When one reads management literature or listens to lectures it is impossible not to notice the frequent use of the term “team work”. But what does it really mean? Is it just a concept which, like many others, comes into and goes out of fashion, like TQM or reengineering? Do we really need it? What are the preconditions for team work? And so on. In this article we will try to give a fuller explanation of all the basic concepts relating to team work.
Do we need team work?
A group of friends out walking set off up a mountain trail. On one side is a cliff on the other a ravine. Suddenly they come up against a boulder that is blocking the way. What are they to do? They can’t get round it because of the narrow path and none of them can move it on his own? And that is the end of the story and the beginning of a possible story about management. The moment one person cannot solve a problem on his own (move the boulder) management is born. Management arises from the interdependence of people who cannot solve a problem on their own.
Changes which happen all around us are the one constant in our life. They occur outside of our control, beyond our sphere of influence. But let’s be happy that it is like that, because the only place where there is no change is where there is no life. Change means life. Normally changes bring problems and it is important to realize that all companies in the world have problems. The question is, how do they deal with them? Of course, problems demand solutions, which again lead to change. When someone gets into this tangle they can go crazy because as change accelerates, so do the problems. How do you extricate yourself? The first reaction of the classical manager may be, let’s slow down a bit, then we won’t cause additional changes, and let’s just wait a bit. But the competition is not slowing down; changes are still happening and the classical manager looks like an ostrich burying his head in the sand. If changes signify life then he is on the way to a slow suicide – with a blunt knife. One way is to speed up the decision-making and implementation process, because only if both of these elements are fulfilled are we on the right road. But you can’t do it alone …
There is no such thing as the ideal manager. This is just a figment of the imagination of management books. Know-how, getting results, orderliness, creativity, the acceptance of risk, the integration of people, these are all incompatible things which are essential to an organization and which one man cannot accomplish. Good organizations are a coming together of people who complement each other, and never a group of clones who all think alike. If you have what you think is the “ideal manager” there is a very high probability that when he leaves the organization he will encounter difficulties because those who are left are nowhere near that “ideal manager”.
Authority within an organization means the right to say “yes” and to say “no”, i.e. the right to take decisions. Middle level managers can often only say “no” and if you want a “yes” you have to ask “daddy”. Responsibility for a job in the company never fully coincides with the authority to take decisions. That is the result of change because you cannot foresee everything in advance and lay down rules. The bureaucratic approach to an organization is trying to define everything – who is responsible for what. This is very efficient. But when changes happen no one knows who is responsible. Then a new responsibility has to be defined – a position in the organization with precisely defined responsibility. And so the process of defining everything mushrooms. We try to define individual responsibilities so as to eliminate uncertainty. This way you get heaps of paper about how to do something. The more change there is the more uncertainty there is and you can’t legislate for everything. This means that we need overlapping areas of responsibility which mean even more overlap of authority to take decisions. The more we need this overlap the better team work needs to be, otherwise bureaucracy will multiply like mushrooms after rain in situations of major change. Management has arisen because of the interdependence which the bureaucratic approach ignores.
What is team work?
Explanation 1: We don’t always work as a team and it would be a big mistake to go exclusively for team work because we know that in life nothing is black and nothing is white. The problem arises when team work is not used when it is needed. It is clear that it can’t be used when there is no time, but it is also a big mistake to never verify the decisions we take in a rush. In this way, because of our haste, we essentially have a long line of individual decisions and it is just a question of time when someone will take a fatally bad decision.
Explanation 2: Team work is necessary in situations when there is a need to bring together people’s thinking and find a solution to a problem.
Explanation 3: Team work is necessary in situations when there is a need to bring together varying interests and implement an effective solution. Trust means being aware that only if things are OK with another member of the team can things be OK with me. It doesn’t mean that we need to like each other in order to harmonize our interests. Only where there is mutual trust can people who work in a team facilitate effective implementation of decisions.
Explanation 4: Team work must have “clout” – it must never be a committee, a debating society or a trades-union meeting. A team is not a team if it cannot implement its decisions, if it does not include the key people who have to implement the decision and if it does not have sufficient professional competence to solve problems.
Explanation 5: In team work, roles must be clearly defined – tasks must be clearly defined. If no one knows who the team leader is, whose job it is to make sure the results are achieved, who is to take care of the administrative aspects, one can hardly expect efficient team work.
Explanation 6: People work as a team only if they work in a disciplined way in a climate of mutual respect. The level of discipline depends on the enthusiasm of the team; if the situation is “hot” the level of discipline mustbe increased. On the other hand, what does mutual respect mean? – in brief it is a readiness to listen to one another and to learn from each other. If this is missing then team work is impossible.
Explanation 7: The establishing of discipline and mutual respect is achieved by laying down rules covering:
- the start and finish of meetings;
- required attendance;
- the physical environment conducive to team work.
- definition of the team work process, that is, the way the team should be led through the problem solving process, and
- the system for reporting results to the members and top management.
Explanation 8: The team must have a clear task. A vaguely defined role leads to the team becoming a debating society and getting bogged down in endless pointless discussions.
Explanation 9: The significance of the moment must be maintained. The people have not come together because they have nothing else to do but to solve one of the key problems.
Explanation 10: …
How do the results of team work become apparent?
Result 1: Traditionally, individual decision taking is a process which takes a minimum of time and is very efficient. The question of effectiveness (is it the right decision?) is debatable, especially in larger firms and in the long term. The greatest problem lies in the fact that the implementation phase acts as a brake because everyone puts their own interpretation on the decision which one individual has taken and this can sometimes go on ad infinitum. A team approach to decision making takes longer but it is much more effective (there is a high probability that the right decision has been taken). When people who are essential to the implementation chain are involved and when the approach is that they are part of the decision, implementation proceeds with fewer problems. In the case of major problems and strategic decisions the overall effectiveness and efficiency of team work cannot be bettered.
Result 2: We have seen that there can be no team work without mutual respect and mutual trust. These two factors are the key to the climate and events in the organization. If the level of mutual trust and mutual respect is low then the organization will be more inclined to look inward – to get caught up in internal marketing. Since the energy that an organization has is constant, if we waste it on internal squabbles there is no way we can focus on customers and the environment that gives us our living. As we know, the raison d’etre of an organization is to satisfy customer needs. In other words if those who need us have gone away then the company ceases to exist. Bureaucracies arise when organizations do not depend on the satisfaction of their customers. If we waste our efforts on internal squabbles we are not in a position to react and use the abilities of the company through opportunities in our surrounding environment – which is the task of external marketing. In this way the organization cannot be a success.
The ultimate need: In time of change, what is required is a creative, flexible organization which gets to grips with its problems in situations of uncertainty and not an organization which by redefining everything that happens reduces the tempo of change in the hope that good things will happen. If it is to hold its fate as far as possible in its own hands – which is what management is about – the use of team work in an organization is an absolute priority.
Zvezdan Horvat, Boris Vukić
Certified consultants of the Adizes Institute