Without clear purpose, process and accountability a team will flounder and fail. The benefits of teams can only be achieved with leadership that performs these three key leadership functions:
1. Setting purpose and direction (Part 1)
2. Establishing team-based process and decision making (Part 2)
3. Fostering conventional and nontraditional accountability (Part 3)
To help you lead your team across the chasm from floundering to high performance, we explain process and decision making leadership in this article.
Team Task and Process
When a team forms to address a particular challenge or key results area or make decisions such as how to increase sales or spend budget money, the members discuss the specifics of the topic: relevant data, opinions and possible actions. This discussion of the assignment is the "what" or task of the team.
However, the team may encounter difficulties that have no direct relation to the task or assignment. For example, communication problems may develop or people may bog down in inconsequential items or stray from the agenda in fruitless discussion. The effect is to leave people frustrated and unproductive. These indirect problems involve breakdowns in the member interactions or the "how" or the process of the team. A leader must be aware and attentive to the process to become effective.
The role of the leader is to help a team address its task AND to look at its process of working together. The leader as "facilitator" observes the meeting process and helps members become aware of, and improve the way they work together in order to accomplish the team tasks.
The Team Leader Manages the Task
The leader is to provide direction and structure to the task of the team. The purpose of this direction and structure the leader helps the team accomplish its tasks and goals. (See the first article of this set for an explanation of the "setting team purpose and direction" function of leaders.)
The leader's role is to ensure that the team:
Understands its purpose and agenda
Moves systematically through the agenda
Has adequate information for factual discussion
Utilizes sound problem solving and decision making steps
Keeps on track
Agrees on specific actions and decisions
The leader accomplishes this with behaviors such as:
Preparing the charter and agendas
(See first article for explanation of charters.)
Leads the meeting
Asking for information, ideas and opinions
Giving for information, ideas and opinions
Capturing ideas of others
Clarifying, summarizing, refocusing the discussion
Obtaining decisions and action commitments
Following up on commitments
The Team Leader Manages the Process
The successful leader also concentrates on helping the team establish and maintain an atmosphere of openness, participation, cooperation, listening and support. This is process facilitation which serves to ensure that:
Members feel included and welcome to participate
The climate encourages open communication and candor
Members work cooperatively and handle differences effectively
Process problems blocking team progress are addressed effectively
Time is used wisely to meet the objective and agenda
The leader accomplishes this with behaviors such as:
Drawing members out
Facilitating the constructive expression of differences
Involving people in assignments
Supporting the team and its members
High performance teams are raised, not born. Building team processes and decision making is a make-or-break leadership function for raising performance.
Team Process and Decision Making Training
If top management wants breakthroughs from teams, it cannot expect it from people using the same skills and mind set fostered and reinforced by the chain of command, hierarchical organization. The skill sets of effective team leaders and members are not the same as traditional managers or employees. The plan and control skills of traditional organizations are a small subset of what it takes to succeed in a cross-functional team. Interpersonal, team leadership and process skills are needed.
The implication is obvious. Management has to see to it that funds and time are set aside for team leader and team member skills training. Subjects often included in team leader skill training:
• Team Development Stages and Leader Behavior
• Team Leadership Styles
• Task and Process Dimensions of Teams
• Managing Change
• Leading Team Problem Solving
• Conducting Effective Meetings
• Managing Differences
• Managing Interfaces
Subjects for member skills training:
• Purpose of Teams and Team Based Organizations
• Team-based Problem Solving and Decision Making
• Interpersonal Communications
• Task and Process Functions of Members
• Effective Meetings
• Creativity and Dealing with Differences
• Building Trust
Trust Fosters Superior Decisions
Trust fosters communication and collaboration among team members and in turn heightened commitment to the quality of decisions and team performance. With trust teams achieve; without trust, they muddle.
But there is a paradox. When cross-functional teams are formed members need to develop trust in one another. Yet their "standard" organization provides little experience or basis to do so. Management raises more cynicism and suspicion than trust in many organizations. Furthermore, trust in management and others has been lowered by layoffs, cost cutting and consolidations. Since management practices have done little to promote trust, management and team leaders can close the trust gap with these steps:
• Provide an honest, complete team charter (Part 1)
• Explain the competitive situation and the expectations of the customer. (Part 1)
• Provide group related process skills training (Part 2)
• Provide recognition and rewards for team achievement (Part 2)
• Make information available and insist on accountability. (Part 3)
Trust is crucial: With trust a team can take initiative and risks to accomplish their charter; without trust a team will balk-with good reason-at crossing the chasm to coordinated effort and high performance.
Rewards, Pats, Perks and Pizza Build Team Process
An international study of team rewards and performance carried out by Dr. Mark Frohman confirms reports from many other team-based organizations: formal and informal team building activities not only improve teamwork but also are perceived as rewards to team members. Examples of "rewarding" team programs:
• formal team training
• trips to customers
• team presentations or showcases to top management
• team "owned" space e.g. offices or equipment
Some of the best informal team rewards to promote team performance are "pats, perks and pizza." "Pats" are the informal positive feedback or "atta-boys" given to the team for accomplishment, written or verbal. Perks refer to "benefits" for team members accorded by virtue of team membership; for example, access to resources or meeting or conference participation. "Pizza" refers to opportunities for team members to socialize together either during or after the work day.
The importance of establishing accountability for task performance which is the basis for formal team recognition is addressed in the third article of this set, Team Leadership-Three Key Functions Part 3 of 3.
In summary, establishing team-based process and decision making is a key team leader function. With team-based process and decision making in place, team members will work well together and will figure out how to cross the chasm to high performance.
Dr. Mark Frohman, president of Frohman Consulting Corp., is a recognized expert consultant in developing high performing leaders, teams and organizations. He has been engaged as a consultant, coach and facilitator by more than 500 clients.
Dr. Frohman works with nonprofit and for-profit organizations ranging from start-ups, small and many family-run businesses to international companies and members of the Fortune 500.