Newsletter 281 - School Leadership Development - Functional Teams - PART 4a

Five principles of high-performing teams

By Prof Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe And Juliette Alban-Metcalfe on 18 May 2018 (Internet)

Building a fully-functional team

  • In a volatile environment, organisations need teams that are engaged,
  • productive and
  • know what they’re working towards.
  • How can we inspire team leaders to get the best out of their people?   

Few people at work are not part of a team. Organisations need to be agile and innovative when faced with ever more complex business and societal challenges, and increasingly realise that good team leadership can help them to achieve their goals.

  • The impact of bad team leadership can be severe.
  • In healthcare, research reveals that poor team working is significantly associated with increased clinical errors and patient mortality.
  • Furthermore, teams need to be authentic to succeed. 
  • A study in the NHS found that while 96% of staff reported they worked in teams, only 53% said they worked in “authentic”, well-structured teams.

But what makes an authentic team? We would argue that the three criteria for the latter are:

  • having shared objectives
  • members work interdependently
  • regularly reviewing team effectiveness.

Organisations are also increasingly looking to bring together multi-disciplinary teams, the assumption being that the variety of knowledge, expertise, information and access to networks contributes to team performance. However, this can have its downsides, too. The presence of expertise and professional diversity may also lead to the formation of subgroups and cliques within teams, which is likely to affect levels of engagement in the team, and, ultimately, reduce team effectiveness.

  • Indeed, the relationship between diversity in teams and team performance is not clear-cut.
  • Differences between team members (for example, in gender, cultural background, professional values, length of time in team membership, and the like) can have a dysfunctional effect on effective team working.

Success principles

Organisational psychologists have identified a range of key principles to increase the engagement and wellbeing of team members, the effective functioning of teams, and their chances of success. They argue that there are three dimensions of teamwork that constantly interact. Team leaders need to maximise all three if they are to achieve sustained high performance:

  1. The affective – individuals get emotionally involved in team processes and are motivated, or not, to engage fully in the various activities involved.
  2. Behavioural processes: These include information gathering, allocating roles and responsibilities and updating information.
  3. Cognitive states: Examples of cognitive states include having a shared understanding of issues facing the team; reflection, and members learning from experience.

So how do these principles work in practice?

Principle 1: ‘Identify what unites us’

Principle 2: Work together on how to achieve the shared vision  

Principle 3: Building team potency

Principle 4: Be clear on roles and responsibilities

Principle 5: Create a culture of learning and psychological safety

To deal with the increasing demands and complexity of challenges facing teams, a degree of adaptation, experimentation, and probably innovation is required, which inevitably means the frequency of mistakes will increase.

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