May 26, 2010

How to make a better team

WERC presentation details how teams differ from other groups in the workplace.

By DC Velocity Staff

Forming a successful business team is a very different thing than forming any other kind of work group, warns Marie Robinson, senior vide president of supply chain for grocer Smart & Final.

Robinson and Todd Soller, a partner in the consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates, offered ideas on forming teams during a presentation at the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) conference last week.

"A work group may meet regularly, but members have responsibility for a silo," Robinson explained. "In a work group, you share information, you can have neutral or negative synergy, you have individual accountability, and the skills may be random and varied. Contrast that to a team, which has collective performance, positive synergy, individual and mutual accountability, and complementary skills."

She added that researchers have investigated what makes teams successful for decades. "The number-one factor is support from the overall organization," Robinson said. "Leaders are really critical. You need a climate of trust: if team members do not trust the leader, it will not work. And you cannot rush the evolution of trust. It takes time and experience together."

She explained that every team goes through several stages from the time they are formed, and in some ways, that process starts over when a new member joins the team.

Teams require three types of members: those with technical skills, those with problem solving, and those with interpersonal skills. "No team can achieve team objectives without all three," she added.

Size matters as well: The ideal number of team members, she said, is seven to nine. "Less than five, and you are unlikely to have a well rounded perspective," she said. "More than nine leads to problems like group think and social loafing."

She added that the keys to any team's success are a common plan and purpose, specific goals, and confidence among team members that they can succeed.