Constructing Effective Work Groups

Melissa Vokoun asked:

The value of work groups to accomplish complex projects achieve company goals is now widely accepted. Few would argue that teams are the best way to approach both short and long term projects. But who should make up these teams to maximize their effectiveness?

Putting together a winning team is like orchestrating a piece of music and it doesn’t happen by chance. It requires a great deal of information, careful thought, and sound resource management.

The first step in constructing a productive and goal-oriented work group is to gather information. You must examine the project at hand and look at each aspect in terms of skills required to meet the needs of the project. Every step and its corresponding outcome should be listed in writing, taking into account documents generated, departmental interactions, and timeframes involved.

Remember to keep the focus on a group endeavor and don’t think in terms of singular skills. It will be the totality of the members of the team and the skills they bring to the team that will accomplish your goals. For instance, it may take someone accomplished in demographic analysis, someone experienced in interviewing focus groups, someone with knowledge of a specific market, and someone from Research and Development to lay the foundation for a new product release. Whatever project is on the drawing board will require a host of people whose individual strengths and talents will comprise a functional group.

But just which people are right for the team? The best way to find out is to go to the source. Question all your associates and ask them to pinpoint their strongest areas as well as their weaknesses. Who do they go to for help or with questions?

Many employers periodically distribute questionnaires asking their employees these exact questions. Ask them what areas they think they need additional training in, whom do they regard as leaders in their departments, what software are they most comfortable with, who do they go to with problems or troubleshooting, or what new skills are they interesting in learning.

Remember to think of work groups are skill development tools as well. Joe from Accounting may be a wiz with spreadsheets but weak in operational knowledge. But Janet in Loss Prevention can share operational knowledge with Joe and learn about the statistical tracking of product shrinkage and together they can participate in a team to select and implement new security protocols.

Bringing complementary skills to the table enhances group effectiveness. These complementary skills don’t just enrich to group but enrich the skill level and value of every team member.

Once you have determined who in your organization has the skills necessary to accomplish the task you can begin to put your team together. You will probably already have a team leader in mind. Someone with not only the skills necessary but with the leadership attributes essential to bring a group together, allocate assignments and resources, monitor timeframes, and generally keep the group on track and outcome oriented. Consult that person and give them input into the exact make up of their team. This team member has the front line knowledge to know who will work best with whom.

Keep in mind that while group harmony is important, it should not be sacrificed for experience and skill levels. Sometimes a little dissonance is good for a group. Putting together a group of people who are all good friends can be counterproductive. Group work is a chance for individuals from all parts of the organization to learn from one another and form connections valuable not only for the assigned task but for future projects as well.

As I have said, a little dissonance can be good for a group. Choosing someone who is more of an independent thinker can stimulate a group to reach its full potential. A concept called “group think” can occur when members are reluctant to question group ideas and methods. When “group think” occurs teams will follow traditional lines and new ideas and concepts are not introduced. Having someone on the team with innovative ways of thinking and doing things will insure a groups success by exploring every option.

Picking your team is only the first step in work group management. But this first step is the most essential. The composition of the team is the foundation and future management will be ineffective if the group is dysfunctional.

Picking a winning team is the first and most essential facet of team management. In an orchestra, once the musicians are seated, beautiful things happen. Your team is no different than that orchestra and once you’ve picked the players, beautiful things can happen for your organization.

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