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Team Development Techniques

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The most effective team at the company regularly thanked each other for help, played cards together at lunch time (though the game took them over the regulation 30 minutes), and at the successful conclusion of one project presented their most math challenged member with a child’s counting book—which had everyone laughing, including the math challenged member. Those examples alone demonstrated strong team development.

A leader who engages in team development focuses on enhancing a team’s spirit and purpose during its entire life cycle from formation to disbanding. While team development touches on both team building and performance management, it differs from both. Team building focuses on the interpersonal relationships; and performance management comes into play after the team is up and running and focuses on fulfilling corporate strategies and meeting metrics.


Theories of Team Development

One of the earliest theories of team development, presented by psychologist Bruce Tuckman, stressed these five phases:

  • Forming the team by getting to know the members, sharing goals and rules, and defining individual roles (this is where team development overlaps team building)
  • Addressing internal team conflicts (what Tuckman called “storming”) 
  • Becoming a unit where every member’s contribution is respected (what Tuckman called “norming”)
  • Performing together successfully (this is where team development overlaps performance management)
  • Disbanding after the project is successful, also known as mourning, because the tight-knit group must separate.

Other theories of team development modify this theory into stages of setting up the team, making decisions, resolving conflicts, and executing the project. 

Recent research into medical teams indicates that cohesion is the most defining factor in team development, followed in order by communication, clear roles and goals, and team primacy. Cohesiveness is defined as the ability of team members to share ideas, participate in decisions, express their opinions and feelings, handle conflict, and problem solve together—or in Tuckman’s list, their ability to benefit from storming and norming.


How to Develop Your Team

From a leadership perspective, team development is greatly influenced by:

  • The choice of team members. You may not have any control over who joins your team; but if you do, try for balance rather than similarities of background, skills, and attitudes. You need a project manager, a communicator, an organizer, and specific work skills to complete the project successfully, and you cannot fulfill all those roles yourself.
  • Communication. When you set the rules and explain the roles clearly from the beginning, and regularly discuss progress and needs, you are encouraging the team to develop smoothly and cooperatively. You are in the best position to rectify problems before they escalate.
  • The way you and your team handle conflicts. Conflicts are going to happen, especially when a project is under time, resource, and budget pressures. If no one feels safe to challenge ideas or attitudes and if you run away from conflict, your team will lapse into team dysfunction.
  • Training, mentoring, and appreciation. Because people have different skills and abilities and because your team needs different skills and abilities, you should train and mentor both high performing and low performing members. In addition, training, mentoring, and appreciation are three great motivators.
  • Let your team develop. Yes, it is important that you maintain the team’s cohesiveness and sense of purpose and keep them on track to complete their goals, but you should not do the work for them and you should not micromanage. Both policies stifle growth and prevent the team from finding its own best path to success. If that means a card game at lunch takes more time than it should, look at the results, not the rule.


Tips and Techniques for Team Development

As a leader, your role in team development is, first, to set the example for trustworthiness, openness to new ideas, and acceptance of differences. Next, you need to be organized enough to identify the tasks that must be completed and aware enough to assign the right individuals to those tasks—or provide them with the training and resources that they lack. Finally, you need to stay in contact. So how do you do all that?

  • Create a common vision, which should be consistent with the corporate vision but focuses on the specific purpose of this specific team; let team members know why they should care.
  • Take advantage of the technology for organization (spread sheets and scheduling software, among others), communication (especially if your team is geographically widespread), and training.
  • Try team building activities and look for and encourage opportunities for fun; even paying for and joining in a pizza or ice cream break can benefit cohesion by showing appreciation and alleviating the immediate stresses of work.
  • Ask for help in overcoming your own limitations, whether that is a lack of knowledge about mentoring, confusion about the technology available, or frustration with getting a dysfunctional team back on track.

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