“I was a volunteer soccer coach for the local grammar school when one of the kids came down with Leukemia. I wanted to do a fund drive to help the parents with medical expenses, so I set up a crowdfunding site on the Internet, but it was not getting any attention or donations. Then I re-discovered the power of teamwork. I invited the soccer team and their parents to a meeting after one of the practices and asked that they help me map out a strategy for fundraising. We raised $6,000 in one month and are still going strong. What a difference a working team makes!”
What Makes An Effective Team
We have all been on some team before, whether working on a group project, an athletic team, a musical group, or an internship. Not all of those experiences have been positive. Sometimes teams are energizing and successful, and sometimes they flounder and fail.
Your workplace operates like a team – each person has assignments and duties to complete, unique skills or abilities, and different attitudes. And you all work together to reach a goal.
Work teams have members with diverse resources, expertise, and ideas. As a staff team member, you have unique experiences, points of view, knowledge, and opinions to contribute. The more a workgroup can bring out divergent points of view without creating fights, the better they perform. Creativity, innovation, and different viewpoints are expected and valued in a well-functioning workplace, and team members are encouraged to use their individual strengths.
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
— Michael Jordan
Common Purpose & Performance Goals
Work teams have the best opportunity to effectively set clear expectations around goals, accountability, and outcomes. You need to understand the goals, be held accountable for doing your part, and celebrate when you reach the goals. Everyone should be supportive of all team members involved in the project.
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision – to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”
There is No “I” in the word T-E-A-M
It is not about you.
Your job is to make the supervisor and the team successful.
Your job is to make sure the workgroup meets its goals.
Your job is to contribute whatever you can to bring success to the organization.
This is the mindset that you want from others in a group. You want everyone to take ownership and make everything work well.
A strong team knows what is “normal” for the group. Teams need to understand what is expected and also what is not appropriate. Successful team norms include:
- Everyone communicates all the time. You need to know what’s going on in the office, such as programs, policies, and new procedures. What information do you need to report?
- Everyone participates – not just the extroverts or vocal members. If you are an introvert, write down your message, email your ideas to your supervisor, or meet individually.
- Everyone executes. Each member knows their tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines. If you leave a job half done, tell your supervisor when you will return to finish it. Some groups are adamant about deadlines, some not so much. Ask your supervisor about it.
- Everyone listens. People ask clarifying questions. They give and receive thoughtful feedback. Instead of announcing your critique of something, start with a question. For example. Rather than saying: “I disagree with our policy of answering the phone before three rings,” It would be better to ask, “why is it important to answer the phone by the third ring rather than letting people leave messages?”
- Everyone contributes. When there is a large project, volunteer to help, especially for the dull or dirty job nobody else wants. Offer to stay late or report in early when needed. It motivates others, and you are appreciated more.
Team members must review their procedures and what role each person plays in the group.
“The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I.’ And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I.’ They do not think ‘I.’ They think ‘we’; they think ‘team.’ They understand their job is to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ get the credit…. This creates trust and enables you to get the task done.”
— Peter Drucker
Types of Norms
- Prescriptive -Tell us what to do
- Proscriptive – Tell us what not to do
- More – Great moral significance
- Folkways – Lesser moral significance
- Laws – Codified, institutionalized by a violation are also institutionalized.
- Roles – A bundle of norms governing a “position” in society
Common Approach: Dealing with Conflict
Conflict is inevitable. People eventually disagree with each other. They hold different values, attitudes, personalities, and needs. Disputes can spark creativity and innovation. They can also set fire to the team. Knowing what procedures and processes there are is essential to quickly and openly resolve destructive conflict.
For example, if you are finding that you clash with another person on the job about a procedure, ask your supervisor to establish rules of discussion such as:
- The presenter has three minutes to present their suggestion uninterrupted.
- The group asks questions to clarify whatever they do not understand.
- Support, disagreement, or piggy-backing with the suggestion is given three minutes.
- The group seeks consensus.
- No personal criticisms about the presenter are allowed. The only response to the presentation content, which means everyone is treated with respect and equality.
- If consensus is reached and you disagree with the result, you will go along with the agreement without complaint.
It is helpful if someone moderates the discussion to ensure there is no personal criticism of each other’s ideas, just sharing thoughts. Sometimes the supervisor should not intervene. It might go better with an outsider.
“You will find men who want to be carried on the shoulders of others, who think that the world owes them a living. They do not seem to see that we must all lift together and pull together.”
Most work teams have group projects. Ask who will lead meetings, assign tasks, record decisions, assess progress, hold team members accountable, and provide direction for the team. Sometimes these roles are held by the supervisor or other paid staff, but sometimes they need to be selected through volunteering. When you know the team roles, it’s easier to make high-quality decisions and carry them out.
Typical Team Decision-Making Problems
Have you experienced any of these decision-making problems?
Kill. One member of the group makes a suggestion, and the group—either one or more of the influential members of the group as a whole—immediately rejects it. (“That’s impossible.” “That won’t work.” “We already tried that before.”) This is called kill because it is unlikely that an idea received so negatively is ever considered again.
Self-Authorized Decisions. A team member suggests a course of action and immediately puts it into play, assuming that since no one disagreed, the group has given its approval. Even if others agree with the decision, they may resent the person taking it upon themselves to make it.
Simple Majority. Voting is a standard method of determining majority support.
Unanimity. Everyone agrees with the decision being made and intends to support it. In most cases, a genuine consensus is impossible to obtain, inefficient, and unnecessary.
Consensus. When consensus is reached, all members have contributed something to the decision or feel they have had a fair chance to influence it. Those few members who do not prefer the majority decision understand it and fully prepare to support it.
Of course, the idea is to reach a consensus, but not every decision is suited for consensus. Sometimes a small decision is left up to the discretion of the person whose job it is: what color the napkins should be, how much money to spend on fliers, who will introduce the speaker, who answers the phone first, who takes out the recycling, and more. But there may also be times when it is in the team’s best interest for the leader or a small group to decide. The final aspect of mutual accountability is the notion of who gets credit for the work?
“It is amazing how much people can get done if they do not worry about who gets the credit.”
What Can You Do About Problem Decisions?
So, what can you do as a student employee or intern if you experience one of the above decision-making problems?
- Do nothing. But you might risk team failure, and then everyone pays the price, not just you.
- Ask questions. Remember, asking questions is an effective way to help others stop and clarify their ideas. Here is how it might go:
- Kill. Your question: “Although you may have tried it before, I am wondering if we might consider it again under different circumstances? Can you help me understand why it did not work?
- Self-Authorized Decisions. Your question: “I noticed that nobody outright disagreed with moving forward with your idea, but I wonder if we might ask others about it? I want to be sure everyone is on board and nobody is silently resisting. I have seen that happen before.”
- Simple Majority. Your question: “This seems like a very close vote. A lot of people don’t like the decision. Can we brainstorm other ways to find a more acceptable decision?”
- Unanimity. Your question: “Since everyone seems to be on board, what can I do to help implement the proposal? What tasks can others do?”
- Consensus. Your question: “This seems to be a good decision. Anything else we need to consider?”
No discussion of teams would be complete without a quick look at work team roles. Take a look at this video for a glance at teamwork:
Your Team At The Workplace
You have just reviewed some basic dynamics of teams. Some of these dynamics will apply to your work setting, and some will not. But it is essential that you check what a good and bad team looks like, and particularly what role you have at work.
- Student workers paid by the hour: Students are hired to do clerical and other work as employees. This role requires you to learn the policies and procedures and execute your job well. Remember, your simple tasks are important to your supervisor, or they would not have hired you. If you can demonstrate commitment and initiative, you will likely be given more complex and exciting tasks with time. You can use the supervisor as a reference in the future. Ask any campus employer, and they will tell you they have hired high and low performers. Take ownership of your simple job, be a team player, and it will pay off down the road.
- Paid Student Intern in charge of projects or programs: These jobs involve more independence and self-motivation, often found in roles such as orientation leaders, elected officers, publication writers, activities planners, residential advisors, tutors, etc. Off-campus paid interns do essential work for the employer. You are “in charge” of getting the job done with less direction and daily supervision. Supervisors expect you to use the skills and dynamics discussed above to make your program successful.
- Volunteer (no pay, but rewarding work) It’s not uncommon that you do manual labor such as site clean-up or restoration. Often it’s working with children, disadvantaged individuals, or people who need personal support. Sometimes it’s involvement in a club or social group. Always apply what you learned about being a good team player in these situations. Volunteer activities are a great way to gain experience and prove to future employers that you have the skills and commitment to succeed in other jobs.
- Volunteer Leader: volunteer long enough using your best skills, and you will likely be asked or voted to be the team leader. Volunteer leadership is often the best place to practice and develop the skills that prepare you for the future.
- Permanent paid staff person. This is likely the place you eventually end up. You will need a steady income at some point. Pay attention to the team, contribute well, be aware of your roles, and keep communication open.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed. It is the only thing that ever has.”