knowing how to build the right team dynamics in the workplace can limit conflict and boost chances of success.
By Jane Hosking
Let’s face it: working with others isn’t always easy. At some point during your career, you’re sure to come across an individual you find lazy, incompetent, dominating, irritating, and ultimately just downright difficult to work with. Teamwork is an essential component of a company’s work, whether it involves colleagues working together on a daily basis or teams that are established for a specific purpose. But unless they’re led effectively, working in teams can be a frustrating experience and can be counterproductive to getting things done. Effective teamwork on the other hand can be very rewarding and can be the key to enhancing a company’s performance and profits.
Whether your company is big or small, or whether you are a manager, team leader, or even a team player, it’s important to have an understanding of how to build the right team dynamics. We spoke to teamwork expert Samer al Mofleh, former lecturer at the Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Graduate School of Business, who helped us come up with nine steps for leading effective teams.
1- Bring the right leadership
Effective leadership of teams is essential, whether the leader is a manager, an appointed team leader, or a leader that emerges organically within a team. These leaders need to have the skills and knowledge to communicate well with others in order to bring different people together to achieve a common goal. Mofleh believes a team leader is essential to facilitate and guide a team through its different development stages.
2- Build your team
Many of the most successful teams consist of people from different departments within an organization, each bringing different skills and expertise to the table. These teams improve the flow of information and collaboration across departments and increase employees’ understanding of how the organization functions on a deeper level. When it comes to building such teams, Mofleh says it’s important to get the size and composition right. “Smaller teams are more effective because there is no room for free riders and accountability is higher,” he said. He also added that not only is it vital to bring a variety of people together with different skills, but it’s also best to choose people from a similar level in the organization in order to avoid issues of status which can prevent equal cooperation between team members.
3- Allow the team to develop
Mofleh believes that a lot of leaders don’t allow teams to properly form, but instead put pressure on them to perform immediately. They then fail to understand why conflict or problems that prevent tasks from getting done emerge down the track. To avoid this, it’s vital to have a set forming and “norming” stage in team development. This means that as well as adhering to the following steps, a team must be allowed time to get to know each other before any work commences. This will help put egos and power struggles aside—a common cause of dysfunctional teams—and will provide the space for positive relationships to form. This simple, but often neglected step, can make all the difference in teamwork.
4- Establish the ground rules
Establishing team ground rules can mean having a conversation about what is expected from everyone in working together, or it might entail writing up a team policy. Whatever the case, this step should involve establishing clear expectations of team behavior and rules to avoid conflict down the track. Ground rules help set team norms and can include the way people speak to each other, promptness to meetings, and what each team member’s rights and responsibilities are. Mofleh believes the team should work together in developing these expectations to ensure that everyone is on the same page. “Setting the ground rules—the conduct, what’s accepted and what’s not—is very important,” he explained.
5- Designate roles and responsibilities
To avoid disagreements regarding roles and responsibilities, it’s important for a team to work out together who is going to take care of what. This will avoid confusion and overlapping of work, which can create tensions in teams. It is, however, also important to encourage a team culture where everyone is willing to help each other out even when it doesn’t fall specifically within their designated role.
6- Set goals and a clear time frame
An agreed time frame with goals and expected outputs must be set out at the very beginning of a project to avoid a frantic rush the night before a deadline. A team leader or manager should be firm with these goals but allow enough flexibility for goals and the time frame to change when necessary. Celebrating your milestones together as a team is also important to bring people together and keep them motivated.
7- Know your team
Knowing your team means both getting to know them on a personal level but also getting to know their skills, strengths, and weaknesses. Mofleh believes a big problem in a lot of teams is that managers and team leaders often don’t know the capabilities of their employees. But if they do, leaders are better equipped to match people’s skills to certain tasks, instead of becoming frustrated when they fail to perform as expected.
8- Prevent free riding
Free riding, where an individual contributes little and hopes to hide in the shadow of a team’s success, is one of the biggest problems in teams. True teamwork requires equal contributions from everyone. While the free rider is often blamed for this problem, leaders must assess whether work is being delegated effectively and whether they or others are dominating the team as this can discourage contributions. “It’s very important for a team leader to make sure that everyone’s input is taken into consideration,” said Mofleh. He also recommends implementing checks and balances to ensure there is both collective and individual accountability in teamwork.
9- Deal with unhealthy conflict
There will likely always be disagreements within work teams. This can especially be the case when you bring people from different departments together who have an obligation to their functional manager as well as the team. But even without these competing loyalties, conflict between people can emerge for a variety of reason, power struggles being one of the main causes. Following the previous steps can help in avoiding such scenarios, but when conflict does occur it’s the responsibility of the team leader to intervene and encourage cooperation. At the same time, Mofleh said there should also be a degree of healthy conflict in a team so people can challenge ideas and come up with better ways of doing things.
Corporate teamwork in action:
Aramex COO Iyad Kamal said his entire organization follows a team-based structure. He believes that working together in teams, instead of in departmental silos, has helped the logistics giant excel.
Targets are set for the teams and they are also offered incentives to make them as effective as possible. “It’s measured on an individual level as well as on a group level which allows us to keep individuals, as well as the whole team, accountable,” said Kamal, adding that incentives include both financial rewards and recognition.
Also, when teams are established at Aramex, members pass through an induction and training. “We make sure that they’re coached and trained properly and that they are guided by someone who has experience,” said Kamal.
Hikma Corporate HR Planning Director Jamil Qatami said teams are a central part of the pharmaceutical company’s day-to-day work. He said teamwork can help a company overcome the challenges posed by having different departments with competing objectives. “We are trying to shift the focus from individual departmental objectives towards the bigger picture of Hikma’s direction. Because at the end of the day we all have one objective,” he explained.
Qatami recognizes the advantages of healthy conflict within teams and the value of bringing together people with different perspectives. He also believes encouraging workers to give constructive feedback and challenge one other, whilst avoiding negative conflicts and not taking things personally, is also necessary in teamwork.
At Hikma, Qatami said they believe in laying out clear expectations and time frames for teams. “We set the objectives in place and outline what needs to be achieved and how to achieve it,” he said, adding that the right timeline is set by an experienced project manager in order to achieve both efficiency and the team’s targets.