Managing Groups and Teams/Which attributes are fundamental to team cohesion?

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Introduction[edit]

Much has been written about the most effective ways to form team cohesion. The purpose of this chapter is to offer concrete ideas for team leaders on how they can develop team cohesion amongst group member in an organizational setting.

Some of the ideas are inspired by researchers such as Patrick Lencioni, however, many of the ideas within this chapter have been compiled from the collective experiences of its authors and other research.

Team Cohesion Star.jpg

Five concrete ideas for building team cohesion will be presented including: Appreciation, Incentive, Relevance, Performance Measurement and Interpersonal Relationships.

A model has been created to help the reader recall these points. The model is presented as a star with each point representing one of the five attributes fundamental to building team cohesion.


Appreciation[edit]

It has been said that there are only two types of people in the world who benefit from gratitude and sincere appreciation – men and women[1] Indeed, all humans have a basic need to feel appreciated, respected and valued. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, esteem is recognized as a fundamental human desire which must be fulfilled in order to achieve self-actualization (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).[2] The effective team leader can utilize appreciation as an important tool to fill this esteem need for individual team members and work to create and maintain a culture of appreciation within the team to insure that a team is cohesive.

In a 2003 study by the US Department of Labor on employment, the number one reason given for why people decided to leave their jobs was a lack of appreciation. Just as an underappreciated employee is more likely to leave a job, an underappreciated team member is more likely to leave a team. Without feeling valued as contributors within the context of the team and its objectives, individual team members are much more apt to feel disconnected and isolated from the team. To maintain a cohesive team, all members need to feel some degree of appreciation for their efforts. On a group level, a team which is not esteemed and recognized for their contributions has little chance of remaining cohesive, functional and successful.

To view it in a more positive way, a team is much more likely to be unified, collaborative and ultimately successful in a culture that is built on appreciation and recognition of the contributions of each individual, as well as the unique contributions of the team. Demonstrations of gratitude, acknowledgements of effort, words of congratulations and other actions of appreciation function as the glue which binds a successful and cohesive team together. As the French philosopher Voltaire put it, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” For a team leader to succeed, he must take the unique contributions of each team member and forge them into a combined team identity, and appreciation is fundamental to this endeavor.

Creating a Culture of Appreciation[edit]

Creating and maintaining a culture of appreciation within a team requires a concerted focus by the team leader (and team members) on certain behaviors and characteristics. Below we have identified 6 guidelines related to the principle of appreciation which team leaders can use as they work on building a strong and cohesive team. Of course this is not an exhaustive list, but it provides a strong foundation on which a culture of appreciation can be built.

1. Praise Individuals and Teams[edit]

Appreciation is a principle which applies to individuals within a team and to the team itself. For a team to be cohesive, the leader must concentrate on both areas. Without individual recognition, a team member may feel his/her individual contributions are irrelevant, unimportant and invisible. Without team recognition, cohesion is much more difficult to maintain, as the focus is directed away from the team’s accomplishments. Finding a balance between team and individual appreciation is not an exact science, and may vary with the unique dynamics of a particular team. However, both individual and team praise must be present to maximize the potential for team cohesion.

2. Praise in Private and in Public[edit]

Acknowledging and recognizing accomplishments should be done both in the private and the public spheres. Expressions of appreciation are reinforced when shown in multiple venues. A team’s willingness to put in significant extra time to complete a project by the deadline could warrant a personal thank you to each team member by the team leader, as well as a team celebration lunch. Going one step further, the team leader could send an e-mail to select upper management detailing the extra effort put in by the team (make sure to Cc the team members). Of course the specific actions are limitless. The point here is to reinforce the appreciation message and, through public and private usage, cause it to permeate throughout the different strata of the individual, team and organizational culture.

3. Be Specific[edit]

Make sure you really get to know each team member so that you can tailor your appreciation message to each individual as needed. Take time to learn about a team member’s family, hobbies and interests, preferences, and values. This will allow you to give praise, recognition and appreciation that will be personally valuable to each team members. In recognizing or praising a team member, do not speak in generalities. Instead of, “great job, Amir,” the team leader could say, “Amir, your contribution to the finance meeting this morning was excellent. I was particularly impressed with your grasp of the division’s key drivers.” The latter statement acknowledges specific attributes and provides Amir with specific feedback on what his unique contribution was. Similarly, appreciation at the Team level should be specific and should demonstrate the team leader’s interest in and knowledge of the team’s purpose and accomplishments.

4. Be Sincere[edit]

As the cliché goes, flattery will get you nowhere. When people get the sense that words of praise or acts of acknowledgement are not coming from the heart, trust is quickly eroded. A team leader should never follow up a complement with a “but” or bring up a mistake that was made by the team or team member. There is a time and place for that, and it is not during an expression of appreciation.

5. Frequency[edit]

When it comes to appreciation, more is more. As long as the appreciation is sincere and specific, it is nearly impossible to show appreciation too much. Whether it is a personal thank you note, a short recognition speech in front of the team or an e-mail to top management on a team’s accomplishment, appreciation must become a cultural norm. Consistency is the key. Just one of many ways in which a team leader can think about frequency is to create three divisions: day-to-day, informal and formal.[3] Appreciation must be demonstrated often for it to become a part of a team’s psyche.

6. Develop an Appreciation Plan[edit]

With the tools above, a team leader should put pen to paper, so to speak, and develop a written appreciation plan. This will function as a blueprint to creating and maintaining a culture of appreciation. Ideas for the structure of this plan are many and varied. A few examples of appreciation/recognition plans from the corporate world can be found in “Rewarding Teams: Lessons from the Trenches” by Glenn Parker, Jerry McAdams and David Zielinski.[4] “The Carrot Principle”, by Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick also provides insights into creating a detailed recognition plan[5] and Whether your plan includes weekly awards, team highlights in the company newsletter, taking a team member out to lunch, all or none of the above, the plan should integrate the principles previously described: namely individual and team praise, private and public praise, being specific, being sincere and a high degree of frequency. A written appreciation plan will provide the impetus to take the above concepts and make them a reality.

Remarkable Results[edit]

In a scene from the movie Remember the Titans, based on the true story of a high school football team which overcame many potentially divisive challenges and obstacles to come together and win the 1971 Virginia State Football Championship, Coach Herman Boone takes his team to the site of the United States Civil War battle of Gettysburg. There, with a morning mist hanging over the once bloody battlefield, he delivers an impassioned plea for team unity and cohesion.

“You listen…take a lesson from the dead,” directed Coach Boone. “If we don’t come together, right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed…just like they were.”

“And I don’t care if you like each other or not. But you will respect each other.”[6]

Coach Boone then went about creating a culture of appreciation, by demanding it from his staff and his team, and living it himself. The results were remarkable.

Each team leader faces unique challenges and obstacles to in maintaining a cohesive team. Among these challenges is creating a culture where the basic human need of appreciation is met for each team member and the team as a whole. When a team feels appreciated and recognized, and each individual within that team feels likewise, the team is free to come together as a cohesive unit and to create, collaborate and succeed.


Incentive[edit]

As we continue to explore the contributing factors to team cohesion, recognizing the importance of incentives is fundamental to team success. While developing organizational success through incentives is a topic of much attention and misunderstanding amongst business leaders, interpreting the various factors that encourage people to perform at high levels of personal success leads to insights of how they might perform in a team setting. As good leaders are in constant pursuit to improve the processes and successes of their projects through the use of teams, proper implementation of incentives and rewards should be emphasized and understood.

“In economics and sociology, an incentive is any factor (financial or non-financial) that enables or motivates a particular course of action.”[7] Types of incentives include cash bonuses, merit increases, promotion, leadership opportunities, as well as recognition. As it should be safe to say that everyone likes to be rewarded for their efforts or actions, Frank LaFasto states “good effort needs to be recognized.”[8] Whether individuals recognize them as incentives or rewards, funneling these driving factors in a manner that increases productivity and success can be very beneficial to the team environment. Robert Henneman notes the importance of group recognition by stating “group incentives have a stronger influence on productivity that individual incentives yielding increases of 13%, but more importantly they reinforce the concept of teamwork.”[9]

In order to ensure that incentive tools are used in the most beneficial and influential manner for the team as a whole, the team leader needs to properly identify and integrate the teams objective. As the team leader “ensures that rewards and incentives are aligned with achieving the team’s goals”, team members feel a sense of accomplishment through an association to the group process.[10] By doing so, individual team members will achieve a higher sense of team worth through their collaboration and contribution. By keeping rewards “fair”, LaFasto states that individual members of a team will internally channel the feelings of a reward as if it is a “burden of proof.”[11] A method of reward permits individual members to identify with the teams objective and feel a sense of camaraderie through such achievement. This in turn has an incredible sense of value that can create strong bonds of trust and commitment to team establishment.

As managers devise methods of assuring proper channels of recognition and incentive, it is important to note that financial and non-financial methods can both be equally impactful. As Robert Henneman explains “Recognition can exert a powerful impact on an employee’s performance and may influence organizations effectiveness as much as financial incentives do.”[12] This is a strong point for managers to remember as they strive to build their team members moral on an individual basis as well as on the team level. Even though incentive and reward have a financial connotation, it is important to note the impact that simple recognition can have on a team.

One of the driving factors that contribute to the success of incentives and rewards toward developing team cohesion is the continual impact this has on the individual. For example, if a team is given the opportunity to choose future projects and make certain decisions based on their ability to achieve success and elevated results as a team, more emphasis and importance on team interaction will be seen. Team members that are task oriented react very responsively to opportunities or incentives that will give them more initiative or influence on future decisions.

Because of the tremendous impact that meaningful incentives have on team projects and goals, long-term behaviors begin to form with the team. Eventually, teams are able to collaborate their individual “personal, financial, and psychological rewards to their group goals.”[13] Simple incentive programs that are relevant to the overall teams goals and objectives create a more focused approach to how the team members interact and respect each of their individual duties. Whether or not each of the team members have an equitable position in the physical process at hand, each member feels a sense of placement and share of the team when recognition is given to the team as a whole.

One of the greatest effects of team incentives that provide evidence of the formation of long term team cohesion is the development of organization standards. As more and more incentives are implemented that are in line with the individual teams objectives, there is an increase of reward and visibility within the organization as a whole. This creates an atmosphere of creativity and success which over time develops into what is understood as organizational or team standards. As LaFasto states “a reward should be a celebration of standards.”[14] Over long periods of time, these recognized successes which have become standards are what ultimately shape an organization’s or team’s culture. For example, if a team is highly motivated to be the industry’s leading organization for a certain product and achieves that result and is ultimately recognized for that, a lasting expectation of highly notable success is eventually adopted. This is one of the very reasons why incentives are very effective for not only short term projects but also for the long-term well being of the organization or team.

Through proper alignment of team objectives and motivations, team leaders have a tremendous opportunity to build team cohesion through the proper and strategic use of incentives. Individual team members as well as the team as a whole require the recognition and reward that should be demonstrated when high levels of success are achieved and lasting standards are devised. Whether it is a team bonus for devising a merger deal or a trophy that is presented in front of the entire organization to each of the winning team members, “excellent results must be recognized” and are developed by strategically aligned incentives that drive upward success.[15]

Relevance[edit]

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of leading a team of individuals is making each member of the team feel relevant. What does this exactly mean? Consider the following excerpt from the 1949 World War II movie 12 O’ClockHigh. The script picks up after General Savage asks Lt. Jesse Bishop how he feels about the bombing run the team had just accomplished.

Lt. Bishop: Well sir, that's hard. I don't know how I feel. That's kind of the trouble.
General Savage: What is?
Lt. Bishop: The whole thing sir, everything. I can't see what good we're doing with our bombing. All the boys getting killed. Just a handful of us, it's like we're some kind of guinea pigs, only we're not proving anything. You've got to have confidence in something, then when you find something you've got confidence in, then everything changes. It just doesn't make any sense. I just want out.
General Savage: Do you think it will be any better in another group?
Lt. Bishop: It isn't a question of that sir; I don't want to fly anymore. I want to transfer to another branch.
General Savage: Doesn't it mean anything to you that we hit the target today with no losses?
Lt. Bishop: Yes sir....I suppose so...in a way, but I just want out.
General Savage: well, that's a pretty tough request from a medal of honor man. Sure we're guinea pigs Jesse, but there's a reason. If we can hang on here now, one day soon somebody's gonna look up and see a solid overcast of American bombers on their way to Germany to hit the Third Reich where it lives. Maybe we won't be the ones to see it, I can't promise you that, but I can promise you that they'll be there if only we can manage to make the grade now.
Lt. Bishop: I'd like to believe you sir. I just don't have confidence in anything anymore.[16]

This exchange between General Savage and Lt. Bishop illustrates what happens with many members of group or teams. Often, members of the team feel much like Lt. Bishop when, even after achieving the desired result, can’t see what good they are doing. In other words, they feel that the work they are doing is irrelevant to the overall goal and objective of the team or organization.

In his book Three Signs of a Miserable Job, Patrick Lencioni cites this idea of irrelevance as being one of the main signs of a miserable job. For our purposes, we can also say that irrelevance is a main sign of a team member feeling miserable within the group. Lencioni states that, “everyone needs to know that their job matters, to someone. Anyone. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment. Even the most cynical employees need to know that their work matters to someone, even if it’s just the boss.” [17]

Now that we’ve flushed out this idea of irrelevance, how do team leaders ensure that each one of the team members feels fulfillment in the role that they are playing within the group? This chapter has cited other topics that lend to helping a team member feel relevant. Ideas such as incentives and measurement can all assist in making group members feel fulfilled, however there are a few important points that team leaders must touch on to avoid feelings of irrelevance amongst team members.

Focus on the Goal[edit]

Kevin Eikenberry, Chief Potential Officer of Kevin Eikenberry Group explains, “Teams don't have to be aligned with the goals of the organization. Teams can work on what they believe to be the right things. They can work diligently on creating the results they think matter. They can be completely committed to success from their perspective.” [18]

Often, teams operate in this manner to the extent that although the team is working towards goals they believe are important to the team, those goals may be totally opposite of the strategic goals of the company. In the end, although the team may have accomplished much, team members fail to see how their work mattered in the grand scheme of the organization’s goals.

The result of the team not aligning its goals with what the organization needs results in the team operating in a vacuum. Eikenberry goes on to say, “sometimes the vacuum is caused by a far more pervasive problem - no clear organizational goals, objectives or strategies exist to align to. Leaders must create clear strategies and they must create a clear line of sight throughout the organization, so people and teams can connect their work to the important strategies of the organization.” [19]

One would think that business leaders might have an easy time in assisting teams to align its goals with the overall goals of the organization, however, many times business leaders may neglect to clarify goals to the team or simply forget to share the goals with them. In the end, it is the responsibility of the business leaders to align the team’s goals. The question becomes, how do leaders accomplish this task? The following illustrates some steps that Eikenberry gives as ways to connect the team’s work to organizational goals:

Start At The Beginning: Do not communicate the goals of the organization until those goals are set. Changing the goal midway through the group’s work may derail the team. Once the goals are set, communicate these goals clearly in the early stages of the team’s development. Lastly, make sure that you clearly connect the work the team is doing to the organization goal(s).

Generate Conversation: The delivery method of the goal to the team is extremely important. Do not deliver the organization’s goals in an email or a packet, but rather present the goal verbally to the team and ask for feedback from the team and how their work will fit into these goals.

Get The Team’s Help: Get the team’s input and give them a chance to come up with team goals and objectives that align with the organizational goals. This will create ownership and allow for a higher level of agreement between team members.

Provide a Connection: Teams need someone from outside the team to act as a liaison between the team and organization. This usually comes in the way of a team sponsor who doesn’t necessarily sit on the team but provides support and keeps the team from feeling alone.

Make Them Accountable: Once team goals properly align with organization goals, then it is easier to have accountability within the team. Not only does this improve the team’s results, but can also improve overall team dynamics.[20]

Ensuring that the team’s goals align with organizational goals allows for team members to easily connect their work back to a larger objective. By clearly providing this connection, team member will feel that the work that they do both as a team and as individuals make a difference far beyond just the immediate members of the team.

Focus on Personalities:[edit]

There really isn’t just one way to resolve the issue of team member’s feelings of irrelevance or the feeling that the work they do goes unnoticed. Perhaps, one way to solve this problem is to properly understand the many personalities that comprise the team. There are about a million different personality tests on the internet that can be taken, of which the most popular is Myers-Briggs.

How does understanding the personalities of team members assist team leaders in making members of the team feel relevant? Many of us easily see personality traits in one another. It is fairly easy for us talk about certain personality traits. We may hear other people tell us that we are energetic or that we are sensitive, however, what do these types of personality traits mean within the context of the team? More importantly, by completely understanding team member’s personalities, team leaders can use techniques to assist them in making the team member’s work feel relevant and valued.

As mentioned, Myers-Briggs personality test is the most popular personality test, however, one personality profile that is useful in our context is called the SELF Quiz and can be found at http://www.nationalseminarstraining.com/selfquiz/indexHP.cfm. By answering and scoring a series of questions, team members can find out which of the four interaction styles their personality mirrors. The test reveals whether you are a Social, an Efficient, a Loyal, or a Factual. A complete analysis of what each style means is provided. The test is free and takes only minutes to complete. [21]

Perhaps the most interesting information we can pull out of this is the style definition for each of the four categories. For example, someone who falls into the Social category, according to the style definition, is motivated by opportunities and friendship. People who fall into the Efficient category are motivated by success, control and recognition.

These kinds of insights are important for team leaders and can assist in helping make each team member feel that their work is important and relevant to the team and the organization. A team leader dealing with someone belonging to the Efficient category may find that giving that person control over certain aspects of the work may make that team member feel all the more relevant. Likewise, the team leader may try to ensure that someone belonging to the Social category has enough opportunity to connect with people on the team and in the organization in order to go beyond professional relationships and form friendly relationships as well.

The idea of analyzing team members’ personalities may be somewhat of an unconventional method of making members feel relevant within the team. However, understanding personalities goes far beyond just understanding how individual personalities may affect team dynamics. Personalities should be leveraged appropriately to ensure that the needs of each member are met to the best of the team leader’s capabilities.

Focus on individual responsibilities:[edit]

Many times team leaders don’t have the option of choosing which members will make up the team. Regardless, each member will have individual responsibilities within the team. Often, team leaders may give certain responsibilities to team members according to their expertise or strengths in particular areas. Other times, the team leader may ask a team member to be responsible for something outside of that person’s expertise in order to gain new perspectives, ideas, or insights.

At any rate, it is important that the responsibilities given to team members allow them to feel fulfilled. For example, a team member may not feel comfortable performing high level quantitative analysis but will still accept the responsibility. Days later that team member may begin to feel frustrated and may feel that the work he/she is doing is subpar and therefore somewhat worthless to the team.

The point here is that no team dynamic is the same. Team leaders have the responsibility to ensure that individual responsibilities assigned to team members allow the individual to have the success needed in order to avoid feelings of irrelevance within the team.

Finally, there are many ways to ensure that team members feel relevant within the team. Aligning team members’ work to organization goals, understanding how personalities play a role, and ensuring that individual responsibilities allow for team members to feel fulfilled are just three ways that will help team leaders create feelings of relevance among team members.


Performance Measurement[edit]

One element key to maintaining morale within a group is the measurement of performance. It is not sufficient to simply measure whether or not the main task was accomplished. There will be times that in spite of superior effort by the group and the individuals within it, they may not achieve their goal. If a group is marked as a failure in these cases, team members are demoralized and are not inspired to participate in the future. In addition, it is important to measure the performance of individuals within the group to motivate each group member to put forth their best effort. Individual performance measurement will also benefit the organization as a whole in that new strengths (and weaknesses) may be discovered as the group works together.

Determining what to measure[edit]

To maintain morale, the factors being measured must have relevancy not only to the individuals within the group, but also to the organization to which the group belongs. These factors will vary from group to group and from organization to organization. The factors may be specific to the task at hand, e.g. an engineering group may be assigned to design a child safety seat which meets or exceeds government standards. In some cases the organization may also have larger goals in mind, e.g. individuals from engineering and marketing may be assigned to accomplish a task and one of the goals the organization has, in addition to designing a safety seat, is also to improve communication and cooperation between the departments within the organization.

In The Journal for Quality and Participation, Jack Zigon notes, “It is not always obvious what results should be measured. Most teams will use the obvious measures without asking what results they should be producing and how they will know they've done a good job. Even if you know what to measure, it is often not clear how the measurement should be done. Not everything can be easily measured with numbers, thus teams give up when faced with measuring something like "creativity" or "user-friendliness." [22]

Performances that can be measured:[edit]

  • Achievement of objective – While this is obviously important and still needs to be measured, unfortunately in many cases it is the only element measured.
  • Achievement of milestones – Since many projects are complex and may take years to complete, measuring milestones not only provides occasional motivation for members of a group but also helps track the group’s progress.
  • Effort of the group as a whole – Inevitably there will be some tasks assigned to groups which are not completed, such as finding a cure for a particular disease. To encourage future participation in other efforts or even in the same effort, management needs to, when appropriate, reward the efforts of a group. In addition, monitoring and measuring the groups’ effort will help determine the wisdom of utilizing certain individuals or the group as a whole for future projects.
  • Individual’s team contribution – Participation in team meetings, volunteering for projects, the number of ideas contributed and whether other team members believe them to a valuable part of the team are all areas that can be measured.[23]
  • Individual behavior - How well the individual works with other team members, communicates in a constructive way, cooperates with other team members and participates in group discussions and decision making are important behaviors to measure.[24]
  • Group behavior – This includes running effective meetings, communicating well with each other, allowing opinions to be shared and coming to a consensus on decisions.[25]

Understanding from the beginning[edit]

It is important that from the beginning the team members understand the following:

  1. Their performance will be measured
  2. Why the measurements are important
  3. Who will be measuring their performance
  4. How the measurements will be measured
  5. Which performances will be measured
  6. The potential rewards or consequences of the measurements, if any
  7. Whether any of the performances have priority over others

Having this understanding from the beginning will allow team members to recognize what, besides accomplishing the task, is important to the organization; in addition these measurements can help guide the team as they work on the task.

Periodic check-ups[edit]

If the task is going to take a considerable amount of time to accomplish, periodic measurements should be taken and feedback shared so that the team can have a clear understanding of their performance along the way and can make adjustments as necessary. It will also give team members a formal method to bring up concerns. An additional benefit is that team members can be encouraged throughout the process and will be reminded that how they are performing their task is a matter of on-going interest to the organization.

Feedback system[edit]

Jack Zigon also emphasized the importance of creating a feedback system. The system consists of the documents and procedures used to collect and summarize the data. He suggests the following steps to design the feedback system:

  1. Decide what data to collect for each performance standard. The data should be relevant to the standard and specific enough to allow the team to know what was right and wrong compared with the standard.
  2. Decide which source the feedback should come from. Possibilities include the job itself, a team member, the team leader, or other people who receive the team's work.
  3. Decide whether all data or just a sample should be collected. Collect all the data if the measure is very critical and needs to be tracked each time it occurs, or if the accomplishment is performed infrequently. Sample the performance if the accomplishment is performed so frequently that it is not practical to collect all data.
  4. Determine when to collect the data. When possible, collect it immediately after completing the work.
  5. Determine who should collect the data. When possible the team should collect the data unless gathering the data disrupts the work flow and takes too much time or the completed work is seen only by another person.
  6. Determine who, other than the team, needs to receive the data.
  7. Review existing reports for possible use as feedback reports. They can be used if the information is relevant to the standard, is specific enough, is frequent enough to be of value, and is not cluttered with useless information.
  8. If possible, modify existing reports to meet the criteria.
  9. Create your own feedback tables or graphs where necessary.
  10. Decide whether it would be of value to summarize the data. If the data covers a short period of time daily, for example-summarizing is probably appropriate.
  11. Create the forms.[26]

When group members have a clear vision of not only what they are to accomplish but also the importance of their individual contribution and how that will be measured, it will help unify and motivate them throughout the experience. It also helps management recognize the importance of the individual within the organization. A common understanding among team members and by management of what is expected helps facilitate the fulfillment of those expectations and aids in the accomplishment of their goals.


Interpersonal Relationships[edit]

Groups can be a very effective tool in solving problems and accomplishing tasks. The combined intellects, efforts and creativeness of a group of individuals provides a better outcome than could come from one individual or even from the same individuals working solo on the same tasks. The combination leads to more satisfying outcomes and efficient work.

However groups and teams have their drawbacks. Effectively aligning the differing views of the members of the group can lead to disagreements and has the potential for conflict. It is therefore important to encourage the positive aspects while eliminating the negative aspects of a team in the workplace environment. This section looks at how to increase the positive while mitigating the negative aspects of the interpersonal relationships.

What are Interpersonal Relationships?[edit]

A team, in the business context, is a group of people that have been placed together to complete a task or solve a problem. They share a common purpose and are interdependent on the other members of the team. The interdependence of the members of the team creates interpersonal relationships. An interpersonal relationship is an association between two or more people.

How are Interpersonal Relationships Beneficial?[edit]

One of the greatest assets that a group or team can have is good interpersonal relationships with each other. A team that feels comfortable working together can have an energy that creates a positive environment and work ethic that can lift a team, making it more effective. This positive environment can make team members work harder, more efficiently and more productively. Teams that work well together have been shown to be more effective. In fact, how well teams achieve goals is directly related to how effective the team is at working together. “Healthy team relationships are characteristic of unusually successful teams.”[27] Conversely, interpersonal conflict is the most destructive force to a team’s success. A team that cannot work effectively together will not work effectively at all.

There have been arguments that a team does not have to have a good interpersonal relationship in order to be effective. But consider the fact that a team in which the members rely on and trust each other is not putting forth additional effort to manage conflict, hurt, and bias or trying to guess what the “opposition” is doing. They are able to focus their efforts more effectively. Time and energy are directed at the common goal and not at resolving conflicts within the group dynamic. They are all able to put forth 100% of their efforts to the project at hand, confident in the fact that each member is doing the same, not worrying about what the other participants may be thinking or doing.

Just imagine two different working scenarios. In the first one, those involved in their particular project are energized and excited about coming in to work. They enjoy the association and sense of accomplishment from working within their group. The other group members despise getting up in the morning knowing they have to come in to work. They hate what they do and those that they work with.

It’s pretty obvious which group is going to be more effective at completing their project.

Interpersonal Conflict[edit]

Whenever you put a group of individuals together there is the potential for conflict. These interpersonal conflicts tend to arise due to personal differences between individuals. This conflict is damaging to the team and their environment. It degrades the effectiveness of achieving the highest outcomes. A team is made up of individuals. Each individual has their own thoughts, ideas, and personality. Consequently, these don’t always align, nor should they. A team made up of clones, would destroy the whole purpose of putting a group of individuals together in the first place. A team is not formed for the sole purpose that “many hands make light work,” but because they each have skills and talents specific to the individual. Therefore, each member adds to the group in a different way.

As organizations change their structures to be flatter, the team has become the predominant entity within the company. Teams are used to complete projects, solve problems and many other functions within the organization. However the team structure creates an environment in which managers rely on peer relationships to accomplish tasks. In groups where team members have a similar objective and where there is a friendly atmosphere, especially if they have been working in conjunction for a while, the team will work well together and there will be fewer conflicts. “Inevitably, though, no matter how harmonious the group or how structured the organization, conflicts are bound to occur. Some conflicts may feel unproductive, even destructive.”[28]

You can take a group of skilled, intelligent and competent individuals and put them together and their success in a group will come down to whether or not they can work together. The amount of brain power, skill and potential to solve problems will matter little if they cannot work in harmony. If contention, feelings of spite, betrayal, or disloyalty arise than it will undermine the work of each individual to the point that nothing can be accomplished. For this very reason one of the most important tools that a team must have is a good working relationship.

Going into a group environment and believing that conflict will never occur is naive. Team leaders and team members should be mindful that conflict does and will arise. The goal is to effectively resolve the conflict and get the team back to working effectively.

Team members should never ignore conflict within the group when it surfaces. They should not just hope that it will go away or resolve itself. They must not assume that if they don't bring the problem up that the group can still function without resolving the issues at hand. Problems that are ignored and continue to fester will just cause ineffectiveness in the team. A problem that is ignored may also explode at a most inconvenient time and destroy the group altogether. Conflicts, especially interpersonal conflicts, need to be dealt with as soon as they are discovered, in an appropriate manner, so that the team can get back to work and effectively meet its goals.

There are generally considered two types of conflicts that arise in a group. The first is task conflict and the second is relationship conflict. Task conflict is described as disagreements on how to proceed, or a disagreement on what tasks should be preformed to meet the end goal. Relationship conflicts are personal issues that arise between members. They revolve around personal disagreements or dislikes between individuals in a team and rarely have much to do with the actual project.

Task conflicts are generally beneficial. These conflicts may be discussions on “how to improve a process, make the product better, provide a better service, or improve client relationships.”[29] These types of conflicts are considered productive and discussions on such topics generally lead to the most constructive outcomes. “What usually results from productive conflicts are better, new, or different solutions to the concerns and issues the conflicting parties are having.” [30]

If task conflicts are not monitored and mediated by a team leader, these conflicts can become relationship conflicts. Care must be taken to ensure that task conflicts remain about the issues and don’t become personal. Relationship conflicts arise from a disagreement or conflict involving “personality, work style, or differences in beliefs or values.” [31]

John Crawley described business conflict within a team as “a condition between or among workers whose jobs are interdependent, who feel angry, who perceive the other(s) as being at fault, and who act in ways that cause a business problem.”[32] He also describes a workplace conflict as containing each of the same following elements:

  1. They are interdependent
  2. They blame each other
  3. They are angry
  4. Their behavior is causing a business problem[33]

Gary Topchik, in his First-Time Manager’s Guide to Team Building, states that when team members become “critical of another team member’s actions, behaviors, or appearance, this is unproductive conflict that must be resolved very quickly. If not, the team will become self-destructive.”[34]

What can you do?[edit]

It is improbable that anyone will go through their life without having to deal with conflict in one form or another. The same can be said of a team; eventually every member of a team will face a disagreement, differences or conflict. So the question is what to do. “The productive resolution of conflict usually strengthens relationships, whereas destructive confrontation, e.g., blaming, name calling, usually destroys relationships, or at the very least, detracts from their satisfaction and usefulness. Thus it is very important how you confront the conflict once you have decided to do so.”[35]

In When Teams Work Best, the authors describe first the questions and then the answers to “building and sustaining collaborative team relationships.” They begin by describing the “four underlying characteristics of good relations” as:

  1. They are constructive
  2. They are productive
  3. They embrace mutual understanding
  4. They are constructively self-correcting[36]

Next they offer four questions that “form the basis for assessing the degree to which an interaction contributes to building a good relationship.”

  1. Did we have a constructive conversation?
  2. Was the conversation productive enough to make a difference?
  3. Did we understand and appreciate each other’s perspective?
  4. Did we both commit to making improvements?[37]

Which leads to what they call the CONNECT model.
C Commit to the relationship
O Optimize Safety
N Narrow the discussion to one issue
N Neutralize defensiveness
E Explain and echo each perspective
C Change one behavior each
T Track it![38]
CONNECT Model.jpg[39]


References[edit]

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  11. LaFasto, Frank; Carl Larson (2001). When Teams Work Best. Sage Publications, Inc. 
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