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Effective Teamwork - 25 July 2013

In the management arena, there are very few areas that have been researched and analysed as much as teamwork.  This field has been scrutinised for decades now, with hundreds – literally hundreds­ – of models developed to assist business leaders.

However, one study published in the Team Performance Management journal a few months ago particularly stands out.  It looked at the most critical factors for teamwork, but this study was especially interesting because it was conducted among high-performing teams in the healthcare sector (such as emergency departments) and high-performing teams in the manufacturing sector (such as factories).  These two industries are well known for requiring a greater level of teamwork than other industries.

Despite being two quite different environments, both sectors had a lot in common when it came to how they went about working effectively in teams.  This is important irrespective of your industry because if teamwork can work in healthcare and manufacturing, it can work anywhere.  The factors for success fall into three categories.

Member Inputs:  These reflect the characteristics of the individual team members, such as their attitude, diversity and commitment.  But, in this study, the member input rated most highly was the knowledge, skills and abilities of each employee.  Otherwise known as KSAs, the three most essential for the purposes of teamwork are conflict resolution, collaborative problem solving, and communication.

Team Inputs:  These represent the elements that are identified and created before a new team is even formed, as well as those introduced shortly afterwards.  The most prevalent include rules, procedures, guidelines, training, structures and autonomy.  But the team input reported most highly in this study was interdependence.  This stems from the existence of collective goals, a sense of community, the sharing of information, and mutual trust.

Organisational Inputs:  These are the bigger-picture elements influencing the management of teams.  They encompass HR, IT, resources, the competence of leaders, and business strategies.  But, in this study, the one area that both industries rated within their top two priorities was open climate.  This signifies that ideas are welcomed, team members accept each other, and it is safe for anyone to question the status quo.

If you’re struggling with teamwork, you’re best served figuring out which of the three inputs represents your weakest link.  Then, address the corresponding factor, which means either (i) knowledge, skills and abilities, (ii) interdependence, or (iii) open climate.

Of course, the research revealed some differences in the way healthcare teams operated when compared to manufacturing teams.  For instance, teams in healthcare prioritised service to the patient whereas those in manufacturing prioritised process improvement.  As is often the case, though, we learn more about the right path to follow based not on our differences but on what we have in common.


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