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The Anatomy of a Team

Management covers a broad spectrum of activities- ranging from self-discipline to leading an entire company. Mostly- management focuses on teams and the best means for achieving appropriate results from groups of individuals. The manager’s role is to lead his or her team to fulfil the desired action plan.

Jack Olcott   |   1st January 2014
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Management Perspectives
Management covers a broad spectrum of activities- ranging from self-discipline to leading an entire company. Mostly- management focuses on teams and the best means for achieving appropriate results from groups of individuals. The manager’s role is to lead his or her team to fulfil the desired action plan.

A team consists of employees- each with unique strengths and weaknesses- who are organized to apply their individual talents collectively to achieve a common goal. Parse key words- such as unique strengths and weaknesses- organized- individual talents- and common goal- in that definition. They have specific meaning and significance.

A team’s effectiveness stems from the tools each employee is capable of providing and the manager’s ability to focus those strengths while minimizing the weakness and biases that everyone possesses- to achieve the purpose of the team’s mission. Addressing several basic characteristics of team structure and team dynamics assists the manager in fulfilling his/her leadership role.

 

Team Fundamentals
Selection of team participants is basic to the likelihood of success. Managers often have limited choices- however. Not every team consists of superstars- nor should it. In fact- there is no place for super egos on teams. In the parlance of the sound bite—“There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team’”. Thus managers need to use the talent available from individual team members- and structure goals and means of oversights with careful attention to setting realistic individual goals as well as realistic team goals.

Collaboration among team members is essential to achieving success. Individuals are more likely to work collaboratively for a common solution when the team’s goal is clearly identified and understood to be achievable. It is the manager’s responsibility to maintain an atmosphere of mutual respect and collaboration. Setting realistic goals at all levels is an effective tool for such co-operation.

While easier said than done- teams benefit from participating in self-appraisal as well as self-management. Objectively accessing one’s own actions is subject to many cognitive biases- however. The manager responsible for team performance needs to create and nurture a culture of constructive introspection- aimed at fulfilling the team’s objectives.

Focusing on what the team is attempting to achieve is a powerful management tool in such situations. As a reminder- look for a FOTO finish: Focus On The Objective. Communications between team members and between the team and management is another essential element for achieving success. Clear channels for the flow of information must exist at all levels of the team: horizontally between team members- vertically up the chain of command as well as down the team structure. All parties must understand what is expected- and they should know were the team is positioned in its quest to fulfil the mission. Failure to communicate is a recipe for failure. Listening to what team members say is a powerful means for communicating effectively.

Conversely- not listening is a path to distorted and potentially dangerous communications. Too often we have a mind-set that hears only what we want to hear. Such a cognitive bias is a risk for managers. Candor among all parties is a must for achieving clear communications. While addressing issues resulting from the questionable actions of a co-worker is difficult- not doing so impacts the success of the entire team. A small misunderstanding easily becomes a large obstacle. The object is a team victory- and there are no losers on a winning team. Nor are there any winners on a losing team. Focusing on the team’s goal requires candor and corrective action that is positive rather than accusatory or punitive.

Constructive descent is a worthwhile means for obtaining the best that each team member has to offer. A manager is wise to encourage contrarian points of view within the culture of supporting the team’s objective and the spirit of candid- open communications among all parties. Beware- however- of the contrarian whose primary purpose is gaining attention at the expense of other team members or is seeking to be noticed.

 

Trust and Leadership
To achieve maximum results from a team- a manager must motivate individuals to set aside their personal agenda and work on behalf of the team’s goal- and thus the company’s goal. Such motivation requires that team members trust their manager.

Following the fundamentals of team management creates such an atmosphere of trust- but mechanics alone are not enough. The key ingredient in managing a team is leadership—that special- multi-dimensional quality that all managers strive to achieve but many experts find difficult to proscribe in detail.

General Eisenhower- Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War II and 34th president of the USA- summarized leadership as “The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”. A successful manager leads his/her team by understanding team anatomy and leveraging the team’s characteristics to fulfil the defined action plan.

 

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