MANAGING A TEAM

My job is really bringing the vision and then motivating people to work together to achieve that vision.

- Jill Bennett

What is a team?

A team is a small number of people with complementary skills, who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable [1]. High-functioning teams can achieve outcomes that individuals alone cannot. Team members can develop new and innovative points of view through dialogue and discussion. Emotionally supportive teams can also reduce the impact of work stressors, with the resulting positive team culture facilitating performance [2],[3].

 

Teams are different from groups. Groups are a collection of people who coordinate their individual efforts without necessarily having a common purpose. The distinction between groups and teams is important because they require different forms of management.

 

Teams are embedded in larger social systems (i.e., organizations) that provide a context for team effectiveness and performance. Effective teams are good for team members as well as for business outcomes [4], with team performance contributing to organizational performance [5].

What are some approaches for understanding team behaviour?

 

A widely-used model for developing effective teams is the Input-Process-Output model (IPO-model [10]). This system theory expresses team performance as  inputs  [11] leading to processes [12] that lead to outcomes (outputs [13]):

 

  • Input factors include individual, group, and environmental factors. Individual factors are those that each team member brings to the team, such as attitudes or personality characteristics e.g., extroversion. Group-level inputs include group composition, group size, and team leadership. Input factors at the organizational level include reward structures and level of environmental stress.

  • Processes describe interactions that take place among team members, including conflict, strategy discussion, communication, team learning activities, and information processing.

  • Outputs include both group-based performance outcomes, such as the quality of the team’s work, and other team-based outcomes such as employee satisfaction.

 

The model therefore suggests that high performing, satisfied, and cohesive teams require positive interaction processes to develop, which in turn are reliant on having the right combination of people, structures, and organisational support as inputs.

Based on the I-P-O model, research has identified specific factors that can contribute to team outputs. Social cohesion – the interpersonal attraction between team members – explained the relationship between the effects of team learning goals (input factor) and team viability (output factor) [15]. Team learning goals promote communication within a team and can help facilitate team members’ overall commitment and satisfaction, improving team cohesion, leading to better viability.

 

A meta-analysis has also been conducted to identify team processes that improve team functioning and effectiveness [16]. These include cognitive (e.g., unit-team climate, team mental models, and transactive memory [17]), motivational (e.g., team cohesion, team efficacy, and potency), and behavioural (e.g., team competencies, functions, and regulatory mechanisms) processes and emergent states [18],[19]. All are important factors that enable individuals to successfully combine their knowledge, effort, and skills to yield better team performance and effectiveness.

 

Furthermore, diverse science teams are often interdependent and require integration to build new knowledge. Salazar et al. (2012) proposed a three-pathway model of team science that managers can use to enhance a team’s integrative capacity [21]. The three components are as follows [2].

The authors argue that integrative capacity can be enhanced through the social, psychological, and cognitive processes of the model, and can help to overcome barriers that may arise when science teams have to integrate knowledge e.g., team members with strong identification with individual disciplines.

 

Challenges of managing a team 

 

Managing a team can be challenging as (potentially) disparate individuals need to work together to accomplish a common team goal. One of the problems of teamwork is “process losses” – the time spent co-ordinating, communicating, and getting people to work together – rather than working on the task at hand. Other problems that may arise in teams include interpersonal conflict and  unequal distribution of work among team members. Creativity may also decrease in some circumstances when people work in teams or groups [6],[7]. Furthermore, teamwork can increase work-related health problems and the risk of occupational hazards [8],[9].

 

Women as managers of teams

 

Women may engage in different styles of team management compared to men. A 2013 study [22] of female researchers in Barcelona examined how women manage research teams [23]. Fifteen female researchers, all leading research groups in the social sciences, were interviewed about their approach to leadership. Results showed that female researchers aim to build highly cohesive teams that engender a good working atmosphere and good interpersonal relationships.

 

This finding is consistent with a qualitative analysis of female entrepreneurs, which showed that women used a relational approach in working with employees, management teams, and clients [24]. Women entrepreneurs believed that their participative and democratic management style increased employees’ competence, consequently enhancing the success of their firms.

 

A meta-analysis of leadership styles has demonstrated that women, compared to men, were more likely to engage in transformational leadership styles [32]. They were also more likely to engage in contingent reward behaviours, a component of transactional leadership, but that men otherwise were more likely to demonstrate the other components of transactional leadership. The sum of these findings suggest that female leaders, compared to male leaders, are more likely to focus on social cohesion and interpersonal relationships to bolster their teams and improve performance.

 

In the aforementioned Barcelona study [22], the interviewees often mentioned difficulties arising from their gender. This included issues such as battling against the masculine culture of the broader university department, or having certain activities seen by the university as more suited to men compared to women (for example, organising a conference). Some interviewees felt that building networks with other female researchers provided much-needed support. However, other studies report that individual characteristics, too, can contribute to female leadership success, including self-confidence, education, intelligence, competence on the job, interpersonal and technical skills, hard work, and motivation [25].

 

Strategies for creating a successful team

 

It can be challenging to bring together a disparate group of people with varied skills and experiences. The Center of Creative Leadership has therefore identified four steps for managers to successfully form effective teams [26]:

  1. Set purpose and direction

  2. Define roles and responsibilities (team building [27])
    Who does what in this team?

  3. Design procedures and practices (team training [27], team coaching [27])
    How do things get done in this team?

  4. Build cooperation and relationships (team building)
    How do we work together and with others outside the team?

 

The IPO model of team behaviour also offers insights into the types of success factors needed for effective teamwork, including [28]:

Individual-level factors

  • Interpersonal skills: fostering a caring work environment such as being honest, trustworthy, supportive, and respectful

  • Interdependence: creating a positive team environment that brings out the best in individual and facilitates output which is greater than the sum of each individual’s contributions

  • Commitment to team success and shared goals: aiming to achieve the best outcome for the team

  • Commitment to accountability: team members are aware of everyone’s role within the team and take responsibility for their contributions

 

Group-level factors

  • Appropriate team composition: having a clear understanding of each member’s skills and contributions to the team

Organizational-level factors

  • Open communication and positive feedback: having an environment where active listening and authentic feedback is encouraged, and team members are willing to hear constructive criticisms

  • Effective leadership: having leadership that encourages shared decision-making and problem solving

 

When a team does not demonstrate these attributes, it may become dysfunctional and ineffective.   

 

Practical tips: dispersed team

 

Globalization of markets and improved technological capabilities mean that it is more likely than ever that team members may be geographically dispersed [30]. Team members from the same organisation may now be located in different offices, cities, or even countries. This can provide a host of benefits, such as increasing cultural and educational diversity, attracting a broader range of skills and talents, increasing employee productivity, and – importantly – offering a cost-effective team structure. For academics, collaborations can be beneficial and increasingly necessary.

 

Unfortunately, dispersed team may also suffer from communication problems due to availability restrictions, language barriers, and lack of unity. The Center of Creative Leadership offers these practical tips for leading a dispersed team [31]:

  • Have the first team meeting face-to-face. This sets the stage for collaboration.

  • Clearly define team goals, objectives, and individual tasks and roles.

  • Provide strong organizational support. Focus on communication and information sharing, decision making, and conflict resolution.

Suggested links

Suggested videos 

 

References

Kerrie Wilson's Podcast - Interview by Sharon Parker
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