ABCs of Teams
Randi S. Brenowitz, MBA & Marilyn Manning, PhD
article appeared in HR.com on December 2, 2002
order to speak any new language, you must first learn how that
language is constructed. That's why most of us learned the "ABC
song" in kindergarten. In Junior High when we started to
learn a "foreign" language, we again started with the
basics of the alphabet and simple vocabulary words.
many of us the vocabulary of teams is akin to a foreign language.
In order to become fluent in this new language, we must learn
its fundamental elements. We present the ABCs of Teams
as a way for you to start speaking the language of today's business
is for Agreements
that A is not for "Assuming." Without explicit agreements,
individual team members may behave in very different ways while
each assumes that he or she is being a good "team
player" and working effectively towards the team's goals.
Every team needs a clear set of agreements about how each member
will behave and how the team will work together.
agreements generally include items like:
when and how often the team will meet
behavior is expected from each team member
they will make decisions and who will be involved in decision-making
communication forums will be used
and when they will ask for help
information will be shared with each other
information will be shared with the outside world
information will be kept confidential
decisions have to be made by the entire group rather than delegated
to one individual
the team may want to have an agreement regarding what specific
tools and venues will be used (electronic bulletin boards, email,
face-to-face, voice mail, etc.). While everybody has preferences,
a clear agreement must be made about which of these will work
best for the team as a whole.
should be as specific as possible. For example, agreeing that
email will be responded to in a "timely fashion"
may create a problem. Some team members may define "timely
fashion" as several days, while others may think it means
before the end of the business day, two hours after the meeting
ends, or even next month.
actual creation of agreements can serve as a team building process
itself, as the team will experience working together, communicating,
and making decisions. This experience can serve as a model for
how the team can work together in the future.
is for Balanced Goals
best position a team's products or services, they need goals that
are balanced with their vision. They should consider their strategic
focus, unique contributions, competencies, and core values. An
in-depth visioning process can serve as the foundation for setting
balanced goals. Once they have a clear vision, the team can identify
what needs to be done to actualize that vision.
conduct an internal and external environmental scan. Ask:
are the team's stakeholders?
does each stakeholder need and expect from the team?
does the team need and expect from the stakeholders?
the stakeholders currently satisfied or dissatisfied with team?
should the team communicate with the stakeholders?
are the team's core competencies?
skill areas does the team need to develop?
can the team improve their efficiency, productivity, and cohesiveness?
the above data, will allow the team to create a robust vision
statement that will reflect both the current charter and future
the team will be ready to set balanced priorities and goals that
include timelines and quality criteria. Teams can then create
their own means of accountability and internal reporting to reinforce
these balanced goals. By monitoring their progress regularly and
making appropriate modifications, they can maintain their flexibility
while still considering the desired future vision.
is for Consensus
is a mutual agreement among group members where all legitimate
concerns of individuals have been addressed. It is not a unanimous
vote, but rather an agreement to move forward with a decision
all members of the group can support even if they think it might
not be the best possible decision. Consensus building can foster
creativity and innovation, cooperative attitudes, improved interpersonal
communications, and increased accountability.
order to ensure true consensus, it is essential that all the right
people be involved in the process. To asses who must participate
in the decision-making process, ask the following questions:
are the key stakeholders in this decision?
has the most knowledge about the topic being decided upon?
is impacted by this decision?
must implement this decision?
can sabotage the decision once it is made?
requires a commitment to the process, active participation of
the team leader and all team members, creative thinking, and open-mindedness.
It takes time; therefore, consensus is not the best way to make
insignificant decisions. Rather, it can be highly effective for
those decisions with significant impact on the work of the team
where buy-in and whole-hearted implementation is essential.
now you know your ABC's. As with any language, it will take time
and study for you to become fluent and to understand all of the
subtleties of the vernacular. These ABC's are a start, however,
and should allow you to begin working with the teams in your organization.
These fundamentals will give you a good foundation upon which
you can build many new words and concepts.
more information on this topic,
contact Randi Brenowitz at
650-843-1611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.