The value of teamwork

It is very rare for anybody to be able to complete a productive activity in isolation.  We all need the cooperation of others at some point.  We can put up barriers to limit inter-action to inputs and outputs (e.g. to buy materials, retreat to a lonely cell to make a product then sell it through to a wholesaler) but it would be a static world, unable to progress and develop, if everyone worked in that way.  Not wanting to promote the cubicle world style of project management I firmly believe in the creation of effective teams to tackle all activities in the workplace.

So what is an effective team?  Belbin explained that each of us tends to favour a particular role when inter-acting with others in a team setting.  He identified nine such roles.  Examples include the plant who is the creative thinker and the completer-finisher who sorts out the detail.  I'm not going to give a full critique on Belbin here, suffice to say that I have taught Belbin theory to all my Foundation Degree students and believe it to be infallable and continuously relevant.  What Belbin gives us is a taxonomy for how teams work together and the underlying message is that in order to be effective a team must have a mix of people who contribute an element of each of the nine Belbin roles.  A team of plants will come up with all sorts of ideas and creative approaches but will never be able to sort out the detail.  A team of only completer-finishers will probably implode because they don't have a starting point.

An aspect of teamwork that develops as people gain experience is the way we support each other to achieve a common goal. People new to a professional working environment can feel insecure and ill at ease due to the uncertainty of how their burgeoning career will progress.  This is natural and most people settle relatively quickly.  The tendency with most new recruits is to behave passively with respect to the tasks they are given.  They need to be given clear instructions about what to do and may feel nervous about going beyond these instructions.  Depending on the role they have been given there may be good reason to do exactly what they have been instructed to do.  However, in most working environments, the first opportunity that a person has to demonstrate their future capability is to make the transition from passive to pro-active behaviour.  In the context of teamwork this is achieved by establishing a two-way dialogue with peers, team-leaders and other managers and using this to show initiative in a positive manner.  Suggesting better ways to complete a task, asking for advice, identifying and escalating issues are all examples of pro-active behaviour.

The next big step that a person needs to make in terms of team-working is to be able to take responsibility for the work of someone else.  This is a significant step since it is not simply a case that you suddenly have the power to give other people instructions - you need to do it effectively and the skill you use is that of the coach.  A truly effective team leader has the ability to explain a task clearly and the patience to train someone who is most likely going to be much slower at carrying out the task. Coaching is a continuous and natural activity.  It is about empathising with people and understanding what they don't yet know. I would argue that anyone who is not able to develop this natural ability to coach others will never develop the necessary competence to take on any kind of management responsibility.

The progression in competence in the context of team-work continues throughout a persons career.  We work in teams at all levels of the organisation and have the need to be effective, sympathetic, to empathise, to criticise (positively), to be creative and to ensure the task at hand is completed within constraints of time, cost and quality.  How we do this determines the level of responsibility and accountability that we can command and therefore our competence to manage.  The GCF recognises this progression and provides descriptions of the expected bahaviour for each of the 7 levels of competence.

Why not read more about the GCF and see what it can offer your organisation.  This site provides highlights of the GCF, how it is structured and what it covers.  The guidance, tools and templates behind the theory are all available in packaged form at a price comparable to standard office software.  They can also be skinned to match an organisations branding requirements.