Teams are the future of work. In 77% of organizations, at least half of work is accomplished in some sort of team, 2021 Brandon Hall Group research shows. The work done in teams is expected to increase in the next two years in 65% of those organizations.
The impact of COVID-19 has also boosted the importance of teams, the research shows, and that naturally includes increased use of virtual teams. However, only 22% of organizations say team effectiveness improved during the pandemic. Less than four in 10 organizations say team development programs are effective or very effective.
The biggest barrier to improving team development and effectiveness, according to our research, is competing priorities; lack of funding is a distant second.
This demonstrates potentially catastrophic shortsightedness. If most work is done in teams and this is expected to increase over the next two years, how many priorities can be more important than team development?
Biggest Barriers to Effective Team Development
Part of the reason team development is not high on the priority list is the perception that teams are doing fine, as this data shows:
Status of Teams
But in scores of interviews done during COVID-19, many organizations indicated that teams are not functioning as intended. They are getting work done, most people interviewed said. However:
- Team members are often not selected for their complementary skills.
- Team members often are not actively engaged.
- Team leaders often are operating by traditional command-and-control principles rather than inclusive and collaborative leadership needed to leverage the strengths of teams.
In other words, many teams are actually groups of individuals rather than truly high-functioning teams that drive business results through collaboration and innovation.
Therefore, the biggest barrier to team development may be that many organizations do not truly understand the kind of teams needed to succeed in the future of work.
• Does your organization have a strong understanding of the team dynamics that are required to drive business innovation and growth in a disruptive and fast-evolving work environment?
• Does your organization have a strong understanding of the types of leaders and leadership required to leverage the power of teams?
Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Most organizations — almost eight out of 10 — concede they do not invest enough time and budget in team development.
Now is the time to ramp up team development. Organizations must leverage their power to succeed in an uncertain future. Here are some high-level team development strategies:
FOSTER A TEAM MINDSET
High-performance teams and strong ongoing team development are the outgrowths of a team mindset: “We can do it better together and we will do it better together.”
This is easy to say, as most organizations responding to our research did, but difficult to do. It requires an understanding of the skills and competencies team leaders and members require to make teams successful. This includes:
• “Connecting skills” — skills people use when working together. Connecting skills are dependent on the mission, goals and objectives of the team. A person’s connecting skills on a technical team might not translate well to a strategic team, for example.
• “Complementary skills” also are important. These are skills that are often used in tandem by different people. Again, this is dependent on the team’s mission. For the team to be successful, you need team leaders and members whose connecting and complementary skills mesh well.
CREATE LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS FOR MANAGING TEAMS
Team leadership requires a different mindset and firm understanding of team dynamics. Internal politics also have an impact that is unique to each organization and type of team.
Therefore, assuming a senior leader, department head or front line leader can seamlessly move into a leadership role in a cross-functional, cross-regional or global team without training is a mistake. Because of the diverse and complementary skills needed for highperformance teams, leaders must also develop expertise in team-member selection, which can differ considerably from the individual hiring decisions they are accustomed to making.
DEVELOP EFFECTIVE TEAM GOVERNANCE
Each team is unique, with its own mission, goals and vision for success. In addition, members of one team may also be members of several other teams, each of which with their own way of working. Therefore, it is important for successful teams to have a firm understanding of how each team and its individual members should function.
Team charters are a good way to introduce governance and ensure everyone understands the responsibilities of the team as a whole and as individual members. You can find more guidance on team governance here.
INCREASE COMMITMENT TO TEAM DEVELOPMENT
Even in organizations with more than 5,000 employees, 57% spend less than $100,000 on team development. The decision to invest more would appear to be a no-brainer for multiple reasons, many already cited herein. In addition, the critical competencies for team members align with important individual competencies such as collaboration, active listening, self-awareness, self-management, learning agility and critical thinking.
MEASURE TEAM DEVELOPMENT EFFECTIVENESS BY BUSINESS OUTCOMES
Our research shows that manager observations and team-member feedback are the metrics most often used to evaluate team-development effectiveness. However, most teams — especially cross-functional, project-focused groups — are established to reach specific business goals. It makes sense to evaluate team development based on the improvement of business results. Unfortunately, only 26% of organizations do that.
Compare business results of teams that have not gone through training to teams that are trained. See what the difference is. As more people are trained on an ongoing basis, evaluate business results of trained teams against prior results before you began the training.
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