How to use teams more effectively

DN Staff

April 6, 1998

4 Min Read
How to use teams more effectively

Successfully competing in today's dynamic environment requires cross-functional team management at both senior management and project manager levels.

Senior executives form the inner circle of people who collectively formulate, articulate, and lead the strategic and tactical moves of the organization. Regardless of whether their focus is on dramatic organizational transformation or the relentless day-after-day demands of competition, the senior executives must work together as a collaborative effective team to be successful.

Why collaborate?

1. Increasing organizational size and specialization are making it more difficult for one person to understand all the facts, analyze them, make a decision, and act. Teams must work together to create the desired whole, which is greater than the sum of the parts.

2. People are more committed to a course of action when they are involved in the decision-making process.

3. True participation is a way to release a person's full capabilities, which will result in increased productivity, greater creativity, and higher moral.

4. Involvement in a problem-solving group will encourage the participant to do his homework and spend more effort on coming up with a solution.

Most of us have had some bad experiences with groups; they can be a waste of time and arrive at conclusions that are poorer than those that an individual might have reached. However, when used properly, the problem-solving group can be a powerful managerial tool.

The dynamic business environment dictates the use of problem-solving teams whether we like them or not. Our real problem is not whether we will use them, but how to use them more effectively.

The importance of conflict management. How well a group operates as a true team may be measured by how well it deals with conflict. Without conflict, teams lose their effectiveness. Members become apathetic, disengaged, and superficially harmonious. Low conflict levels are associated with poor decision-making.

Many problem-solving groups suffer from "group think," a malady which reduces their ability to identify and resolve conflict. Members may avoid deviating from apparent group consensus and give the illusion of unanimity. A participant's silence may be assumed to indicate agreement, when it may mean the member would rather avoid conflict.

In other cases of group think, the group may apply pressure to any deviating member to conform, rather than question the validity of an argument favored by the majority. The group may rationalize negative feedback to fit its position or be overly optimistic, nurtured by a false belief in its own unity and wisdom.

Technology-based firms in Silicon Valley(super1) use four tangible levers to manage conflict (see Q&A).

Effective teams manage conflict. They encourage the discussion of different viewpoints, and they don't confuse the lack of conflict with agreement, when it may simply represent apathy or disengagement.

(super1)"Conflict and Strategic Choice: How Top Management Teams Disagree" by C. Saunders, M. Gebelt, Q. Hu. California Management Review, Winter 1997, Vol. 39, #2.

Ask the Manager

Q What are the four tangible levers used for conflict management?

A Heterogenous teams, frequent interaction, distinct roles, and multiple-lens heuristics. Heterogenous teams are more likely to expect conflict. Such teams have members of different backgrounds, such as age, education, experience, gender, and functional interests. Frequent interaction is critical to understanding one's own position and those of others. Preferences emerge and are shaped through discussion. Teams that do not interact frequently, do not discuss the real issues. Apathy and the appearance of agreement often result. Five distinct roles are apparent in most high-conflict teams:

- Activist. A doer, a go-getter, real-time oriented, what's happening now?, impatient. This person often brings up new opportunities and frequently reminds the team to act.

- Mr./Ms. Steady. A moderating influence. This member likes the status quo, and advocates for structure and planning.

- Futurist. A visionary, this member focuses on the marketplace three, five or 10 years out and follows the latest technical and market developments, but is disinterested in day-to-day management.

- Counselor. The counselor provides street smarts and usually lends wise and candid advice, with no particular axe to grind.

- Devil's advocate. A dissenting voice, this member tells the group "something doesn't feel right." He or she offers alternative points of view. Multiple-lens heuristics. These bring new perspectives to the team: multiple alternatives, multiple scenarios, competitor role plays, and overlapping subgroups.

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