The Secret Of Teams


Prehistoric humans many, many years ago were probably the first to realize the importance of teams. After all, it was much easier for a group of hunters to bring down a large animal such as a mammoth or defend against dangerous animals such as a saber-toothed tiger rather than each hunter doing so separately. Also, prehistoric people learned to band together to increase their survival rate, share ideas, and eventually build the basis for societies of the modern world. Modern humans have found the team concept still works. In business it is just as important to band together to benefit the survival of individuals within an organization to insure the company or organization endures. Survival in the modern world is now more related to the successful completion of a project or proposal instead of just harvesting an animal to supply food for the clan.

Just as it was in prehistoric times, teamwork is equally important today. To insure survival of the organization, maximize their marketing potential, and thrive in the market, organizations must rely on their managers to approach tasks and projects as teams rather than relying on individual efforts. Teams are a more productive method of accomplishing a goal with quality output as opposed to just a collection of separate efforts. “Teams out-perform individuals acting alone or in larger organizational groupings, especially when performance requires multiple skills, judgments, and experiences. (Katzenback and Smith 1993, 9).”

What Is A Team?

The Random House College Dictionary defines a team as a “Number of persons associated in some joint action such as work, a game, or a contest (1973).” Another source defines a team as “A small number of people with complimentary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable (Katzenback and Smith 1993, 21).” No matter where you find the definition, a team is an energetic and diverse collection of individuals who are committed to achieving common goals and objectives; who work well together; and who have pride in the team and its great accomplishments.

Components of a High-Performance Team

The most visible teams today are football teams, baseball teams, and a variety of other sports teams. The best football team is the club that wins the super bowl at the end of the season by working well as a team. As any sports fan knows, there are teams and there are high-performance teams. Even though there are many football organizations who have talented individual players, it is rare that the team will become the champions as a result of the efforts of one player. Watching a Sunday football game it is obvious who is the better team. They are the players that appear to always move in synchronization on the field without much effort. These players may not have the highest salaries or be the most talented individuals; what they are is a good team. Simply speaking, they have the same goal to win the game and strive to work together to achieve that goal.

Winning the super bowl is a good motivation for a football team, but the philosophy of the team effort does not change when you move into the game of big business. “In sports, players often model their performance and behavior to conform to the tradition of their team. In business, people model their behavior to reflect the company’s corporate culture (Martin 1993, 25).” A good team works together to achieve any set goal or reach a shared vision, whether in sports or business. In the business world a demanding challenge tends to create a team. Most often, teams form on their own, without guidance of management, to face a challenge. “The hunger for performance is far more important to a team success than team building exercises, special incentives, or team leaders with ideal profiles (Katzenback and Smith 1993, 3).” It has been found that a common set of demanding performance goals considered important by a group will lead to both performance and a team. The teams with the best performance will include strong leadership, shared responsibility, understood purpose, and open communications in their work ethic. (Bucholz and Roth 1987, 14)

Creating a High-Performance Team

Setting the foundation for a quality team includes considerations related to size, purpose, goals, skills, approach, and accountability. Paying close attention to these factors is what creates the conditions for high quality team performance. Other characteristics of an effective team include common vision; clear, cooperative goals to which every member is committed; energy and enthusiasm; distributed participation and leadership; and appropriate and effective decision making procedures. In addition, a team requires productive controversy; a high level of trust, acceptance, and support among its members; members feeling significant and motivated; and a high degree of cohesion amongst team members. “Real teams are deeply committed to their purpose, goals, and approach. High-performance team members are also very committed to one another (Katzenback and Smith 1993, 9).”

In the most effective teams, information is shared in all directions; vertical and horizontal. Within the team everyone shares ideas and is open and honest with each other with suggestions and even constructive criticism. This honesty helps to create an atmosphere that is open, non-threatening, and fostering participation. It is only in this atmosphere that decisions are truly made by consensus. As a result, relationships amongst members are trustful, respectful, and supportive. Although in a individual-effort-based workplace conflict can be disastrous, in a team environment conflict is viewed as a positive, natural, and even helpful factor in the team because conflicts are over issues, not on a personal level. By removing the self centered nature of an individual, each team member better understands the importance of constant communication and feedback. To have the greatest effectiveness communication must be constructive and move freely and openly in all directions.

Avoiding the Pitfalls

If teams are so effective, then why do some teams perform flawlessly and others break down and achieve little or nothing tangible? Some teams are doomed from the start because they are, in fact, bad teams. A group of people assigned to a team, does not make a team; because it is named a team does not mean it will perform or behave like a team. A team that is misapplied or created for the wrong reason will be nonproductive and costly. A bad team can be a result of a person being assigned to a team who may not be interested in working with others; individual egos becoming involved in the development process; and the lack of guidance leading to confusion. The largest single cause of team failure is when the team does not have a challenge or clearly defined goal. Other obstacles that may prevent a team from performing may include a lack of real commitment of team members; avoidance of risk taking by members; avoidance of responsibilities and destructive competition; and poor internal communication.

Poor communication and a lack of information sharing, or misinformation, is a trademark of an ineffective team. Poor interaction leads easily to distrustful and competitive behavior reigning and creating an environment where things are accomplished by brute force or mob rules rather than by consensus. Red Auerbach, former coach and general manager of the Boston Celtics may have put it best, “Good teams always have common goals. When you find that goals of certain members differ from the team’s, then the team will usually do poorly (Martin 1993, 20) .”

Quality Ingredients With Marginal Output

Sometimes, however, a team’s collective performance falls below expectations; this is especially true when the team is staffed by high quality people. When a team composed of highly intelligent people performs worse than a team of less qualified members, this phenomena is referred to as the Apollo Syndrome. The term Apollo Syndrome applies to when one person on a team takes the credit for all of the team’s success, even though their role in that success may have been of little or no consequence. “The Apollo Syndrome is based on the (supposed) claim of someone to have played a vital role in the success of NASA’s Apollo missions to the moon, where scientists had to work all through the night on many occasions, battling against fatigue. One person claimed a vital role to the whole program by making the coffee that kept them awake. (Belbin 1981).”

A team should be a group of individuals working toward the same goal; no single person is responsible for the team’s success. However, there is a natural resistance to allowing ourselves to be accountable for the actions of others and allowing others to be accountable for us. “We do not easily take responsibility for the performance of others, nor lightly let them assume responsibility for us (Katzenback and Smith 1993, 9).” This resistance can be attributed to prior bad experiences on teams which includes being teamed with others who do not share in the load of work or just refuses to work with others. “It is not always easy for a team to take advantage of positive performance conditions, particularly if members have relatively little (and relatively negative) experience working collaboratively (Hackman 1990, 11).” Rejection to working in a team may also stem from fear of being punished or negatively labeled if the team fails to perform. Unfortunately many people believe that in order to get something done right, they must do it themselves; thus they reject any ideas of teams whatsoever. These situations that create negative bias towards teams can proliferate through a team and sabotage its overall success. In a high-caliber team situation, however, there are ways for each individual to contribute and gain recognition within the team. One point that cannot be emphasized strongly enough is that diversity helps to make a team strong and flexible. Everyone on a team has some value, be it experience, technical knowledge, or just the ambition and drive to see a task to completion. By utilizing these talents in a constructive manner, the team can benefit from the strengths of the individuals by removing the weaknesses of each individual. The overall team, therefore, becomes more efficient, technically qualified, and driven by virtue of its individual components.

Pride of Product

When team members recognize the superior product a team can put together they will become more concerned about getting the job done, care about job quality, and respect each other as coworkers as well as individual personalities. Members of a functional team are motivated to get the job done right, and done right the first time. The quality of the team’s performance is driven by their shared vision which, in turn, motivates them. Each team member understands the value of being willing, at all times, to share knowledge, skills, ideas, and time. Each team member has a good understanding of every other team member’s individual role and function. As a result, they will at all times try to help that person be successful in their role, even if it only involves being sensitive to the problems that person may be experiencing at any given time. With this understanding and bonding, the team members form a small family-like organization which is respectful and sensitive in order to function. Unfortunately, like families, teams will relate along the whole interaction spectrum from harmonious to outright dysfunctional. Like chaotic, dysfunctional families, dysfunctional teams suffer from lack of control or leadership and a low quality of intimacy or communication. In contrast, the “hot” teams will start looking like the television ideal of the family in Father Knows Best; working through conflicts toward a common, overall good or goal.

“In a team organization, people are excited about the company vision and want to serve its customers. They are in ongoing dialogues about how they can get their jobs done and make continuous improvements. They readily ask for assistance and feel free to speak their minds. They respect and appreciate each other as people and contributors and they also directly challenge each other’s ideas and positions. They want everyone to feel powerful, valuable, and included, not just those in the top positions. They forgive slights, misunderstandings, and opposition (Tjosvold 1991, 3).”

Where to Find the Right People

Quality team members come from right within an organization; generally, no outside effort is required to find high caliber team members. In the era of company cutbacks, downsizing, and reorganization, many companies can not afford to go “outside” of the organization to obtain new talent. “Faced with a business climate of disappearing capital, shrinking profit margins, and price-conscious customers (who still want quality and service), team building offers a business owner a cost-effective way to increase production and improve quality without adding additional personnel and equipment (O’Connor and Erickson 1996, 1).” The mind set exists that the organization must do more with less. For team building this forces the company to look within for personnel in which to form high-performance teams.

Many individuals are overlooked as team members merely by the short sightedness of team leaders or managers who see no benefit or value of having some employees on teams. However, as stated earlier, when a team is formed, everyone has something to contribute. If one team member lacks in one area of expertise, usually another team member has that knowledge. However it must be stressed that team members must have complimentary skills to successfully complete a task. These skills may include functional or technical expertise, problem solving and decision making skills, and interpersonal skills. In a crisis situation, the organization may not be afforded the luxury of hiring outside and must work with what they have within their employed personnel. In a situation like this, forming a team may be simplified if the nature of the emergency makes the goals of the team clear and obvious, thus making the member choice more specific. The key element remains that all team members must be aware of their purpose and goal.

Team Advantages

Forming teams to perform tasks is advantageous to both the team members and to the organization itself. “None of us is as smart as all of us (Blanchard et al. 1990, 25).” In a well functioning team collaboration everyone will want to work with one another and solve problems with solutions that are agreeable to everyone. With everyone generating ideas, the options are numerous compared to the ideas of just one person, since brain storming seems to breed ideas. Because of the open communications that exist within a well structured team, team members not only contribute numerous and different ideas, but will also challenge the inputs of other team members, thus making the overall team decisions more sound.

Decisions, Decisions

Since most decisions made in a functioning team environment are usually made by consensus, the accepted solution is usually more sound than the smartest team member acting alone. Accepted by all, the likelihood of the decision being a bad one is reduced. “What is critical is how the team approaches important, ongoing issues, for these are the decisions that give the group its character and impact on people’s involvement, and team success (Tjosvold 1991, 52).”

It is important to realize that challenges to ideas must be purely objective and not of a personal nature. Performance is the issue, not politics. In a well functioning team, criticism and conflict are centered around the issues at hand; not the people involved within them. As a result, there are no hidden agendas within high-quality teams because of the open nature of communications. This is not to say that there is no controversy within the team structure. Rather, controversy only temporarily delays the making of a decision. In this delay, if handled properly, the team is allowed the time to step back and analyze all available options instead of blindly selecting the first one. Controversy also becomes a learning tool by exposing others to new ideas or concepts. When a team begins to discuss controversial issues, the members of the team become more informed on how to best make a decision because they hear each member’s opinion on the controversy and a possible manner to resolve the problem. In doing so, the team again benefits from shared ideas, thought stimulating conflict, and consensus in the final solution.

Expeditious Output

A well-formed team will, without a doubt, perform more work faster and at a higher quality than a group of individuals working on their own. A common mistake of management however is to throw a collection of bodies at a problem or large project, call that a team, and expect results. The difference here is that a team is a group of people focused on a goal, as opposed to a collections of individuals sent to perform an ugly job. If the management is fortunate, they may sometimes benefit from the thrown-together approach if the people assigned the task recognize their situation and take the initiative to form their own team to get the job done. In most cases, this unfortunately would just be a coincidence. “In any situation requiring the real-time combination of multiple skills, experiences, and judgments, a team inevitably gets better results than a collection of individuals operating within confined job roles and responsibilities (Katzenback and Smith 1993, 15).”

David and Goliath

The results of organizing a company into a series of smaller team who are more flexible, versatile, and quicker to respond to challenges compared to large organizations is becoming very evident in today’s market. In business today it is the smaller, more flexible organizations that are making it; especially in the technological arenas. One does not need to look much further than the Internet to witness examples of this phenomena. Yahoo! and Netscape are both small organizations that started out as a group of individuals with similar vision who teamed together and made their idea a reality. Because of their flexibility, these companies have not only survived in the business world, they have thrived by getting more than their fair share of the Internet market. At the same time, large companies such as Microsoft are playing catch up to these smaller, successful firms. Why are these smaller companies thriving? It is simply because the smaller companies with flattened structures have a very strong team flavor to them because of their size and mission. As a result smaller companies are reaping the rewards of working as team, being first to serve the customer by virtue of their speed and agility.

This is not to say that team success does not exists on a larger scale as well. The Coalition’s victory over Iraq in Desert Storm was a very large scale team effort. Within that conflict a team of U.S. active duty and reserve service military were responsible for moving, receiving, and sustaining over 300,000 troops, 100,000 vehicles, and more than 7,000,000 tons of equipment, fuel, and supplies between late 1990 and 1991 when the war ended. Without this large-scale collaborative effort, the Coalition may not have had the necessary personnel, equipment, and supplies to be victorious.

Company and Employee Benefits

Teams are not just beneficial to the performance or the output of their team; teams also benefit the organization or company for which they are working. High-performance teams are goal-oriented entities who share open communications, motivation, and responsibility to the company as well to each other. A team’s ultimate vision should be at least parallel to, if not the same as, the organization. Likewise, the team’s goal should be one that benefits the company as well. With all parties working together toward a similar goal, collaboration is one of the primary benefits. People who work well within and for the team are more willing to work for and with others for the betterment of the organization.

Two vital benefits for both the individuals and the company will be better communications and greater motivation. People tend to share freely when the are comfortable and trustful of their environment; there is no second guessing on what needs to be done or who will, or can, perform the task. Communications therefore flow freely in all directions, up, down, and sideways, as result of good teaming. Likewise, motivation is derived from the team being focused on performance. Performance is achieved by the shared focus, support given, and support shared within the team’s structure.

Building The Team

A team is more than a collection of individuals assigned to perform a task. Groups do not become teams because they are told to be a team. A team does not just happen; a quality team requires effort on the part of the team organizer as well as the individual team members. A team must be developed in such a way that the team is enabled or empowered to reach their goal. One of the keys to building an effective team is understanding what strengths, skills and motivations each individual brings to the team. Three important stages included in the team building process include clarifying the team’s goal, identifying any roadblocks to that goal, and eliminating these roadblocks.


“Basic to team building is the idea that employees are capable of taking on much greater personal accountability and responsibility (O’Connor and Erickson 1996, 1).” Under this idea many day-to-day decisions which were previously made by a manager have been delegated to staff or teams. A fully functional team will routinely come up with innovative solutions to problems on their own without constant supervision by management.

One of the more difficult elements in developing teams and empowering them is that managers must sometimes learn to let go and allow the team to perform and make their own decisions. To do this, the manager must first get to know the team, then let the team get to know their manager. It is then that the manager will find relinquishing the reins to the team members a bit easier. Once a manager is capable of transferring control to the staff, the team is on its way to becoming a functioning decision making entity. Teams must understand that their performance really matters.

Pulling Together

While the manager plays a very important role, the burden of forming a team falls onto the team members themselves. The individuals who make up a team must be willing to work with others, share ideas, communicate openly with the rest of the team, and abide by the rules and boundaries set by the entire group. The individual must also be willing to support the team in its pursuit of the ultimate team goal. Above all, the individual must want to perform as part of the team and help the team to achieve success. In many ways, the person will lose their identity as an individual and instead become a part of a greater whole known as the team.

It is important that each team member and the manager has a good understanding of every other individual’s role and function within the team. Once that understanding is reached it is easier to help the other team members be successful at their tasks; tasks which ultimately will benefit the whole team. The individual must be willing to share not only information and knowledge, but also to share their skills and time as well. The individuals must also be sensitive to the environment in which the team exists. Fostering internal communications as well as those in the external environment can prevent uncomfortable situations from arising. In doing all these things the individuals ultimately exhibit a willingness to cooperate and collaborate for the good of the overall team, their new overall persona, therefore creating a strong tie of togetherness.

There are many team building and familiarizing activities that may be employed by a team manager or leader. Some of these activities may include lunches, retreats, workshops, or off-site meetings. These activities give the team members time to get to know one another in an unofficial, neutral environment away from the workplace. The team project should be avoided as the topic of conversation as the purpose of the gathering is to allow everyone to get to each other as a person. This bonding activity can be as involved and expensive as signing the entire team up for an adventure with Outward Bound, or as simple and inexpensive as going out for pizza and beer. No matter what the activity, its primary purpose is to let the team members develop a sense of togetherness or synergy.

Team Synergy

The developed team synergy can be either a strong positive (productive) or negative (nonproductive) force. Synergism is the joint action of the individuals which when taken together, or as a team, increases the individual component’s effectiveness. In layman’s terms, three people on a team can, if fueled by positive synergy, turnout the same work as five individuals working on their own. Often times the team’s production rate is also faster because of information sharing fostering alternative idea generation in a shorter amount of time than it would take for an individual to come up with the same idea on their own.

In a strong team, the team synergy will be positive. This will allow the team to have a total end output exceeding the expected output based on the projected output of the individuals on their own. As the individuals bind together as a team they will share ideas, perspectives, and look at their goal from different perspectives. “The challenge is to create a situation where you and your work unit function as a team to achieve more than each can as individuals. (Buchholz and Roth 1987, 3).” Through these differing perspectives the team will discover that their scope of thought has broadened to allow for more ways to achieve their goal.

Conversely, there are weak teams which possess negative synergy. It is within these teams that a combination of confusion, in-fighting, and intolerance of other’s ideas will exist. This environment fosters no constructive work. Instead the energy that would otherwise go toward finding a means to reach the team’s goal and the drive to see the plan through is wasted on arguments, back-stabbing, and secret agendas. Through the narrowing perspective of keeping the individual from going down with the group, these “teams” will eventually reduce their productivity to nothing and, in doing so, never see their perceived goal brought to fruition. To circumvent the negative synergy, the team must follow a team lifecycle through four basic stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing. For any team to be effective it must pass through this initial phase of flux and turmoil before it will begin to perform.

The Four Basic Stages

Initially the team must go through a forming stage. In the beginning a group of individuals are asked to work together, thus forming a functional group. At first these individuals may have no clear reason for being together other than they were told that they were now a part of a team. This stage is very simple, and requires very little effort on the individual’s part. The manager, task giver, or leader of the team should have an idea at this time of what functions need to be accomplished and who should be on the team. As the team is forming it is generally a good idea for the manager to sell the idea of being on the team to prospective team members.

The second stage begins the storming process. During this phase the individuals will observe and exhibit their inherent personalities and characteristics. In doing so, conflicts may arise, disagreements proliferate, and chaos in general may rule. While at this time there still may be no truly defined goal for the group, it could be introduced at this stage. The group may appear to be just thrashing around, getting use to their environment, and becoming familiar with those around them. Now is when members will assert their views and often expose some of their personal goals. “Don’t let this go on too long! All of these relationships need to be developed, but there is work to be done (Wesner 1995, 164).”

The third stage is when the group’s goal is definitely defined. In this stage is when a normalizing occurs as members develop a sense of unity, clearly define their purpose, identify individual roles in the process, and delegate responsibilities based on information presented during the storming process. Natural leaders will assert themselves and begin to delegate responsibilities, natural planners will begin formulating a plan of attack, and those who naturally take the incentive to do the “dirty work” will begin to mentally implement the group’s plans. In doing so, the group begins acting more like a team and communicating freely as they do so. As the team norms, the team will set up rules, procedures and guidelines in which the team will operate smoothly under.

The final stage of the process is the most difficult to obtain; performing. In a high-performance team there will be a clear vision, a purpose, and a goal. The team will not only understand the concepts they have put forth, but also be committed to implementing them as well. The difficulty in completing this stage involves maintaining the dedication to follow through on all the necessary steps to obtaining the stated goal; maintaining a clear vision of the stated goal; and managing the individuals within the team so as to keep the synergy positive and the output high. It is during this stage that the role of the manager becomes more critical as the manager is now placed in the delicate position of both cheerleader and taskmaster. With the proper balance, the manager and the team members will develop a good working relationship which will help the individuals on the team through low-motivation times, assist in pulling the team through trouble spots, and rewarding with praise when major milestones are reached.

Leading and Motivating the Team

While management styles differ greatly, in a team environment it is best to manage or lead a team by creating a get done atmosphere. The greatest failing of a team manager is to build teams just for the sake of building teams, walk away, and expect the job to get done. This is merely just dumping the job or problem on the team and not helping the team at all. “When sharing power, you must be certain that you are not dumping tasks (Kayser 1994, 54).” The team manager must be willing to be involved and surrender a segment of his power and authority to the team to allow them to accomplish their goals. The get done atmosphere is not one of cracking whips over a team to get them to perform. Rather, it means that the manager takes the time and effort to motivate the team, yet allows the team the freedom to accomplish their goal without micro-management. The manager must therefore walk a proverbial tightrope between empowerment and guidance. “As facilitator, you do not surrender control, as some managers fear. You are there as part of the proceedings. You can intervene when the group seems to go awry or to exceed whatever authority and mandate you’ve given it (Quick, 1992, 21) .” To do this the manager must know when to take power as well as when to let go. “Empowerment is all about letting go so that others can get going (Blanchard et al. 1990, 110).”

Versatility and Flexibility

In today’s business climate, not only do the workers need to be flexible but so do the managers. Team leaders need to be just as versatile as the members of their team. As leaders they must be willing to take suggestions and even criticism if it is offered. “Versatile leaders work at creating a climate that brings out the hidden power in every employee and at aligning this energy to the leader’s vision and values (Tearle 1994, 80).”

A team’s management needs will surface initially in the early stages of the team formation and the goal development process. At that time the manager is responsible for bringing the correct individuals together to form the team, communicating the group’s goals or purpose, empowering the group to perform, and delegating tasks within the group based on previously displayed skills. The manager’s role continues when the need to reward for outstanding performance or milestone accomplishments are reached.

Participation, Not Totalitarianism

The team manager must also strive to be participative rather than authoritative. Within a participative environment a manager must trust the team members in their actions and support them as they strive to reach their goals. By doing so, the manager does not surrender power or status to the team, rather they let the responsibility fall on the team so as to motivate the team. “Effective team leaders adjust their style to provide what the group can’t provide for itself (Blanchard et al. 1990, 79).”

Another area in which the manager will empower the team will be their progress. A manager should never have to inquire about the status of the team’s progress since the communication lines should have already been established to include the manager. If the team was formed and managed correctly to start with, status reports, regular verbal status updates, and observations by management should suffice in keeping the manager up to date on the progress of the team at all times.

Team Equality from Top to Bottom

Although the manager is often not a part of the group tasked to accomplish the goal, they are still part of the overall team. As such the manager, or team leader, should never feel they are somehow better than the other members of the team. The concept of the team makes all members of the team equal, therefore the leader’s only role is to direct the others toward their common goal should any individual appear to deviate or side-track from that goal. If anything, the team leader is as much a part of the process as anyone else, and is subject to similar course corrections from team members. “If you’re the leader, but you aren’t part of the team, then you’ve got no team (Marcinko 1996, 48).”

The most effective team leader would never ask a team member to do something that the leader would not first do themselves. If a proposed task is not one the manager could morally perform themselves, they should not ask a team to do it either. If, however, the task is valid, then the manager needs to focus on the goals of the team so the team members can focus on the task at hand. The manager, therefore, must be concerned with the big picture rather than micro-managing the team’s day-to-day activities toward accomplishing the task. A team will tend to follow those who allow them to do their work, support their needs, and reward their accomplishments.

That the teams recognize that the manager is there should there be problems is only the beginning. An effectual manager is willing to roll up their sleeves and get into the project whenever necessary. Whether that assistance is encompassing or menial is inconsequential. Sometimes the little details is where the manager can help the most; ordering dinner on a late night effort, making coffee, making copies, or voicing suggestions during a brain-storming session. The importance is not in the manager’s activity; rather, it is in their visibility. If a manager is sincere about assisting a team, the members of the team will easily identify the sincerity of the action. The more sincere, the better the team will appreciate, instead of resent, the management involvement.

Lead By Example

The key to effective management involvement is for the manager or team leader to lead by example. “Effective leaders also model the behaviors they wish to encourage in their own team members (Bucholz and Roth 1987, 29).” If the team sees that their leader is willing to sacrifice, take on risk, and get his hands dirty, the team will be willing to do the same. Another benefit to the manager leading by this method is that the team will more readily respect and follow the team leader. A leader should do just that, lead, and lead from the front. “Leading from the front often means literally riding at the head of your troops. In business and in war, you should often be physically in front of your people, seeing what they see, fearing what they fear, and sweating with them as they labor (Marcinko 1996, 14).” A perfect example involved Lee Iacocca who worked long hours and cut his own salary to only $1 per year during Chrysler’s financial crisis in the 1980’s.

In a team environment the “do as I say and not and I do” philosophy will not work. When the team is treated as nothing more than subordinates, the manager will soon have a rebellious group with which to deal. Motivation to achieve a goal will diminish and a new revenge-base way of thinking will replace it. The urge to put out minimal effort by the team will replace maximum efficiency; some team members will begin to hold personal grudges which will manifest themselves negatively in the team’s end product, and in some cases the team itself will fall apart. Unfortunately, it is in times such as these that communications will begin to break down. Soon the team will only be reporting what the manager wants to hear. The real danger is that the team will begin to refocus their energy without the manager in the process. Should this happen, the manager is left managing nothing. To be an effective leader, the manager must understand they need to take care of their people; in turn, those who are taken care of will return the favor and take care of the manager. The golden rule still applies in the business world, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Positive Team = Quality Output

By creating, leading, and being a part of a positive team, the result will be not only a job well done, but also personal satisfaction for all involved. It is hard to believe that a group of motivated and concerned people working toward to the same goal would put out a product that was not of high quality. The chances of this occurring are close to zero. With everyone’s effort to insure that the correct decisions are made and that each others’ work is checked and double checked, the work output quality from a positive team will always be as high as possible.

No one wants to be held accountable for a poor product. If the team is correctly motivated, quality is automatically factored into their product. They want to produce a product they will be proud of and this pride serves as a further motivation for the team to perform in the future. “Members of empowered teams tend to develop a sense that they own the work and outcome. This energizes them even more, with often dramatic results (Wesner et al. 1995, 139).”

Naturally Making It Better

When teams take responsibility they develop a sense of closeness in relation to their work. As a result, it is merely a matter of pride to seek and act on opportunities for quality improvements. It is natural for us, as humans, to try to better not only ourselves but also the environment around us. We take this behavior with us into a team arrangement and attempt to work smarter, not harder. “Analyzing their own work processes in search or improvements is a way of life for work teams (Orsbrun et al. 1990, 16).”

As we seek to improve our environment everybody likes a pat of the back and to be told they have done a good job, not only by other people but also by themselves. Billy Martin, former manager for the New York Yankees, is quoted as saying, “There’s nothing greater in the world than when somebody on the team does something good, and everybody gathers around to pat him on the back (Martin 1993, 113).” Personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment is important to achieve for the team and for every team member. After all, personal recognition makes us all feel good about ourselves and what we are doing. A team that is recognized for doing good work is receiving reinforcement and encouragement to do more of the same. This encouragement will drive the team to continue to perform, thus producing quality output.

It is important that an employee feels good about what they have accomplished and feels good about what they are doing. With this sense of accomplishment they go home at night in a positive frame of mind and don’t dread or fear coming into work the next day.   Instead, the employee is rested and ready to go on and tackle new problems and contribute more to the success of the overall team. “Ultimately, however, the satisfaction shared by a team in its own performance becomes the most cherished reward (Katzenbach and Smith 1993, 119).”


Teams are not the answer to everyone’s productivity, quality, or morale problems within an organization. They will not solve every problem, magically improve results, or perform to greater than normal expectations. If used in the wrong way, teams can do more harm than good and become a waste of valuable resources. “Nonetheless, teams usually do outperform other groups and individuals (Katzenbach and Smith 1993, 25).”

A good team works together to accomplish shared goals and visions and is motivated by the purpose of the team. In a strong team there are open communications in all directions and a fostering, supportive environment prevails. These teams recognize that each team member has some value and positive contribution to lend to the success of the team. Just as there are good teams that perform and perform well, there also are bad teams that flounder and fail in chaos. This chaos is the result of the team not having a vision or goal and no purpose on which to focus their energy. Bickering, personal conflicts, and lack of communication attribute to the failure of most teams.

The best of teams are a collective group of diverse people working for the same goal with quality output as their main focus. Their goals can either be short term or long range in nature. Most importantly, there is no single person on the team that is responsible for the team’s success. All team members are concerned about getting the job done, working with each other, and supporting each other to see that the job is completed. With this common goal, respect is given to an individual’s team members not only as professionals but as singular personalities as well. Using the goal as the glue, the team will be bound and motivated toward its success; steering the team clear of failure. While these team do not happen overnight, teams can be formed instantaneously if needed. Generally, if an organization needs a team, it will form one from within because the right elements, talents, and knowledge are readily available. The manager must only recognize what is needed to be done and focus the appropriate elements in that direction to get the job accomplished. The team will then be formed and start to gel.

As the team forms, it will begin to increase the work output of the individuals on the team and ultimately benefit the organization as well. Within the team, individuals will begin to contribute numerous and varied ideas, challenge the inputs of other team members, and weigh all of these inputs to make sound decisions. The level of performance for a team in this type of situation will generally be of higher quality and at a faster rate than that of individuals working alone. A high-performance, goal-oriented team will then begin to share open communications, motivation, and accountability not just within the team, but also within the company as a whole.

When building the team, measured, attentive steps must be taken. Management must answer the questions of “what, who, when, and where” when forming the team. It is management’s responsibility to understand what task or job is to be performed; who are the right people to put on the job; when does the job have to completed; and where will the activity take place. Management must also understand that a team does not just happen. A quality team requires effort by the team organizer as well as the individual team members. A manager cannot collect a group and label them a “team” and expect results. All that would accomplish is throwing bodies at the problem and hoping they will be able to determine the problem and find the answers. Without leadership and synergy, all the manager has is a group of people, not a team.

The effects of synergy on a team can be either positive or negative, productive or counterproductive. Synergism is the resulting energy exceeding the sum of the individual energies added together. If all the right ingredients are in place, the team will very likely perform and a positive synergism will result. Otherwise, the effort is not productive and valuable time and resources may be lost in the process. It is best to develop positive synergy by allowing the team to work its way through the four-stage lifecycle.

The team lifecycle consists of four stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing. In the forming stage, the team is loosely formed and is in the infant stages of development. As the process progresses, the team experiences the growing pains of becoming a team; thus, storming. Personalities are asserted, limits are tested, and chaos is the norm. Fortunately, the norming phase soon follows and the team begins to set boundaries, rules, and guidelines for membership and participation in the team; general roles are defined and everyone becomes more comfortable with one another and each person’s purpose and goal. The final step is the performing stage; the reason for building the team in the first place. This is when the payoff of building a team is realized as the team pulls it all together and begins to perform the task at hand. The ultimate reward being the resolution of the problem or the accomplishment of the goal.

To reach that goal, a team must be lead and motivated. Leading the team does not imply ruling over the team with a bullwhip; rather it should mean the team is empowered and lead by example. By doing so the team will understand the importance of its efforts. It is best to manage or lead the team by creating a get done atmosphere to complete work instead of creating teams and walking away from them. The team will observe how they are lead and will respond in-kind. If a team is lead or directed well, it will perform well.

It is paramount that the team leader should never expect the team to perform a task or duty the team leader would not perform themselves. It is best to lead from the front and allow the team to see what is expected of them by example. With a strong leader, a strong team will feel good about what they are doing and will deliver quality output. The best teams are motivated to not only get the job done, but to get it done right. The nature of the team dictates that quality will be in the finished product. With every team member assuming accountability for the product, the chances of mistakes or overlooked items decreases exponentially.

Most everyone has, at one time or another, experienced the positive experience of working in a team. The concept of teamwork is unknowingly taught to most at the early age when assisting family members with household chores. Mowing and trimming the lawn, washing and drying the dishes, or even dusting and vacuuming the house become much more manageable if more than one assists in the effort. At this level, things such as synergism and empowerment are at work, yet are not yet acknowledged.

As an individual’s growth continues, teamwork becomes a more prevalent aspect in life. Little League teams, school plays, and youth groups heavily rely on teamwork for success. Still, the concepts of teams and teamwork remain hidden under the guise of “fun”. As young adults entering the world, the concepts and importance of teams become very important, and crucial for survival through everyday life. Whether a college freshman away from home for the first time or a newly enlisted soldier at boot camp, an individual very quickly learns the importance of teamwork. Phrases such as “cooperate and graduate,” become the theme as one learns to not only to depend on others, but also to be depended upon by others for common survival. This philosophy will then carry over to the work world.

In the work force teams abound. Along with the good there are the bad; however, it is usually simple to differentiate between the two. Seldom does a person work alone in their own realm eight hours a day. Others must be sought out for support, information, and expertise during the work day. When difficulties arise within the workplace teams are often assigned to assist in rectifying the problem. Whether they are called Tiger Teams, Red Teams, or Special Teams these teams are, more often than not, performers because their goal and purpose are clearly defined, they have the full support, and they are empowered by management to solve the problem at hand. Other teams which exist in the workplace include party or picnic committees; but the team concepts still prevail. Rarely is there a social function that fails due to poor coordination on the facilitating team’s part.

Teams are everywhere; working everywhere and performing everywhere. Some are obvious, some are not. For some, their absolute functions and purpose may be known only to them. For others, their purpose is clear to all. No matter what the reason, as long as there are a number of people working toward a common goal, there is a team. It is important to remember that if a team is built properly from the start, it can be a very effective tool to accomplishing a goal expediently and allow for personal satisfaction in the end product as well.


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Andy Wooten M.A. Counseling – Certified Life Coach – Aspen, Colorado

photo credit: ePublicist via photopin cc

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