Introduction

Successful teams are constructed by effective leaders through careful planning and regular cultivation of open and honest communication within the team.  Teams must learn how to be effective as a group and how to communicate across cultural and ingrained barriers.  When a team faces a set-back they can rebuild and come out stronger if they are willing to risk their comfort and safety to have tough conversations about how they function.

Creating Team

Assigning a group of people to work together does not make a team.  Teaming is a conscious decision to work towards a collective goal rather than to work together towards individual goals, group work (Kahn, 2009).  The first step in building a team is for the members to jointly create a clear, simple mission statement that will guide the team in every other action it takes by defining what they will accomplish.  Once this is complete, the team can create roles to parcel out the work, communication plans for easy coordination, and decision-making processes (Kahn, 2009).

The ability to do the above is grounded in the assumption that team members will openly voice their thoughts and opinions, particularly when they disagree, so that the team can be sure it is making the best choices at any given point.  According to Edmondson (TEDx Talks, 2014), this communication does not happen when individuals do not have psychological safety within their team.  Edmondson (TEDx Talks, 2014) further posits that psychological safety must be cultivated within a team so that each member understands, not theoretically but in practice, that their competent image is not as important as their willingness to ask questions and help the team to learn.

Improving the Team

In a continuation of the analysis of the production team that was described in Blog Post #2 and further detailed in Blog Post #3 the following are recommendations for improving team function.

  1. Making a Mission: The production team was handed a company mission statement that none of them had been involved in crafting and that had not changed in the more than 5 years they have been working together.  Step one should be a team meeting, or two, for the team to discuss and create their own mission statement.  This statement should consider why each member is working as a volunteer in this organization and what they see as their personal goal and as the overall production goal.
  2. Communication Plans: There are no written policies on how the production team will communicate with each other. In order to clearly define communication channels, and to define the boundaries within which the team will function, the team should create a written practice that addresses when working hours are, what forms of communication are acceptable, and how often communication is needed and/or expected.
  3. Safe Space: Uncomfortable conversations need to be had to discuss the team’s comfort level with being vulnerable and taking risks in front of each other. The team must acknowledge its current willingness to be vulnerable and then work to build trust within the team to encourage open communication where no one holds back for fear of looking stupid.  Lencioni (2002) suggests multiple exercises that could serve as a starting point for this such as appointing a team member to ‘mine’ or encourage dissenting opinion, or introducing real time permission where a team member who notices discomfort stopping the talk to remind the team that conflict is vital to improvement.

Taken together, these three steps have the potential to clarify the team’s goals, rededicate them to working together as a team, set boundaries so that the team is not torn by competing demands, and create a space in which each member’s opinion is valued as a chance for the team to learn and grow.

References

Kahn, W. (2009). The student’s guide to successful project teams. Routledge.

Lencioni, P. (2002).  The five dysfunctions of a team.  Jossey-Bass.

TEDxTalks. (2014, May 4). Amy Edmundson: Building a psychologically safe workplace [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhoLuui9gX8