Everybody seems to agree that teams are ‘A Good Thing’. For many people “the team” is something we should all aspire to join. Surely only the most anti‑social and difficult individuals express unease with “team working”. Of course, we all accept that teams get it wrong sometimes, but building teams and fostering “team spirit” is usually considered a good thing throughout the corporate environment.
Everyone knows what “a team” is. Everyone knows how to put a team together. Everyone can select the best people to engineer the best available team. Everyone knows how to allocate the tasks to be done amongst the members of the team. But if it’s all so obvious, why do so many workplace teams struggle to deliver?
The team comes together to produce a level of performance greater than can be achieved by individuals working alone. This is the assumption underpinning the whole concept of team working. The whole must be greater than the sum of the parts. Yet in many instances the team, no matter how hard it tries, just seems unable to work well together and at worst may even produce less than one talented individual could produce working alone.
Of course the first test of a team’s ability to deliver a result is that it must be a real team. In other words it must have a shared, commonly understood goal. It needs a reason to exist. At first sight, project teams pass this initial test better than more established functional “teams”. This is because their purpose is clear – usually scoped within the traditional triple constraints of a project team: time, cost and quality.
Project teams are often multi‑disciplinary teams drawn from across the organisation that rely on the effective combination of appropriate knowledge and skills. Sometimes, a project team is the only real team that people belong to within an organisation.
Frequently a project team starts out by tackling its tasks full of enthusiasm. This can quickly dissipate as it meet obstacles and then fails to deliver a result on budget, on time or to the required levels of performance.
The best people were selected for the project, the representation from the different functional disciplines seemed appropriate, all the specialist knowledge and skills were in place ‑ and yet something was missing. How can it be that a team of highly qualified and experienced people can sit around a table, agree clearly what has to be done, yet still fail to complete essential tasks? So many workplace teams appear to have significant blind spots. For example:
- Team A keeps changing direction and fails to keep adequate records.
- Team B can identify and analyse problems effectively but can’t seem to solve them.
- Team C spends a lot of time thinking about the issues and planning how to tackle them but doesn’t appear to get anything done.
- Team D are over optimistic in their forecasting of what they can achieve and by when.
- Team E is fizzing with ideas but rarely put any of them into practice.
When their blind spots are identified and weaknesses exposed all of these teams agree that they need to improve and do better ‑ and then end up in the same situation all over again three weeks later. Why is it that putting together a team of excellent people with appropriate knowledge, specialist skills and real commitment is so frequently not enough? What can be done to improve the probability of success?
Let us introduce you to “The Process of Achievement” which is a way of looking at the essential steps required to get something done. Irrespective of whether you are organising a major project, or a social event, the process for achieving a good result is the same, and can be represented by this virtuous circle:
If any one of the steps shown above is marginalised, neglected or even done to excess, the project will be adversely affected.
Morgan Clarke can work with you to improve the process of achievement at your organisation. Get in touch on [email protected] or call 01306 621600 and ask for Claire.