Running a business is a team game — or is it?

We have all heard the expression, ‘There is no ‘I’ in team.’ But as a leader or manager, there is an I — and that person is you.

Whether working with your team or on a task, the leader or manager plays a key role in setting the team up for success and, in that way, becomes that invisible “I.” So, what does it take to successfully develop your team? Let’s cover some basics.

Is there a difference
between a team and a group? Should I care?

Teams and groups differ in how they make decisions and how they work together. In a group, there is a shared purpose, but group members are independent from one another and have individual accountability. Teams, like groups, have a shared purpose, but team members work together to accomplish a task; they are interdependent and collaborative. In both teams and groups, members may also have personal objectives that are not shared by the group.

When should I make the decision myself, and when
do I need a team?

Teamwork is not always the most effective way to complete a task. Ask yourself:

  Is this a complex problem?

  Will it require a variety of skills to solve?

  Is creativity needed?

  Is there time for a team to meet?

If the answer to most of these is yes, then a team is part of the solution. Well-functioning teams can outperform what an individual can do alone. A heterogeneous team brings more knowledge, experience, creativity and perspectives than one person working alone.

If the task is simple, a team is not needed. Make the decision and move on.

Is there an ideal team size?

Research tells us that four to six people provides the benefits of diversity while still making communication easy. The larger the team, the greater the chance of confirmation bias where people will favor information that confirms their beliefs.

How can I help my team become better?

One of the characteristics of an effective team is that its members feel comfortable speaking up — be it with questions, ideas, concerns, or admitting mistakes — and no one fears negative consequences. This is “psychological safety,” a phrase coined by acclaimed business scholar Amy Edmondson. Psychological safety is a co-creation of the team. It reflects good management practices of having clear expectations, shared norms, open communication and fairness. Leaders can consider the following steps to promoting psychological safety in their teams:

1. Develop shared expectations and create shared meaning for the team by talking about the purpose and importance of the team’s work.

2. Promote open dialogue. Actively invite input, and explain why every viewpoint matters and how it will impact the team’s work.

3. Practice situational humility. When a team leader can admit their own mistakes and explain how they have learned from them, the path is easier for others to do the same.

4. Express appreciation and celebrate wins.

Psychological safety is not about being nice all the time or avoiding disagreement. Create a space where team members feel frees to quote Edmondson: “Candor is hard, but non-candor is harder.”

Tracey Messer teaches courses addressing leadership and individual development, team effectiveness and emotional intelligence, all with the aim of helping individuals become better leaders and teammates and, therein, building stronger organizations.

Tracey Messer

Assistant professor Department of Organizational Behavior


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