine. Since the original research with teams of managers, continuous revision has taken place ensuring a remarkable study of teams with evidence to support the findings.
As well as providing information on team roles, Belbin and his colleagues used a range of psychometric tests to determine if a personality type was allied to certain roles. There was strong evidence that this was so.
Their record of predicting a successful balance of the roles in teams is impressive, although he indicates it is far easier to forecast correctly teams that will fail than teams sure to succeed. Many managers will attempt to pick a team of all the cleverest and most talented people from their organisation. Unfortunately, it has been found that the most disaster-prone team is just such a one, exclusively composed of clever individuals.
Over the years of research, first at Henley and subsequently in business extending from Britain to Australia, Belbin and his colleagues learned to recognize individuals who made a critical difference to team effectiveness. These team types were identified by descriptive names. The original names of some of the roles have been amended in recent years to be more compatible with the descriptions accompanying them. For example, resistance to the name 'company worker' was often expressed by managers. They perceived the title as diminishing their team contribution to that of a good nature dogsbody. Another title amended is 'chairman' to 'coordinator'.
Not everyone tested is going to fall into any one category; 30% of his research samples did not clearly belong to just one of the nine types. Certain pairings of roles were also evident.
While everyone has a preferred natural team role (or pair of roles) most people have a secondary team role they assume if no one else in the team is fitted to it and if, say, some other team member has a stronger score and plays their natural team role better.

The team types

Implementer, coordinator, shape, plant, resource investigator, monitor-evaluator, team worker, completer finisher, specialist. A brief description of each role is as follows:
Coordinator (was chairman) - Critical thinking only just above average. A relaxed but fairly strong and dominant character who is non-aggressive, but can assert himself. Has a good deal of trust and belief in people. Sees their talents as resources rather than as a competitive threat to himself. Outwardly enthusiastic, but inwardly more reserved and objective. More concerned with practicalities than creativity. Does not over-react to pressure. High concern for duty and doing things properly.
Shape - Leads from front with 'all guns blazing'. Likes action, quick results and willing followers. Pushes himself and others to get the job done as the main priority. Not always popular, but more often than not, gets results. Usually very assertive, can be aggressive. High degree of nervous energy and relentless tension rather than self-assurance. Hates to be constrained by rules and regulations. Often a sceptic and quick to criticize and judge. Unduly sensitive to criticism and can be impatient. Invariably competitive, intolerant and probably compulsive about work and other things of importance to him.
Plant (Ideas Man) - Advances new thoughts very often independent of his own specialism. Usually high intelligence. Has self-confidence but often with uninhibited self expression. Ideas often come before people. Radical views may override pragmatic considerations. Can opt out if ideas not accepted. May find routine of organisational life hard to take.
(Innovator - Sometimes referred to as plant)
Monitor-Evaluator - Good critical thinker and evaluator of ideas. Serious attitude, cautious, usually objective and very perceptive. A strategist who may require input of ideas and knowledge from others before he shows his best. Very self-critical and may be seen as negative with low persuasive and motivational powers. Enjoys knocking others' ideas down. He identifies key issues that could and would go wrong with a project. May feel intellectually superior to group and show it. Can stifle debate if he does not control over zealous, if correct, criticism.
Implementor (was Company Worker) - Usually accepts rules and conventions of the organisation. Works to do a good job within the system. Makes things happen by translating general concepts and plans into practical working brief. Thorough, determined and full of common-sense working on practical level. Dislike too much theory and ideas. Unhappy in situations requiring lots of flexibility, adaptability and expediency where quick changes required. Scores high on sincerity, integrity, self-discipline, conscientiousness and strength of character. Often likes leadership position, but may have problems in unstable situations requiring vision. Basically conservative, solid, reliable completer of tasks requiring a logical approach.
Team worker - Perceives feelings, needs and concerns of the people in the group. Observant of people's strengths and weaknesses. Can hold team together in a quiet way with his concern for others. Usually stable but not over-competitive. May be seen as low in decisiveness and toughness. He puts emphasis on understanding others, situations and himself. Can delegate well if given a senior position. Develops staff well. Often behind the scenes helper. May not get credit for good results. May go for cosy atmosphere rather than face conflict. Overall, seeks harmony and co-operation.
Resource investigator - People orientated team member. Usually restless, enquiring attitude to life. A driving force and always going out to find new things and ideas - has a wide range of contacts. Within team, helps people, encourages, and is a positive influence for developing others. Usually cheerful, but may lack self-discipline, being somewhat impulsive. Will drop one task in favor of another if it interests him more. Needs constant variety, challenge, stimulation. Does not raise ideas himself so much as raise them in others. Helps team look outwards, but needs to be focused, otherwise he wastes his time on too many things.
Completer/finisher - Often tense, sometimes anxious and has a compulsive concern to finish. High nervous energy, put to productive use. Translates worries and fears into energy for getting jobs done on time to a standard. Good on detail. Known to nag colleagues. Brings sense of urgency to the team. Has sense of purpose, is self-controlled. Often hard to live with. May get bogged down in detail. Can irritate people with his rigour. Does not allow procrastination, carelessness, over-confidence or slackness.
Specialist - Typically dedicated individuals who pride themselves on acquiring technical skills and specialized knowledge. Show great pride in their own subject but often lack interest in other peoples'. Mainly interested in furthering their own field. Usually self starters who are quite single minded. However, will usually only contribute on a very narrow front.

Team development

Groups go through various stages as they develop to effective team working. A common model used to track the development of groups was suggested by B W Tuckman and outlines four stages of team development.
Forming - Characterized by polite and mannerable greeting. Members also check out their feelings regarding membership of the group, what roles they may take and what the purpose of the group is.
Storming- Typically this can be an uncomfortable time for groups where members are often testing the limits and exploring what is possible Rebelliousness, competition and the setting up of cliques are all features of this stage.
Norming - At this stage the group is beginning to work through its conflicts and agree on ways of functioning towards effective performance.
Performing - Now the team is working together towards a common goal.
All teams will develop at different speeds and some may get stuck in one of the phases. The important thing is to be aware of the subtle and intricate dynamics of the group development process.
Task and relationship functions
When working in a team certain functions or behaviors contribute to either the task in hand or the relationship between the team members. A balanced mix of both task and relationship functions are necessary for effective team performance.
Task functions
Relationships functions
  • Agenda setting
  • Listening
  • Establishing goals
  • Encouraging participation
  • Giving direction
  • Conflict management
  • Initiating discussion
  • Recognition
  • Setting time limits
  • Relationship building
  • Giving/seeking information
  • Summarizing

High performing teams

In their book, "The One Minute Manager Builds High Performing Teams", Blanchard, Carew & Carew suggest that effective teams must have certain important characteristics. These are:


  • Clear, challenging and relevant goals.
  • Clear strategies for achieving goals.
  • Role clarity.
  • Commitment to a common purpose.


  • Personal and collective sense of power.
  • Access to skills and resources.
  • Team objectives supported by policies and practices.
  • Mutual respect.
  • Willingness to help each other.

Relationships and communication

  • Open and honest expression.
  • Expression of acceptance.
  • Active listening.
  • Different perspectives and opinion valued.


  • Ability to perform different roles.
  • Shared responsibility for leadership.
  • Adaptable to change.
  • Ideas are explored.
Optimal productivity
  • Output high.
  • Excellent quality.
  • Effective decision making.
  • Clear problem solving process.

Recognition and appreciation

  • Contributions are recognized and appreciated.
  • Team accomplishments are recognized.
  • Respect for group members.
  • Organization values the team.


  • Members feel good about their team.
  • Members are confident and motivated.
  • Members are proud and satisfied.
  • Good team spirit.
So the acronym PERFORM is used by them to describe High Performing Teams.


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