When Teams Work Best: 6,000 Team Members and Leaders Tell What it Takes to Succeed


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By Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson
Why do some teams achieve extraordinary results while others fail miserably? A 15-year survey of more than 6,000 team members and leaders from a variety of industries provides important insights into the factors that contribute to team success.

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When Teams Work Best: 6,000 Team Members and Leaders Tell What it Takes to Succeed

  1. 1. execubooks wisdom. wherever. When Teams Work Best6,000 Team Members and Leaders Tell What It Takes to Succeed By Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson Subscribe to execubooks.com:e-summaries of books for business people
  2. 2. About execubooksExecubooks are e-summaries of books formobile professionals, optimally formatted foronscreen reading on laptops or handhelds —so you can stay abreast of leading businesswisdom, wherever you have a moment! Execubooks are the ultimately convenientmeans for executives, managers and otherprofessionals to stay abreast of leadingthought. You receive, read and store themelectronically — on your standard office orhandheld computer! Read them on the airplane or at the hotel!Enrich your reading experience with built-indictionaries and links for media and relatedresources! Create a reference library of yourfavorites! Subscribe for wisdom! Wherever youhave a moment! For more information about our e-publishingproducts and services designed for mobileprofessionals, visit us at www.execubooks.com2 www.execubooks.com
  3. 3. When TeamsWork Best6,000 Team Members and LeadersTell What It Takes to SucceedBy Frank LaFasto and Carl LarsonPublished by Sage Publications, 2001ISBN 0761923667© 2002 execubooks inc.Buy the Full Book!www.amazon.comwww.barnes&noble.comwww.chapters.ca www.execubooks.com 3
  4. 4. ContentsIntroduction .................................................... 51. Team Members ........................................... 52. Team Relationships ..................................... 83. Team Problem-Solving ...............................104. The Team Leader ........................................125. The Organizational Environment ................. 14Conclusion .....................................................16Related Reading ............................................17This e-summary is best experienced inAdobe Acrobat eBook Reader4 www.execubooks.com
  5. 5. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl LarsonIntroductionTeams are everywhere in business and industry,and in government, schools, hospitals and pro-fessional associations — indeed, almost every-where where people gather to get things done.But some teams work better than others. Whatdoes it take to make teams work effectively? To answer that question, more than 6,000team members in a variety of organizations weresurveyed. They assessed their teams, their teamleaders and each other against a common set ofcriteria and responded to open-ended questions.From the safety of confidentiality, they identifiedwhat encourages teams to success and whatdiscourages them into failure. Five crucial areas emerged.1. Team MembersA successful team begins with the right people.What qualities distinguish people who make www.execubooks.com 5
  6. 6. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl Larsoneffective team members? The survey points tosix factors. The first two fall into the category ofworking knowledge, while the other four areabout teamwork itself: • Experience. This is the first thing a teamlooks for in its members. Whether the team isabout to embark on cardiac surgery, mountainclimbing or building an airplane, members lookfor someone with practical knowledge relevantto its objective. Individuals rapidly discover thatthere are members of the team who know andspeak from experience and others who don’tknow and simply speak. • Problem-Solving Ability. As a team’s workprogresses, another quality begins to surface.Irrespective of their level of experience, somemembers of the team are good at clarifying theproblems that inevitably arise, bringing theminto focus, getting them understood and devis-ing solutions. • Openness. When team members describe6 www.execubooks.com
  7. 7. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl Larsonthe teammates who contribute most to attainingthe team’s goal, the characteristic that shows upmost frequently is openness — the willingness todeal with problems, bring up issues that need tobe discussed, help create an environment wherepeople are free to say what’s on their minds, andpromote an open exchange of ideas. • Supportiveness. The second teamwork fac-tor people see in effective team members is sup-portiveness, the desire and willingness to helpothers succeed. • Action Orientation. Good team membersmake a deliberate effort to make things happen,rather than passively waiting and hoping otherswill do something about the problems or oppor-tunities at hand. • Personal Style. Good team members have apositive personal style. They motivate others,offer positive energy and new ideas, have aninfectious enthusiasm about the work, get alongwith everybody and make others feel comfort- www.execubooks.com 7
  8. 8. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl Larsonable. They aren’t cynical, defensive or hard-to-work-with whiners who throw cold water oneverything.2. Team RelationshipsMany teams fail because although the individu-als may be highly knowledgeable, competentand well-intentioned, as a group they don’t buildproductive relationships. The research showsthat good relationships are constructive for bothparties, are productive, are characterized bymutual understanding and are self-corrective —both parties are willing to make adjustments thatwill improve the relationship. Interestingly, the research shows that peopletend to think they’re better at relationships thanthey really are. In self-assessments, people ratethemselves much more favorably on relationshipcapacity than their colleagues do. To foster team relationships, members mustbecome adept at giving and receiving feedback.8 www.execubooks.com
  9. 9. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl LarsonFeedback is a gift — received in the properframe of mind, it allows us to find out somethingabout ourselves that others already know andgives us the opportu-nity to do something The researchabout it. shows that people But too often feed- tend to thinkback is threatening. they’re better atIt’s important, there-fore, that people give relationships thanfeedback construc- they really aretively. That involvescommitting to the relationship by defining theirplace in the relationship rather than over it.They also have to optimize safety by commit-ting to avoid doing anything that makes theother person feel uncomfortable as well asworking to understand what the other personhas to say. It’s also important that the discussion be nar-rowed to one issue at a time. Defensivenessmust be neutralized by understanding what www.execubooks.com 9
  10. 10. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl Larsonissues cause defensiveness in others and agree-ing to avoid those subjects.3. Team Problem-SolvingA major part of any team’s work consists of solv-ing problems to advance the team toward itsgoal. Team problem-solving, however, is often anuncertain and complex process. The survey shows that three key factors dif-ferentiate effective from ineffective teams. Thefirst is the degree to which team members arefocused in their efforts. Effective teams are veryclear about what they’re doing at each momentof their work, while ineffective teams are unfo-cused, with their effort diffused. Good problem-solving teams also operate in apositive climate. They’re relaxed, comfortable,informal, fun and warm. They have ways of mak-ing their members feel accepted, valued andcompetent. Personal agendas aren’t elevatedabove the team’s goal.10 www.execubooks.com
  11. 11. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson Finally, they have open communications. Ifsomething is interfering with the team’s perform-ance, it gets talked about. In an ineffective team,by contrast, communication is closed — inhibit-ed by an aversive leader or the memory ofpainful experiences in which such discussionswere managed poorly. Effective team problem-solving requires afive-step process: • Identify the Problem. What’s the singlequestion whose answer is all the group needs toknow to accomplish its purpose? • Create a Collaborative Setting. Agree onprinciples for discussion, such as being fact-based and being tough on the issues but noteach other, and bring out any assumptions orbiases that are associated with the questionbeing considered. • Identify and Analyze the Issues. What issues,or subquestions, must be answered in order to www.execubooks.com 11
  12. 12. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl Larsonachieve full understanding of the complexities ofthe overall problem? • Identify Possible Solutions. What are thetwo or three most reasonable solutions to theproblem, and the advantages or disadvantagesof each? • Resolve the Single Question. From thosepossible solutions, which is the most desirable?4. The Team LeaderAlthough most people would agree that the rightperson in a leadership role can add the sparkthat drives a successful collective effort, definingthe specific behaviors of an effective team leaderhas been elusive. From the written evaluation of600 team leaders by those 6,000 team members,the following six dimensions emerged as criticalfor an effective team leader. • Focuses on the Goal. The team leader musthelp the team achieve as much clarity as possi-12 www.execubooks.com
  13. 13. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl Larsonble regarding its direction. He or she must helpthe team members believe in that direction,whether the goal is of their choosing or handedto them, capturing their imagination and inspir-ing them to work hard to achieve it. • Ensures a Collaborative Climate. The teamleader must ensure a climate that enables teammembers to speak up and address the realissues preventing the goal from beingachieved. Once a meeting has ended, forexample, do team members meet informally todiscuss their real thoughts and feelings aboutan issue that should have been addressed atthe team table? • Builds Confidence. We like to be aroundpeople who strengthen our confidence, and teamleaders have to do that by ensuring that resultsare attained, exhibiting trust in assigning respon-sibility, being fair and impartial, accentuating thepositive, and saying thank you. • Demonstrates Sufficient Technical Know- www.execubooks.com 13
  14. 14. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl LarsonHow. The team leader should understand thebody of knowledge directly related to theachievement of the goal. • Sets Priorities. Teams fall apart when aleader makes everything a priority. The leadermust help people to focus on the crucial initia-tives. • Manages Performance. Team leaders mustchallenge unacceptable performance and dealforcefully with non-team-playing members.5. The Organizational EnvironmentIt’s crucial that the organizational environmentbe productive rather than create roadblocks tosuccess. That involves three elements: • Management practices must set direction,align effort and deliver results. Goal priorityshould be a preoccupation, reiterated frequentlyand passionately by the leader.14 www.execubooks.com
  15. 15. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson • Structure and Goal priorityprocesses must ensure should bethat the best decisionsare made as quickly as a preoccupation,possible by the right reiteratedpeople. The right people frequently andare those most relevantto the issue, in terms of passionatelyboth technical knowl- by the leaderedge and managerialresponsibility. The right time usually means earlyenough to give the right people a chance toframe a problem or an opportunity, and toexplore critical issues by gathering relevantfacts. The right issue is a problem or an oppor-tunity that, if left unaddressed, places limits onachieving the goal. • Systems must provide reliable and usefulinformation and drive behavior toward desiredresults. Personal, financial and psychologicalrewards must be linked to the group goal sothat team victory is more important than per-sonal victory. www.execubooks.com 15
  16. 16. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl LarsonConclusionAlthough our unique ability to think may be ourgift as human beings, it’s our capacity to organ-ize and integrate our collective thinking that willcontinue to determine our evolutionary niche.More than ever, it’s important that we refine andmaximize this elevating capacity to work togeth-er. After all, no matter how remarkable our indi-vidual talents, only our ability to collaborate willallow us to address and solve our most mean-ingful problems. eABOUT THE AUTHORS: Frank LaFasto is senior vicepresident of organizational effectiveness forCardinal Health Inc., a multinational healthcarecompany. Carl Larson is professor of humancommunications and past dean of social sci-ences at the University of Denver.16 www.execubooks.com
  17. 17. When Teams Work Best / By Frank LaFasto and Carl LarsonRelated ReadingAny of these books can be ordered directly fromAmazon (A), Barnes & Noble (B) or Chapters (C).The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A LeadershipFable, by Patrick M. Lencioni, John Wiley &Sons, 2002, ISBN 0787960756. A B CThe 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork:Embrace Them and Empower Your Team, byJohn C. Maxwell, Thomas Nelson, 2001, ISBN0785274340. A B CThe Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization, by Jon R. Katzenbachand Douglas K. Smith, HarperBusiness, 1994,ISBN 0887306764. A B C www.execubooks.com 17