Everyone has been on a team.
Teams are a ubiquitous feature of the human experience. But why? Why do we organize into teams? Why do some teams succeed; why do some fail?
Teams are formed for all the practical reasons you can think of. Psychologists suggest there are three points of influence with teams — attitudes, behaviors and motivational factors.
Team objectives determine how effective these factors are. For example, the more innovative the objectives, the stronger the demands on these factors. If the goal is to develop a new innovative product, the team characteristics that assure success might be positive attitudes, diverse and high competencies and quick and adaptive learning abilities.
By their very nature, team members are interdependent. No matter the goal or type of team, teammates rely on each other to meet expectations. Psychologists make a distinction between task work — how well a person works on an individual assignment — and teamwork — how well people work in concert. Dr. Gerald Goodwin with the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences — incidentally my old unit for 12 years as a Reservist — suggests, “How well people work together may be more important than how well they each work on the tasks.” Competencies in both task and teamwork are necessary for success.
The idea of “team cognition” is an important team dynamic. Kirsten Weir, in the September 2018 issue of Monitor on Psychology, defines it as that which “allows team members to understand intuitively how their team members will think and act.” What teammates know about goals, individual competencies, resources, collaboration opportunities and existing circumstances increase the likelihood of team success.
Nowhere is team cognition more important than in medical teams working in life-and-death situations. It can also be seen in multidisciplinary rounds with improved communication, in the team thinking of primary care physicians and in multidisciplinary research teams where the benefits outweigh the research of a single medical discipline.
The more complex the task, the more the need for multidisciplinary teams with diverse backgrounds. The key here is the development of trust when coming from many different perspectives. The greater the communication over time, the stronger the trust.
Team effectiveness research is difficult, primarily due to the dynamic nature of teamwork and team interactions. However, researchers continue to look for effective teamwork behaviors.
Leadership is an obvious factor in team success. The more the leader models and supports the desired competencies, the more effective the team. Strong communication, soliciting input and feedback, monitoring progress and seeking outside assistance when necessary all increase team effectiveness.
Relationship-building is another important process in team success. Strong relationships rely on common values and principles where team activities are understood, where information changes are shared, and team members have the needed resources both to share and get the work done.
Teams fail for many reasons. Failure to change, infuse new thinking or add new members can breed complacency. Unresolved conflicts withing teams can fester and lead to failure. When Unclear roles and loss of vision impede success. Lack of resources, such as money, information, people and time, slows progress and can cause teams to fail.
Teamwork is complex, dynamic, and multidisciplinary, whether in the hospital, in a business or on the battlefield. There is no substitute for learning from experience. A simple checklist of what you’ve learned that works as a team member, leader or observer can be helpful to you and your company in building team success as you move forward.