If I build a strong team, am I abdicating power or control?

When you build a sense of teamwork, you are not abdicating power or control. While teamwork works best in a climate of participation or, better yet, shared leadership (think "empowerment), it isn't mandatory. This is a decision that you make as team leader, and this is a role that you can retain or share, as you wish. The key is making sure that employees understand the ground rules by which teamwork is practiced.

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Some management thinkers might disagree with the paragraph above. They would argue that the more control a person has in an organization, the more power that person will have to relinquish to run an effective team. For instance, as a manager, relinquishing control, they would argue, means deliberately holding back on your point of view and allowing your team's members to spend time searching for the right answer, rather than providing it for them. This is true only if you want that kind of relationship with your team.

What are my responsibilities as team leader?

As a team manager, your major responsibility is to model the behaviors and attitudes that you want to see within the team. For one, you need to share information with your team, just as you expect members to exchange information with one another. If you share information with just a few members of the team, then it shouldn't come as a surprise that members of your staff hoard information from one another and even question this thing you talk about called "teamwork."

As team leader, you need to show respect for each member and the unique contribution each person makes to the team effort. Recognize that all your team's members have the right to their own opinions. You don't have to agree with them but you do need to recognize that the opinions are valid for the individuals who hold them. And praise and encourage everyone.

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When you first form a team, expect that there will be some doubt about your willingness to model the behaviors described above. You have to devote time and attention to building an atmosphere of mutual support, encouragement, communication, and approval. Encourage your people to have fun. Laughter brings people together, and it's a great stress-buster.

In time, as employees get used to the idea of collaboration and cooperation as a team, the group will begin to settle in and settle down. But don't imagine that your work is over. It's just the beginning. You need to continue to treat everyone equally, with equal respect. Never forget to say thank you. Celebrate individual successes and, also, a team success—because everyone contributed in one way or another

Why is it important to have diversity within my team?

A diverse group provides a greater mix of viewpoints or perceptions and strengthens the team's overall processes of ideation and creativity. It doesn't matter team members' seniority, age, sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, or physical status. Pulling these individuals together gives the team the chance to capitalize on the unique strengths of the individual members while respecting their diversity in the process.

What are the four stages of cross-functional teams?

The four stages of cross-functional teams are:

1. Forming

2. Storming

3. Norming

4. Performing

Some management gurus say there is even a fifth stage, mourning.

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The first stage is forming, during which you need to finalize the team's mission and work with team members to get agreement about what is acceptable team behavior. While there may be some disagreements over leadership and team governance, you can expect most differences to focus on the team mission.

The second stage—storming—is the phase in which you can expect conflicts to arise among members. As ideas are shared and action plans are developed, proprietary feelings will arise about people's ideas and turf. Aware of such problems' likelihood, you should attempt to exert greater control during this phase of the team process. Knowledgeable about which members bring sensitive egos to the group, you also are more likely to be more responsive to member needs for recognition. Thus this stage isn't traumatic for team members.

During the third phase—norming—you can expect group members to really get down to business. They will take on informal roles as well as formal assignments. For instance, one member may emerge as an organizational leader, skilled at determining what needs to get done and when, and able to get everyone pulling in the right direction. Another member might emerge as a writer-reporter, not only keeping the group's minutes but also taking on a major role in the writing of the final group report. Many members prove themselves to be quiet followers, and you know that a key responsibility to these team members is to provide a supportive environment in which they will feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions.

As members play to each other's strengths and work in concert, a cross-functional team enters the fourth and final phase of team management—performing. This phase ends in completion of the team project.

Some management gurus talk about a fifth phase—mourning—as team members separate and focus fully, again, on their full-time jobs. If the team's project was exciting and very successful, some team members will find its end as stressful as its beginning.

Sustaining ties with members and keeping them informed of progress toward completion of action plans set by the group will make the mourning period easier on these individuals.

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