Managing Teamwork - What is an effective team?

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What is a team?

The word "team" gets used a lot to describe any group of people who work alongside each other and/or report to the same manager. But that's not really what we're talking about here.

A real team is a group of interdependent people who work together to achieve a common goal (e.g. designing or manufacturing a product, producing a report, delivering a service to customers etc).

Working together does not necessarily mean that they have to be in the same location or that they have to work on the same tasks - just that their collective efforts are required in order to achieve a goal.

Performance vs. effectiveness

Before we look into team effectiveness, it is important to make a distinction between team performance and team effectiveness. Team performance looks at what a team achieved regardless of how the team achieved it.

Team effectiveness, however, looks at what the team achieved AND how the team interacted to achieve the team outcome. For the long-term viability of a team, it needs to do more than just perform.

Defining team effectiveness

According to the work of J. Richard Hackman, a pioneer in the field of organisational behaviour and teamwork, team effectiveness can be defined by three criteria:

  1. Team output (performance)
    Effective teams meet or exceed the standards (quantity, quality and timeliness) expected by the team's customers. A team's customers may be internal customers - that is, other teams or individuals within the organisation - and/or external customers (i.e. customers outside of the organisation).
  2. Collaborative ability
    Effective teams work together well and get better as time goes on. They learn how each individual team member operates and become skilled in coordinating their activities. They monitor each other's performance and catch mistakes, and they back each other up and offer support and help where needed.
  3. Individual learning and well-being
    Effective teams positively contribute to the learning and well-being of each individual team member. For example, being part of the team may help an individual to expand their knowledge and develop new skills, it may provide them with a sense of belonging, and it may lead to new friendships.

In order to be effective, a team doesn't necessarily have to excel in all of these areas.

As long as the output of the team is acceptable, the team members work together adequately, and that on the whole, the team members experience more positives than negatives from being part of the team - that is enough for a team to be considered effective.

Assess your team's effectiveness

To get a general indicator of your team's current effectiveness, rate your team from 1 (worst) to 5 (best) on each of the following criteria:

  • Team output - are your customers (internal and external) satisfied with your team's output?
  • Collaborative ability - does your team work well together?
  • Individual learning and well-being - are your individual team members improving their knowledge, skills and abilities?.

How can a leader make a team effective?

Unfortunately no leader can make a team effective - but you can increase the likelihood of your team being effective by putting the right structures in place, and fostering the conditions that support teamwork.

Learn more

Next: Managing teamwork - Stages of team development