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How to prevent teams from failing

17th February 2015 | Chantal Gautier

An important aspect of organizational life is the employee's capacity to work as part of a team, defined here as a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Organizations will thus be keen to recruit people who fit their team-based style of operation. Despite this intent, teams can fail. A number of reasons are given here as to why.

Most theories suggest that teams go through a number of stages before they can run effectively. There are two main research streams. The first involves task and content-related functions, including task distribution, task demands, role clarity and individual inputs. The second explores the emotional and psycho-social aspects of team development, including group membership, integration and how individuals behave and relate to one another. When both are out of sync, teams become ineffective as barriers surface in a series of team hindrances.

The ultimate challenge in team development is to create the right balance of people, where each individual brings unique elements to the table. This means finding people that are complementary in their skills and compatible in character. What distinguishes effective from non-effective teams is that members share the same goal, know what their mission is and know why they exist. In doing so, successful teams adopt regular, clear and effective communication strategies.

Whilst teams do require a certain level of cohesiveness, this does not always translate into group effectiveness. In some instances, too much cohesiveness can lead to groupthink. Teams fall victim to groupthink when members become uncomfortable to deviate from team norms. Social loafing, also termed the 'free-rider effect', is potentially another barrier to team working practices. One explanation for social loafing suggests that team members are likely to produce less effort when a task has no clear purpose or does not add value to the individual. In this instance, individuals are more than happy to drain the resources made available to them, but unwilling to contribute as part of the whole. In an attempt to further unpack its underlying causes, The Psychology of Work provides an alternative perspective and addresses the management of loafing behaviour.

Most teams will be subjected to obstacles and stresses. With the right intervention tools, even the most problematic teams can work. What further influences the success or failure of teams is the role of team leaders and the culture in which they can operate.

The Psychology of Work is out next month on the 3rd of March 2015. Save 20% by pre-ordering the book using the discount code POWB20. Enter the code when prompted at the checkout.

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