What Makes Teams Work

What are Teams? What is Teamwork?
Teams are more than a collection of individuals and teamwork is more than the aggregate of their individual behaviours. Moreover, one cannot simply label a group of individuals a ‘team’ and expect that they will perform as a team. Specifically, one may conceive a team to be a ‘distinguishable set of two or more people who interact dynamically, interdependently, and adaptively toward a common and valued goal/objective/mission, who have a limited life-span membership’. Characteristics that distinguish teams from small groups include the following: multiple sources of information, task interdependencies, coordination among members, cooperation and collaboration, common and valued goals, specialised member roles and responsibilities, mutual accountabilities, task-relevant knowledge, intensive communication, and adaptive strategies to help respond to change. To understand effective team performance or ‘teamwork’, one must understand how groups of individuals function to produce effectual synchronized output, rather than just summed or aggregated responses.

A team can therefore be defined as; “A combination of people who’s interdependent and interrelated efforts are necessary to accomplish a given task or set of tasks, a mechanism for the integration of skill, knowledge, attitude and experience”.

Out of the Box Team Productivity Overnight

Another version is; “A team is a collection of individuals who are interdependent in their tasks, who share responsibility for outcomes, who see themselves and who are seen by others as an intact entity embedded in one or more larger social systems (for example, business unit or the corporation), and who manage their relationships across organizational boundaries”

Team Composition (Forming)
One of the first things to be done to ensure successful team performance is to select the right team members. Stable individual characteristics associated with superior abilities for team coordination and performance must be the basis to select the right people.

Team composition may vary along several dimensions; (1) attributes such as age, gender, race, intelligence, aptitude, training, experience, personality (2) distribution of these attributes within the team and (3) the stability of team composition over a period of time.


Team Size
Size is largely influenced by the nature of the tasks to be performed. If too few people are chosen, undue stress will be placed on team members; on the other hand, if too many are chosen, resources are wasted. However, larger teams tend to be detrimental to effectiveness, typically as a result of heightened coordination needs. As a general rule, teams should be staffed to the smallest number needed to do the work.

Task Design
Overall, management should make jobs motivational by enabling autonomy, wide participation in team decisions, a variety of task assignments, and interdependence between members. Management should create a supportive context for the team in terms of training, resources, information, encouragement, performance measurement and monitoring, and encouraging positive team processes. Some key design elements are:

  • Workload / Time Constraints: Workload is a consideration because even one overloaded team member, by neglecting his/her obligations to fellow team members, could impact the performance of the team as a whole. The level of workload may also determine which team processes are needed for team performance and which training interventions will be most useful for those situations. Time pressure, which is closely tied to workload, is negatively correlated with the reliability of decision-making. As time pressure increases, the reliability of team decision-making drops.
  • Team Architecture / Structure: Team architecture refers to those system or task variables that define or influence how team members interact. Four important variables are: 1) Member proximity; 2) Communication modality; 3) Function allocation to individual team members; 4) Teamwork coordination.
    Member Proximity: When physical distance is smaller, cohesiveness and communication are positively affected. Greater distances tend to exert negative influences. Team decision-making and coordination are ultimately affected. Psychological distance operates in much the same manner as physical distance, resulting in decreased communications as the perceived distance grows.
    Communication Modality: refers to the nature of the medium through which team members engage in their interactions. The most prevalent and powerful is face-to-face, verbal interaction.
    Function Allocation: Team structure or organization refers to the assignment of particular components of the team’s collective task to individual team members and to the nature of the interactions that must ensue for the team to effectively coordinate and execute those tasks. Tasks may be performed independently, interdependently, sequentially, or in parallel. If interdependency is high, the knock-on effect of tasks will seriously affect the one from the other, and this effect may be amplified by the nature of the organization. In this sense, team organization determines team output. This will influence how team members interact with each other due to overlapping responsibilities. This relates to the non-hierarchical structure and nature of a team. Team members in those types of teams communicate more than those in hierarchical teams, where there is no overlap in team responsibilities. This suggests that non-hierarchical structures facilitate more effective team coordination and decision-making than hierarchical structures.
    Teamwork Coordination: The coordination of teamwork is therefore a critical function either way within the structure. As a consequence, a dedicated amount of hours per month must be devoted to this function by a team member or someone outside the team.

One of the most influential variables in the human engineering of teams today is that of technology. Careful consideration must be given though to employ technology of a supportive nature. That is, interactive technology to strengthen work and communication processes, that measures performance and enables learning to take place in order to be more effective as individuals and as a team. The Intégro Learning’s Internet Operating Support System® (IOSS®) is an example. It enables a ‘line of sight’ which makes the whole visible to everyone, so that the team doesn’t feel fragmented and disconnected. Conversations are stimulated and cooperation and collaboration continuously improve.

This can make or break a team. It is the basis of all healthy and productive human relationships. A team is a relationship institution and trust is therefore the key to the spirit of the team. Trust is either built or diminished every time members interact with each other, one cannot be neutral in this regard. Four ingredients must be practiced to ensure trust is built. All four are of equal importance, they are; Reliability; Openness; Straightforwardness & Acceptance.

Team Identity
Identity is the source of organization, the sense making part of a team. Identity includes such dimensions as history, values, actions, core beliefs, goals, competencies, norms, purpose, vision. A team must create a clear and coherent identity through gaining clarity & agreement on all the elements to function effectively.

Information is the life blood of the team, the nutrient for self-organization. Everyone must have access to relevant operational and strategic information. It enables members to organize rapidly around shifts in customer demands, competitors, or operational environments.

Relationships are the pathways of the spirit and intelligence of the team. Members must get to know and learn how we differ from each other and how to deal with that effectively. Productivity of the team is the consequence of healthy, autonomous relationships that are based on an attitude of, “I’m OK and You’re OK”, meaning, let’s get on with it.