Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Discipline of Teams: What Kenyans Need to Learn

A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. The difference between teams that perform and other groups that don't is a subject to which most of us pay far too little attention. Teams and good performance are inseparable; you cannot have one without the other. Most executives advocate teamwork. And they should. Teamwork represents a set of values that encourage listening and responding constructively to views expressed by others, giving others the benefit of doubt, providing support, and recognizing the interests and achievements of others.

Committees, councils, and task forces are not necessarily teams. To understand how teams deliver extra performance, we must distinguish between teams and other forms of working groups. That distinction turns on performance results. A team's performance includes both individual results and "collective work-products". Teams differ fundamentally from working groups because they require both individual and mutual accountability. Teams produce discrete work-products through the joint contributions of their members. The first step in developing a disciplined approach to team management is to think about teams as discrete units of performance and not just as positive sets of values.

The essence of a team is a common commitment. Without it, groups perform as individuals; with it, they become a powerful unit of collective performance. Teams develop direction, momentum, and commitment by working to shape a meaningful purpose. Most successful teams shape their purposes in response to a demand or opportunity put in their path, usually by higher management. The best teams invest a tremendous amount of time and effort exploring, shaping, and agreeing on a purpose that belongs to them both collectively and individually.

The best teams also translate their common purpose into specific performance goals, such as reducing the reject rate from suppliers by 50% or increasing the math scores of graduates from 40% to 95%. Specific team performance goals help to define a set of work-products that are different both from an organizationwide mission and from individual job objectives. The specificity of performance objectives facilitates clear communication and constructive conflict within the team. The attainability of specific goals helps teams maintain their focus on getting results. Specific objectives have a leveling effect conducive to team behavior. Specific goals allow a team to achieve small wins as it pursues its broader purpose.
Performance goals are compelling. They are symbols of accomplishment that motivate and energize. They challenge the people on a team to commit themselves, as a team, to make a difference.

Goals help a team to keep track of progress, while a broader purpose supplies meaning and emotional energy. In addition to finding the right size, teams must develop the right mix of skills, that is, each of the complementary skills necessary to do the team's job. Skill requirements fall into the technical or functional expertise, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and interpersonal skills.

Organizational Behavior Class- By Gerald Baraza
Gleaned from Katzenbach, Jon R. McKinsey & Company; Smith, Douglas K.

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