How to build high performing teams

Team success hinges on the personalities of the members. Teams with extroverted members require introverted leaders to perform. Photo/FILE
Team success hinges on the personalities of the members. Teams with extroverted members require introverted leaders to perform. Photo/FILE 

Wanjiku, Bahati, and Wanjala all get placed on a team at the securities market brokerage firm where they work. The firm’s CEO tasks the three employees with discovering whether broker advice causes clients to earn more in the Nairobi Securities Exchange or, like research suggests, broker advice adds no value to client portfolios or may even make earnings worse.

Wanjiku, Bahati, and Wanjala head to the 10th floor conference room and close the door. Looking at each other, they begin to think out loud regarding why the CEO chose the three of them specifically.

Unbeknownst to the three employees, the CEO knew critical aspects of team dynamics and utilised those skills to form and direct the team.

1. The CEO knew the difference between a team and a group. McGraw-Hill outlines teams as groups of two or more people who interact and influence each other and are mutually accountable for achieving common objectives and perceive themselves as a social entity within an organisation. So, one should note that all teams are groups. However, not all groups are teams. Some groups involve just bunches of people assembled together.

A team, on the other hand, retains interdependent tasks whereby they require each other to succeed on the tasks. Not all groups exist in such a fashion of interdependence; an example of employees sharing lunch together constitutes a group, but not a team.

2. The CEO understands that two types of teams exist: temporary and permanent. The CEO intends for Wanjiku, Bahati, and Wanjala is to function as a temporary team in that it must accomplish a specific task and then disband. Temporary teams involve task forces that form to solve a problem, like the above example, or “skunkworks” that form spontaneously to develop products or solve problems. Permanent teams constitute team-based departments or quality circles like in East Asia.

3. The CEO realises that teams may exist virtually or in the office. Cross-functional teams operate across space, time, and departmental boundaries by utilising information technology.

Globalisation and the need for teamwork have increased corporate reliance on virtual teams. Once in the conference room, the CEO provides the team with the option of forming a virtual team where they may work remotely or the option of physically working in the office to accomplish the task.

Bahati encourages the team to work within the office because he remembers research that shows employees who work remotely through technology often receive blame and suffer from office politics more than employees who work from physical offices.

4. The CEO pushes the team to understand the five stages of team formation. The five famous stages include: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. The CEO just formed the team. The team now must go through the forming stage to get used to the tasks, expectations, and working together. Next, the team will start arguing and disagreeing as they jostle for normalcy within the team. Inasmuch, the storming phase often creates the most uncomfortable period for team formation and many groups do not survive past the stage.

The CEO must encourage the team and foster appropriate discussion during the storming phase in order to minimise the amount of time spent in the phase.

Next, the team begins finalising their psychological boundaries and understands the team norms that set in. The norming phase ends the tumultuous storming phase. Then, upon finishing the first three stages, the team finally begins to perform optimally during the performing phase. By the fourth stage, the team should have worked through the issues caused by forming the team. Managers, knowing the stages, should back-end their expectations such that difficult tasks come later for new teams so that the completion occurs during the performing phase. Lastly, all teams must eventually adjourn. Gaining feedback on the whole process and the deliverables provides critical closure to team members during the adjourning phase.

Now, as a manager, you must realise that each of these stages is normal. Do not despair over your teams’ storming phases in particular. All teams must pass through the stages.

On the team, Wanjiku, a 58-year-old introverted accountant from Kenya, Bahati, a 27-year-old extroverted marketing specialist from Burundi, and Wanjala, a 39-year-old introverted IT officer from Kenya, ponder why the CEO placed such seemingly random people together for the task.

The CEO knew that placing such diverse employees together would yield a heterogeneous team. Heterogeneous teams contain more internal conflict, spend more time in the storming phase, take longer to agree on norms and goals, but such teams contain better knowledge and resources for complex tasks, and tend to produce more creative results.

If the CEO put together a team with more similar age ranges, geographic backgrounds, and skill sets, the teams would experience less conflict, gain higher personal satisfaction, go through stages faster, and ultimately perform better on simple tasks.

However, since the brokerage issue the CEO needs addressed contains complex issues core to the very existence of financial services firms, he chose a heterogeneous team and expects Wanjiku, Bahati, and Wanjala to perform accordingly.

Finally, the CEO knows that team success also hinges on the personalities of the members. Teams with extroverted members require introverted leaders to perform better. Similarly, introverted team members require an extroverted leader.

Further, knowing that introverts often do not prefer working in teams, the CEO gives the team directions that they may work in their offices on tasks, but only come together for team discussions instead of forcing the team to work together all day in the conference room in front of each other.

What types of teams exist in your workplace? What composition represents the teams’ make-up? Are the right people on the correct teams?

Understanding the dynamics of team formation and team characteristics leads to higher performing teams in your organisation and, eventually, to higher profits.

Prof Bellows is the director of the New Economy Venture Accelerator at USIU’s Chandaria School of Business and Colorado State University. E-mail: bscott@usiu.ac.ke; Twitter: @ScottProfessor.