How many teams are you a part of? If you are like most people, it is more than one, and the same is true for most people at your organization. An article in the Academy of Management Review shared that between 65% and 95% of knowledge workers in the U.S. and Europe work on multiple teams, and that percentage is likely even higher in today’s volatile business environment.
Also consider when your teams’ membership last changed. How many changes have occurred in this year alone? This differs from the past when most well-known team models and interventions were developed, when it was more common for people to be on one team with stable membership. In these times, it made sense to focus training interventions at the team level rather than the individual level.
However, with the increases in multi-team membership, and more frequent changes to team make-up and structure, there has been an emerging recognition of and interest in the impact an individual can have on a team.
Dr. Amy Edmondson popularized the term “teaming” as a verb in her book, “Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy,” and says, “Fast moving work environments need people who know how to team, people who have the skills and flexibility to act in moments of potential collaboration when and where they appear.” This is not to minimize the importance of more traditional team-level concepts such as establishing trust and figuring out how to coordinate, but rather to recognize that our approach needs to be different, and that developing teaming skills in the individuals in our organizations is a key component of building effective teams today.
After all, what is the constant across all those teams you are a part of? It is you, of course. While each team you are on has different members, goals and ways of working, you are a part of all of them, and you make an impact. By bringing awareness to this, you can choose your impact and positively affect team effectiveness. When every individual brings an awareness of their to make an impact along with a set of solid teaming skills, team effectiveness no longer depends primarily on the team leader. Thus, both effectiveness and efficiency are increased.
So what does teaming as an individual skill set actually look like?
As we unpack this skill set, the question is, “What do individuals need to be successful at in order to be effective on a team, and how can we, as learning and development (L&D) professionals, support individuals to develop in this way?”
There are three skill subsets of teaming: awareness, personal leadership and team diagnostician.
Awareness is the starting point for any true learning or behavior change. Before we change (and all learning and skill development requires change), we must recognize the need, and we must know our individual starting point. Edmondson describes awareness in teaming as the recognition of the importance of interdependence with others for accomplishing the team’s goals. Simply bringing awareness of the need for coordination drives communication; people who are aware of the need to connect in order to succeed will do so, despite any structural or political obstacles that might get in their way. This is the awareness we would like to instill in people. It’s, specifically, the ability to activate this awareness that provides focus, motivation and movement toward an identified goal. In a team, this activated awareness is the difference between a team member who just shows up, does their job and waits to be told what to do; and the team member who approaches their job intentionally looking for the interconnections and ways that they can both contribute to and receive from the team.
The kinds of awareness that we want to activate for individuals include internal and external self-awareness and “other” awareness, meaning awareness of other people. Internal self-awareness (knowing your own strengths, weaknesses, values, hopes and dreams) can be gained through profiling tools or coaching, while external self-awareness (awareness of the impact you have on others) can be gained through structured and unstructured feedback. “Other” awareness (being aware of other people’s strengths, weaknesses, values, etc.), can be developed by taking the time to ask questions of those around you and listen respectfully to their answers.
Personal leadership is made up of emotional competence, living above the line and time management.
Emotional competence allows individuals to remain grounded in the face of conflict, not take things personally and move forward to resolution.
Time management is a skill that is not inherent for most of us, but which is essential in order to manage the often conflicting time requirements membership in multiple teams creates. Each person’s challenge with time management may be different, so it is important to offer a variety of tools and resources to support individuals in developing the set of skills that will best fill their personal gaps.
With the dynamic nature of today’s teams, every team member needs to be a team diagnostician, able to recognize team strengths, weaknesses and short-term needs, and to suggest pathways forward, rather than waiting for human resources (HR) to step in.
Organizations should embrace a common, easy-to-understand team effectiveness model and adopt a consistent approach to team diagnostics such that all team members speak the same language and are comfortable pointing out both strengths and challenges. This approach gives teams the best chance of constantly assessing their effectiveness and making adjustments in the moment to stay on track.
Culture is Key
Organizations need to invest in building the individual teaming skills of awareness, personal leadership and team diagnostician across the employee population. Most important of all is to ensure that the culture of the organization supports this approach. If individuals with these skills encounter stifling hierarchy or their input is discounted, they will not stay. However, if these skills are visible and valued across all levels of an organization, including in the executive and senior leadership teams, the results will speak for themselves.