Teams, who needs ‘em’? I’m better off on my own. I can trust myself to get the job done right. I don’t want to deal with the drama. Teams, who needs ‘em’?
Sound familiar? Do you feel this way when you embark on a new project at work, when your professor says those dreaded words, ‘the final project in our class will be a team project’? Have you complained to the person next to you in class about this very thing? Well, you know what, you’re often right. Teams can be horrible! They can lead to lower grades on a project, not meeting expectations and deadlines at work, and they can lead to conflict and stress. So why, when teams are so bad, do I assign a team project in some of my classes, and why do organizations continue to promote teamwork?
Well, they don’t have to be bad! In fact, they can be great. Being on an effective and well balanced team is one of the most rewarding experiences. It can lead to the best projects and presentations in class, can lead to meeting (and beating) deadlines and impressing your boss, and can lead to the start of great relationships.
So, what’s the difference between a good team and a ‘not so good’ team? The people you are working with, the structure of the team, the goals, and understanding how to work best with the people you are working with in the situation you are working in.
It’s important when embarking on a new team endeavor to set expectations from the start. What is the timeline for the project, what milestones does the team need to meet (and by when)? Who is the strongest at different parts of the project, and who wants to learn and develop on those skills? By understanding the goals of the project and setting expectations for team members we have a clear idea of where we need to be as well as the best way to get there.
There are many roles to be filled on the team, the facilitator, the organizer, the time keeper, the recorder, the researcher, the idea generator, and more. As the roles are distributed team members should have open discussions about their strengths and weaknesses so that all can understand their role and the support they need. Some of the roles that often gets overlooked on a team are that of the encourager and the devil’s advocate. The encourager is a role which should be embodied by the various team members, when people have ideas and share them with the group, the team should be encouraging and praising of them for their efforts…we all like to be praised, and if we are working in a team environment this feedback will encourage us to keep going. The other role, the devil’s advocate, is one which is important to push the team to come up with the best outcomes possible. This role should be assigned to one person at a time and should be rotated throughout the project. This is a delicate role as the person embodying it at the time should speak with respect as they push the team members to question their assertions, identify weaknesses of ideas, and dig into all possible issues related to their suggestions. This role of this person is to push back to encourage all members to question themselves, thus leading to superior outcome. This role should be rotated so that one person is not viewed as being a troublemaker, as even though we understand this is an assigned role, it is still sometimes difficult to separate emotions.
So, bottom line, teams can be good or bad, effective or ineffective. What differentiates one from the other is the way we communicate, the expectations we set, and the roles that we play. Next time you get assigned a group project in school or at work, stay focused on the goal and remind your team to do the same!
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