Everyone has been asked to work in a team at some point. But often, teams fail. The most common forms of failure are listed below:
- The team does not have a clear purpose or goal, or it lacks decision-making authority.
- Members of the team are not meeting expectations of other team members.
- There is no coherent plan in place for the team to follow.
- Meetings are not well-facilitated to ensure that the work gets accomplished according to plan.
- Some members fail to do their work and are not held accountable.
Are these failures avoidable? One hundred percent of the time, yes, but there are necessary conditions that must be in place for the team to be successful.
Fostering success in a team is hard work for all participants. But when the team works well together, the results are overwhelmingly strong. That's why organizations always use teams because the payoff, if the team is successful, is so powerful.
Presented below is a detailed model to ensure the success of a team. All team members, including the team leader (if one is selected), should diligently apply these strategies to ensure the team's success.
- Choose roles for each team member. Each person should have a specific assignment in terms of the important functional roles of teams. Every member's purpose should be clear, not just as a subject matter expert on the team, but also as fulfilling a role in managing the team's work.
- Negotiate behavioral expectations for the team. Establish team expectations on performance, on decision-making, on holding each other accountable, on sticking to the timeline for the team's work, and on handling conflict. Use these behavioral negotiations as part of the team charter. Have each team member visually review and formally commit to the team, which is an explicit agreement to be held accountable to the rules. Keep the document handy. When there is a new rule that needs to be added, add it; when conflicts need to be addressed, bring the expectations back out and review them with each other. Additionally, your expectations should clearly state meeting cadence, form of meetings, and expectations for those meetings. If there is a problem within the team, seek first to resolve it using the plan; if the team cannot move past the problem, notify your instructor. All members must provide a substantive contribution to receive a passing grade for this project and to pass the course.
- Develop a team project plan. Use the team Project Plan template to develop a timeline for the team's work. It helps to start with the due date and work backward to ensure all work can be completed.
- Agree and commit to the communication and project plans. This is your chance to do the most to ensure the team's success—getting full and unambiguous agreement as to what the team is going to do and how. The team will designate a member to upload the completed communication and project plans into the team space in discussions.
- Begin the work of the team. Once your instructor has reviewed and approved your plans, it will be time to go to work. It is a good idea to organize a kickoff meeting to get everyone started. Make it very clear what the first deliverables are, when they are due, and what each person will be doing. Review the meeting cadence so that everyone knows when things are due and when they should be prepared to report.
- Plan and facilitate regular team meetings. Hold regular team meetings to discuss the 4 Ps: progress, performance, problems, and plans. Have a team leader facilitate these meetings and appoint another member to take notes, identifying action items and discussion results to share with members. These meetings should be purposeful, with clearly articulated decisions to be made, reports to be given, and a determination in advance of what should be done. Agendas should be established and sent out before the meeting. It is recommended that team behavioral expectations be brought out regularly and reviewed for compliance; ask the team whether the expectations are being met and what rules should change going forward. This is a critical step in continuing to build trust among the team members. After each meeting's progress report, the team project plan should be revised to reflect any changes.
- Offer behavioral and performance feedback to team members. The team leader should ensure that, when appropriate or when required, feedback is being given directly to members of the team. Conflicts or violations of the behavioral expectations should be talked through immediately and directly to avoid further problems. Team members should offer precise feedback as well.
- Communicate regularly. The team should hold each other accountable for communicating the work being accomplished regularly—not just in regular meetings, but as needed so that the work of other teams can be as productive as possible. Typically, other teams are dependent on the work of others; regular and consistent communication will ensure no one's time is wasted.
- Edit all parts of the project deliverables and deliver the final product. Assign one person as an editor to "knit" all elements of the project together. The editor should not redo the work but should smooth out the sections to ensure continuity. When all members of the team have reviewed and approved the final elements of the project, the three files (the technical report with the executive summary, the lab report, and the narrated presentation) will be uploaded by one member to the assignment folder.
- Reflect. Take time to reflect on the success of the team. Whether or not the team will work together in the future, this time is important to learn from this team for use on future team projects. Take time to celebrate if warranted. Ask the questions, "What would you do differently in future projects, from your perspective?" "What contributed to the success of this team?" and "What will you do differently in the next team you are leading?"
Team Assignment FAQs
- I am being pulled out of town for my work. Can I do a separate individual project instead of the group project? Demonstrating your ability to perform well as a member of a team is a core graduate school competency. Most of the work for the group project will occur over weeks 8 – 10, but groups will be set up earlier in the semester, so take time to review the project and plan how you may need to organize your time to accomplish your allotted work. If you should find yourself getting behind on other projects, work with your team to get the team project done since you cannot be eligible for an Incomplete without successfully completing the team project. Each team member must contribute to the project to get a passing grade on the project and to pass the course.
- A member of our team isn't doing his or her share of the work. How do we handle this? This is one of the most typical aspects of teamwork. Often, it results when there are not clear expectations and/or accountability criteria for each member. Refer back to your plan to address conflict. Try to resolve the problem within the group first, but do not delay letting your instructor know what is going on.
- I hate working in teams; I always work better by myself. Why do I have to do a team assignment? One of the top five skill areas needed by executives in today's global market is the ability to lead and manage teams. Executive teams and corporate boards are two forms of teams. Another of the top five skills executives need is the ability to lead and manage projects, which are accomplished by teams. If you are bad at working on teams, you need to fix that, because the reality is that all companies employ teams. Think about it this way: if you lead a few teams to successful results and see the power of teamwork, maybe your opinion will change. There's the secret point: teams are incredibly powerful when they work successfully—that's why companies use them so often. If your team is not successful, think about why this is the case and what you could do to change the situation.