You have heard it and most likely you have experienced it too. Team building, team effectiveness training, and catchy slogans like “TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More” and “There is no I in team.” But I have seen so many challenging situations, not to say horror stories, in which I think the acronym TEAM could instead mean, “Tearing Everyone Apart Mostly!” You’ve also probably heard about the four stages of team: forming, storming, norming, and performing. However, for many teams the reality is more like storming, somewhat norming, and storming again! I think this is nicely expressed with Muse’s lyrics from their song Starlight, “High hopes and expectations, black holes and revelations.”
Now don’t get me wrong, there are certainly factors that lead to more effective team work and I recognize and value them. Having clear objectives, strong commitment, and building trust are critical, but some factors are easier to deal with than others. The establishment of business objectives is typically the easiest (not necessary the simplest) and most natural for leaders. While confronting the way team members handle different point of views, debate and conflict is often seen as more delicate. However, as much as it may be difficult, tackling these issues is essential in creating an effective team.
An interesting literature review done by industrial psychology Ph.D. students, including Mathieu Forget from SuccessFinder, indicated that cognitive conflicts are positively correlated with organizational performance. In other words, healthy and fact-based debates are beneficial for both the team and organization. The review also indicated that affective conflicts are negatively correlated with organizational performance. In other words, unhealthy team relationships involving negative emotions lead to poor business performance. But here is where it gets interesting: cognitive and affective conflicts are correlated at .57, which means that when there is a healthy debate, the odds are that a negative and emotionally charged discussion will erupt. How teams deal with these discussions and maintain effective working relationships will play a major role in their success.
Team members need to learn how to abandon negative emotions and have debates that leave both the sender and receiver of the message feeling respected, involved, and valued. The more team members trust each other, the stronger the team will be. Trust is built through behaviours such as following through on commitments, acting in the best interests of the team, and believing in each other to be competent and capable in your respective roles, including the team lead.
Working in teams is not going away anytime soon and facilitating slogan driven team effectiveness interventions will not have the impact you are looking for. Conversely, working with your team to learn how to have healthy debates and build trust will make a huge difference in your success. I hope this helps you hone in on your team effectiveness efforts and I’ll leave you with this quote from another Muse song, “Don’t waste your time or time will waste you!”.