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What do we know about the science of team success?

The science of team success

The role of teams in organizations has been growing, spurred by globalization and aided by communications technology. Teamwork has become a standard structure and process in most organizations today. Leaders and management consultants often assume that a team approach to work produces superior results. Yet, only recently has research identified both the dynamics that can enhance team performance and the dysfunctions that plague teams.

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, identified the following key reasons why teams can become a liability:
     • Absence of trust: Team members are not open and honest with each other.
     • Fear of conflict: Conflict is avoided and conversations become veiled and guarded.
     • Lack of commitment: Team members rarely buy in or are committed.
     • Avoidance of accountability: Team members hesitate to confront their colleagues on actions and              behaviors that are unproductive.
     • Inattention to results: Team members put their personal interests and careers ahead of the team            and organization.

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Steve Kozlowski and his colleagues recently published their teamwork research in The Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology and Psychological Science in the Public Interest. They point out that the role of teams has been idealized, yet also implicated in many political and military catastrophes. They also cite apparent contradictions between our focus on group work in organizations and our education system and general society, which emphasizes individual performance.

Although organizations place great value on teamwork, the way organizations make us of teams often runs against evidence about what works. For example, most organizations reward people with compensation and benefits based on individual performance rather than team performance.These rewards often actually inhibit team members' willingness to work together and help one another.

Kozlowski and his colleagues examined the past 50 years of research literature on teams and identified factors that characterize the best teamwork. They concluded that what team members think and feel are as important as what they do. The research indicates that part of the glue that binds people to their team leader is emotional, and that emotional states in team members can be viral, affecting others.
The kind of feedback given to teams is also critical and affects performance. Kozlowski reported that feedback directed to individuals only in a team resulted in higher individual performance at the expense of team performance, and vice-versa.

Despite the importance of teamwork, very little attention has been given to educational training programs from public school to graduate university programs from the perspective of guiding teamwork and the use of influence and persuasion. If teamwork is as important as leaders claim for organizational results, they would be advised to understand in greater depth the science of teamwork and implement best practice, as well as resolve the inherent conflict between the focus on individual rewards and feedback and those for teams.

 

 

Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.

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