A team is a unit of two or more people who work together to achieve a goal. Members share a mission and the responsibility for working to achieve it . The type, structure, and composition of individual teams varies within an organization. Companies can create formal teams that become part of the organization’s structure, or they can establish informal teams, which aren’t part of the formal organization but are formed to solve a problem, work on a specific activity, or encourage employee participation. Problem-solving teams and task forces are informal teams that assemble to resolve specific issues and then disband once their goal has been accomplished. Team members often include representatives of many departments so that those who have a stake in the outcome are allowed to provide input. In contrast to problem-solving teams and task forces, a committee usually has a long life span and can become a permanent part of the organizational structure. Committees typically deal with regularly recurring tasks. Virtual teams bring together geographically distant employees to interact, share information, and accomplish goals. Virtual teams can use computer networks, teleconferencing, e-mail, video conferencing, and Web technology to build teams that are as effective as those in organizations functioning under a single roof.
T eam decision making can benefit an organization by delivering: Increased information and knowledge . By aggregating the resources of several individuals, teams bring more information to the decision process. Increased diversity of views . Team members bring a variety of perspectives to the decision process. Increased acceptance of solutions . Those who participate in decision making are more likely to support the decision and encourage others to accept it. Higher performance levels. Working in teams can unleash vast amounts of creativity and energy in workers who share a sense of purpose and mutual accountability. Teamwork also has disadvantages. A team may develop groupthink , the willingness of individual members to set aside their personal opinions and go along with the rest of the team members, even if they are wrong. Some team members may have a hidden agenda —private motives that affect the group’s interaction. Other team members may be free riders — those who don’t contribute their fair share to the group’s activities because they aren’t held individually accountable for their work. Still another drawback to teamwork is the high cost of coordinating group activities. Aligning schedules, arranging meetings, and coordinating a project can eat up a lot of time and money.
The interactions and processes that take place in a team are called group dynamics. Some teams are more effective than others simply because the dynamics of the group facilitate member input and the resolution of differences. To keep things moving forward, productive teams also tend to develop rules that are conducive to business. Often these rules are unstated; they just become standard group practice, or norms — informal standards of conduct that members share and that guide member behavior. When a team has a strong identity , the members observe team rules religiously: They’re upset by any deviation and feel a great deal of pressure to conform. This loyalty can be positive, giving members a strong commitment to one another and highly motivating them to see that the team succeeds. However, an overly strong identity could lead to negative conditions such as groupthink.
Members of a team can play various roles, which fall into three categories. The following are self-oriented roles: Controlling or dominating others. Withdrawing from the group by becoming silent or refusing to work. Attention seeking and demanding recognition. Diverting discussions to topics of personal interest. The following are group-maintenance roles: Encouraging others with verbal and nonverbal support. Harmonizing or reconciling differences via mediation or humor. Compromising on a point in order to reach a mutually agreeable decision. The following are task-facilitating roles: Initiating a line of inquiry. Seeking or giving information relevant to the group. Coordinating relationships, clarifying issues, summarizing activity. Suggesting goal-oriented, decision-making procedures. The roles that individuals assume often depend on whether they joined the group voluntarily or involuntarily and their status in that group. Until roles and status have stabilized, a team may have trouble accomplishing its goals.
Whenever teams tackle a decision-making tasks, they typically pass through five phases: 1. Orientation. Team members socialize, establish their roles, and begin to define their task or purpose. 2. Conflict. Team members begin to discuss their positions and become more assertive in establishing their roles. If members have been carefully selected to represent a variety of viewpoints and expertise, disagreements are a natural part of this phase. 3. Brainstorm. Team members air all the options and discuss the pros and cons fully. At the end of this phase, members begin to settle on a single solution to the problem. 4. Emergence. Team members reach a decision. Consensus is reached when the team finds a solution that is acceptable enough for all members to support (even if they have reservations). This consensus happens only after members have had an opportunity to communicate their positions and feel that they have been listened to. 5. Reinforcement. Group feeling is rebuilt and the solution is summarized. Members receive their assignments for carrying out the group’s decision, and they make arrangements for following up on those assignments.
In effective teams, members recognize that each person brings knowledge and skills to the team. They exchange information, examine issues, and work through conflicts that arise. In short, effective teams : Clear purpose. Team members clearly understand the task at hand, what is expected of them, and their role on the team. Open and honest communication. The team culture encourages discussion and debate. Team members speak openly and honestly, without the threat of anger, resentment, or retribution. They listen to and value feedback from others. As a result, all team members participate. Consensus decision making. All decisions are arrived at by consensus. No easy, quick votes are taken. Instead, all members express their opinions and engage in debate. The decision that emerges is generally supported by all team members. Creative thinking. Effective teams encourage original thinking, considering options beyond the usual. Focused efforts. Team members get to the core issues of the problem and stay focused on key issues. Conflict resolution. The ability to handle conflict — clashes over ideas, opinions, goals, or procedures — is a key contributing factor to a team’s overall effectiveness.
Teams and individuals may believe they are competing for scarce or declining resources, such as money, information, and supplies. Team members may disagree about who is responsible for a specific task (usually the result of poorly defined responsibilities and job boundaries). Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings and withholding information can undermine trust. Basic differences in values, attitudes, and personalities may lead to arguments. Power struggles may result when one party questions the authority of another or when people or teams with limited authority attempt to increase their power or exert more influence. Conflict can also arise because individuals or teams are pursuing different goals. Conflict can be both constructive and destructive. Conflict is constructive if it forces important issues into the open, increases involvement of team members, and generates creative solutions. Conflict is destructive if it diverts energy from more important issues, destroys the morale of teams or individual team members, or polarizes or divides the team . In a win-lose strategy, the only solution is for one party to win and the other party to lose. The outcome will surely make someone unhappy. Some conflicts degenerate to the point that both parties would rather lose than see the other party win (lose-lose strategy). T he idea that both parties can satisfy their goals at least to some extent is a win-win strategy, where no one loses.
One of the first steps to finding a win-win solution is to preserve the “you” attitude by considering the other person’s needs and searching for mutually satisfactory solutions or compromises. The following seven measures that can help team members successfully resolve conflict: Proaction. Deal with minor conflict before it becomes major conflict. Communication. Get those directly involved in the conflict to participate in resolving it. Openness. Get feelings out in the open; then deal with the main issues. Research. Seek factual reasons for the problem before seeking solutions. Flexibility. Don’t let anyone lock into a position before considering other solutions. Fair play. Don’t avoid a fair solution by hiding behind the rules. Alliance. Get parties to fight together against an “outside force” instead of against each other.
Part of dealing with conflict is learning how to persuade other people to accept your point of view. In a business situation, reason usually prevails. However, you sometimes encounter people who react emotionally. When you face irrational resistance, try to remain calm and detached so that you can avoid destructive confrontations and present your position in a convincing manner. Express understanding. Most people are ashamed of reacting emotionally in business situations. Help the other person relax and talk about his or her anxiety so that you have a chance to offer reassurance. Make people aware of their resistance. When people are noncommittal and silent, they may be tuning you out without even knowing why. Continuing with your argument is futile. Deal directly with the resistance, without being accusing. Evaluate others’ objections fairly. Focus on what the person is expressing, both the words and the feelings. Get the person to open up so that you can understand the basis for the resistance. Hold your arguments until the other person is ready for them. Getting your point across depends as much on the other person’s frame of mind as it does on your arguments. You can’t assume that a strong argument will speak for itself. Address the other person’s emotional needs first.
Team members often jointly produce a single document or presentation known as a collaborative message. The following nine guidelines will help team to produce messages that are clear, seamless, and successful: Select team members wisely. Choose team members who have strong interpersonal skills, understand team dynamics, and care about the project. Select a responsible leader. Identify a group leader who will keep members informed and intervene when necessary. Promote cooperation. Establish communication standards that motivate accuracy, openness, and trust. Clarify goals. Make sure team goals are aligned with individual expectations. Elicit commitment. Create a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for the document. Clarify responsibilities. Assign specific roles and clear lines of reporting. Instill prompt action. Set timelines and deadlines for the project. Ensure technological compatibility. Use the same word-processing program to facilitate combining files. Apply technology wisely. Use electronic tools to communicate quickly and effectively with other team members.
You will sometimes need to critique the writing of another. When you do, be sure to provide specific, constructive comments. To help the writer make meaningful changes, you must say more than: “This doesn’t work” or “I don’t see what you’re trying to say.” When critiquing a document, concentrate on four elements: Are the assignment instructions clear? Be sure to determine whether the directions given with the initial assignment were clear and complete. Does the document accomplish the intended purpose? Is the purpose clearly stated? Does the body support the stated purpose? Is the conclusion supported by the data? Are the arguments presented logically? Is the factual material correct? A proposal to provide nationwide computer-training services for $15 million would be disastrous if your intention was to provide those services for $150 million. Does the document use unambiguous language? If you interpret a message differently from what a writer intended, the document must be revised. Once these elements are deemed satisfactory, the question is whether to request other changes. Minor changes can be made at any time. But if these criteria are in fact met, consider these additional points before requesting a major revision: (1) Can the document truly be improved? (2) Can you justify the time needed for a rewrite or revision? (3) Will your request have a negative impact on morale?
The key to productive meetings is careful planning of purpose, participants, location, and agenda. Most meetings have either an informational or a decision-making purpose . Informational meetings allow participants to share information and perhaps coordinate action. Decision-making meetings involve persuasion, analysis, and problem solving. Try to invite only participants whose presence is essential. The more people who attend, the more comments and confusion you’re likely to get, and the longer the whole thing will take. But even as you try to limit participation, be sure to include key decision makers and those who can contribute. Holding a meeting is pointless if the people with necessary information aren’t there. Decide where you’ll hold the meeting, and reserve the location . For work sessions, morning meetings are usually more productive than afternoon sessions. Also, consider the seating arrangements. Are rows of chairs suitable, or do you need a conference table? Plus, give some attention to details such as room temperature, lighting, ventilation, acoustics, and refreshments. You might also consider calling a meeting in cyberspace. The success of any meeting depends on the preparation of the participants. An agenda will aid this process by putting the meeting plan into a permanent, written form. Distribute the agenda to participants several days before the meeting so that they will know what to expect and can come prepared.
The success of any meeting depends largely on the effectiveness of its leader. The l eader is responsible for keeping the meeting moving along and pacing the presentation and discussion according to the agenda. However, the leader must allow enough time for all the main ideas to be heard, and give people a chance to raise related issues. One way a leader can improve the productivity of a meeting is by using parliamentary procedure, a time-tested method for planning and running effective meetings. The basic principles of parliamentary procedure can help teams to transact business efficiently, protect individual rights, maintain order, preserve a spirit of harmony, and accomplish team and organizational goals. Some participants are too quiet and others are too talkative. The best meetings are those in which everyone participates, so a leader must not let one or two people dominate the meeting while others doodle on their notepads. At the end of the meeting, the leader should summarize the discussion or list the actions to be taken and specify who will take them and when. Wrapping things up ensures that all participants agree on the outcome and gives people a chance to clear up any misunderstandings. As soon as possible after the meeting, the leader must make sure that all participants receive a copy of the minutes or notes, showing recommended actions, schedules, and responsibilities.
The types of listening differ not only in purpose but also in the amount of feedback or interaction that occurs. You can improve relationships and productivity by matching your listening style to the speaker’s purpose. The goal of content listening is to understand and retain the speaker’s message. You may ask questions, but basically information flows from the speaker to you. It doesn’t matter that you agree or disagree, approve or disapprove—only that you understand. The goal of critical listening is to understand and evaluate the meaning of the speaker’s message on several levels: the logic of the argument, the strength of the evidence, the validity of the conclusions, the implications of the message for you and your organization, the speaker’s intentions and motives, and the omission of any important or relevant points. Critical listening generally involves interaction as you try to uncover the speaker’s point of view and credibility. The goal of empathic listening is to understand the speaker’s feelings, needs, and wants so that you can appreciate his or her point of view, regardless of whether you share that perspective. By listening in an empathic way, you help the individual vent the emotions that prevent a dispassionate approach to the subject. Avoid the temptation to give advice. Try not to judge the individual’s feelings. Just let the other person talk.
By understanding the process of listening, you begin to understand why oral messages are so often lost. Listening involves five related activities, which usually occur in sequence: 1. Receiving: Physically hearing the message and taking note of it. Physical reception can be blocked by noise, impaired hearing, or inattention. 2. Interpreting: Assigning meaning to sounds according to your own values, beliefs, ideas, expectations, roles, needs, and personal history. The speaker’s frame of reference may be quite different from yours, so you may need to determine what the speaker really means. 3. Remembering: Storing a message for future reference. As you listen, you retain what you hear by taking notes or by making a mental outline of the speaker’s key points. 4. Evaluating: Applying critical thinking skills to weigh the speaker’s remarks. You separate fact from opinion and evaluate the quality of the evidence. 5. Responding: Reacting once you’ve evaluated the speaker’s message. If you’re communicating one-on-one or in a small group, the initial response generally takes the form of verbal feedback. If you’re one of many in an audience, your initial response may take the form of applause, laughter, or silence. Later on, you may act on what you have heard.
Because listening requires a mix of physical and mental activities, it is subject to a variety of physical and mental barriers. A large part of becoming a good listener is the ability to recognize and overcome these barriers. Prejudgment is one of the most common barriers to listening. It can be difficult to overcome because it is an automatic process. Self-centeredness causes some people to take control of conversations, rather than listening to what’s being said. No matter what subject is being discussed, they know more than the speaker does—and they’re determined to prove it. Another common problem is selective listening : letting your mind wander to things such as whether you brought your dry-cleaning ticket to work. You stay tuned out until you hear a word or phrase that gets your attention once more. The result is that you don’t remember what the speaker actually said; instead, you remember what you think the speaker probably said. The important thing is to recognize these counterproductive tendencies as barriers and to work on overcoming them.
People’s actions often do speak louder than their words. In fact, most people can deceive others much more easily with words than they can with their bodies. Words are relatively easy to control; body language, facial expressions, and vocal characteristics are not. By paying attention to these nonverbal cues, you can detect deception or affirm a speaker’s honesty . Nonverbal communication is reliable , so people generally have more faith in nonverbal cues than they do in verbal messages. If a person says one thing but transmits a conflicting message nonverbally, listeners almost always believe the nonverbal signal. Chances are, if you can read other people’s nonverbal messages correctly, you can interpret their underlying attitudes and intentions and respond appropriately. Nonverbal communication is also important because it is efficient . You can transmit a nonverbal message without even thinking about it, and your audience can register the meaning unconsciously. At the same time, when you have a conscious purpose, you can often achieve it more economically with a gesture than with words. A wave of the hand, a pat on the back, a wink—all are streamlined expressions of thought. However, nonverbal communication usually blends with speech to carry part of the message—to augment, reinforce, and clarify that message.
Your face is the primary site for expressing your emotions; it reveals both the type and the intensity of your feelings. By moving your body, you can express both specific and general messages, some voluntary and some involuntary. Many gestures have a specific and intentional meaning. Other types of body movement are unintentional and express a more general message. Your voice carries both intentional and unintentional messages. The tone and volume and your accent and speaking pace say a lot about who you are, your relationship with the audience, and the emotions underlying your words. People respond to others on the basis of physical appearance. Because you see yourself as others see you, their expectations can be a self-fulfilling prophecy . Although an individual’s body type and facial features impose limitations, most people are able to control their attractiveness to some degree. Touch can convey warmth, comfort, and reassurance. Touching behavior is governed in various circumstances by relatively strict customs regarding who can touch whom and how. Touching has become controversial because it can be interpreted as sexual harassment. Time and space can be used to assert authority. Some people demonstrate their importance by making other people wait; others show respect by being on time. People can assert their status by occupying the best space. When others stand too close or too far away, we are likely to feel ill at ease.
When communicating orally, pay attention to your nonverbal cues. Avoid giving conflicting signals. Try to be as honest as possible in communicating your emotions. Here are some tips for honing your nonverbal skills: Smile genuinely. Be aware that people may give false nonverbal cues. Keep appropriate distance and use touch only when appropriate. Respect status with your eye contact. Adopt a handshake that matches your personality and intention.
Communicating in Teams and Mastering Listening and Nonverbal Communication Skills
Types of Workplace Teams Problem Solving Committees Taskforces Virtual Teams