Saturday, February 10, 2007

Teamwork: A Success Prerequisite

Business is avidly embracing all kn ids of teams as the fading century relaxes its grip on its ideals of scientific management and rugged individualism. But business teams, however robust they appear are still delicate organisms, at risk of succumbing to any number of internal and external threats. And sometimes, just when a team-or a plant full of teams-seems strongest, unanticipated problems can arise that range from time stealing and energy sapping to life threatening.
Workplace teams take many forms, address many purposes, and have many different names., but they fall into two general categories. First, there are the teams variously known as cross-functional teams, product improvement teams, process imrprovement teams, and program teams. These may be short or long-lived or even permanent. What these teams have in common is that they combine people from a variety of functions who work together toward a joint goal. To simplify terminology, we can call all these types of teams project teams.
A second broad category of business teams has upended the basic structure of countless manufacturing and service organizations over the last decade. These are work unit teams that assume most of the responsibilities formerly reserved for the unit's supervisor. Such a unit may be called an autonomous work team, a self managed team. or a self-directed team. It is a small group of employees who share responsibilities for a block of work; the team plans, schedules, and assigns work and makes decisions related to production and personnel.
While these two types of teams - including ensuing committees and task forces related to them - can be called formal teams that are initiated by the organization to carry out official tasks and assignments, there are always other teams that are initiated by the social activities of the employees themselves such as recreational activities teams, and voluntary community service activities. The bond that ties employees together in this latter type is usually stronger and more relaxing.
Everywhere in business today, people are wearing many hats, assuming every-increasing responsibilities. So the the life of any permanent or long-lived team, there will be times when progress will falter because members are juggling too many balls. The manager of a project team member May call on the person to redouble efforts on a high priority task back in the work unit. In a self-directed work team, a big new order, growing backlog, or unexpected customer demand may draw workers' attention away from their concentration on learning and assuming increased supervisory responsibilities.
Burdened by conflicting priorities, team members may respond in ways that change team tasks and bypass team processes. They may skip team meetings, asserting they are "too busy"; they may attend the meetings but use the time to talk about different issues they share with other members of the team; they may fall behind on promised deliverables. The sooner the team leader intervenes, the less likelihood that a few isolated instances will grow into patterns that erode the team's viability.
When situations like these start to occur, the team leader's first task is to confirm that "other priorities' isn't a polite euphemism for burnout or loss of interest in the team's purpose and activities. those are different roblems, and while the symptoms may be similar, some of the solutions are quite different. But connecting with team members outside the formal meetings is a good starting point whatever the underlying cause of members' withdrawals.
Team members commitment makes them monitor their own ability to deliver what they have promised to deliver.
Teams sometimes confront a problem of conflicting priorities that's quite different from the one individual members wrestle with when they find themselves with too much to do. As the company refines its strategies and priorities, teams have to take stock to ensure their priorities still match those of the organization. Every team needs to be careful not to get locked into a narrow view of its purpose. Unless it keeps up to date on needs and goals of the broader organization, support for the team will wane and it will wither due to its own shortsightedness.

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