“Team” and “teamwork” are perhaps the most frequently used terms in organizations today. This is because these are already established concepts in management practice. There is also a proliferation of leadership seminars and books alluding to these terms. Governments and various sectors of society also often use teamwork with reference to national unity.
Despite these, many managers misuse, if not abuse, the words “team” and “teamwork.” Some think that any group of employees working together is a team and, therefore, should exhibit teamwork. Some believe that any management grouping, like a committee or council, may be called a team. Many managers hope to motivate and engender “good feelings” among their subordinates and other organization members by simply addressing them as “team members.” Still others openly advocate teamwork, but fail to demonstrate the values and behaviors that lead to it.
So what is a team? What is teamwork? Katzenbach and Smith, who did research on teams and authored the book The Wisdom of Team—Creating the High-Performance Organization, operationally define a team as “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” All the elements of this definition, according to the authors, are what make high-performance teams successful. What are the particulars of these team elements?
First, for pragmatic reasons, a team has to be small. A team of ten is more likely to succeed than one of fifty due to more efficient interaction and coordination among the members. Smaller teams are easier to manage logistically in terms of meeting place and time. According to Katzenbach and Smith, work groups larger than twenty have difficulty becoming a real team, because they are often unable to develop a common purpose, goal, approach and mutual accountability.
Second, a team should have complementary skills among its members, such as technical or functional expertise, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and interpersonal skills. For instance, launching a mobile app service would require a team with software, Internet technology know-how and marketing skills apart from the problem-solving ability of its members.
Third, a team should be committed to a common purpose and performance goals. It is imperative that both go together. The team’s short-term performance goals should be tied to its overall purpose to avoid confusion and to ensure cohesive performance behaviors among the members. For instance, launching a new product or service at a certain date may be the purpose of the team, and performance goals may include aspects of product design and reliability, cost and pricing, and the marketing plan.
Fourth, a team should develop a common approach. Members must agree on task responsibilities, the schedule of regular meetings, skills needed to accomplish the goals, and decision-making processes. This will ensure that individual skills are integrated and action plans are implemented toward achieving team goals.
Last, and perhaps the most important, is that a team should hold itself accountable. This is more than responsibility and is supported by commitment and trust. When team members hold themselves accountable to the team’s goals, each will be committed to the achievement of this goal. Accountability and commitment allow members to openly express their views about all facets of the team effort and be constructively listened to.
The foregoing components of a team are absolute necessities to ensure high performance. But what fuses these components together to energize the team members toward achieving a goal is a set of shared values known as “teamwork.” Katzenbach and Smith define teamwork as “a set of values that encourages behaviors, such as listening and constructively responding to points of view expressed by others, giving others the benefit of the doubt, providing support to those who need it, and recognizing the interests and achievements of others.”
Technically, the entire workforce of an organization can never be a team, but it can believe in and practice teamwork. Leaders and managers can help the various teams in their organization reach superior performance by developing and promoting teamwork.
Similarly, our country can benefit from an understanding of teams and teamwork. As our country faces yet another chapter of a new administration, we, including the government, can learn from the principles of teams and teamwork. These principles can be transferred to and practiced in communities where teams can be organized for worthy causes such as infrastructure development, livelihood development for the indigents, proper garbage collection and waste disposal, and the like.
As in an organization, teamwork can be practiced by the entire nation to achieve our long-standing goal of national unity and progress. The government and various sectors of society can practice teamwork by engaging in a national dialogue characterized by cooperation instead of division, and where representative leaders will truly listen and provide mutual support toward achieving our collective goals.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX. The author may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.reylugtu.com.
The author is a senior executive in the information and communications technology sector. He is the Chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He also teaches strategy, management and marketing courses in the MBA Program of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business, De La Salle University.