Teams and Team Processes

Quezon City, Philippines

This is an excerpt from ASQ‘s The Certfied Manager of Quality/ Organizational Excellence Handbook 3/e.

Consistent with sound project-management principles, understanding the many interrelationships that exist between organizational units and processes, and the impact of these relationships on quality, productivity, and cost, makes the value of teams apparent.

Team Defined

A team is a group of people who perform interdependent tasks to work toward a common mission. Some teams have a limited life, for example:

  1. A design team developing a new product,
  2. A process improvement team organized to solve a particular problem,
  3. A team, in general, that undertakes a project, any project for that matter.

Other teams are ongoing, for example, a departmental team that meets regularly to review goals, objectives, activities, and performance.

Team Designs and Team Processes

Many of today’s team concepts were initiated in the United States during the 1970s through the use of quality circles or employee involvement initiatives. The initiatives were often seen as separate from normal work activities, however, rather than being integrated with other organizational systems and processes. Team designs have since evolved into a broader concept that includes many types of teams formed for different purposes.

Difficulty with teams in the United States is often blamed on a cultural emphasis on individual accomplishments versus shared responsibility and success. The problems are also due to inadequate organizational support structures. For example, since reward systems often reinforce individual performance, it is logical that people would be less interested in sharing responsibilities. Formal gainsharing programs that reward individuals financially based on performance of the company, division, facility, product line, and/ or project of which they are part are more likely to reinforce the need for working together toward common goals.

The team process also helps an organization change and begin working in different ways. If decisions are made in a multidisciplinary way, the team will consider a broader perspective and will be likely to better address problems. Other members of the organization will also usually more readily accept the decisions. Some work design changes mean that people from formerly separate functional areas now work together in a newly designed process. These types of changes require more significant attention to organizational change issues to help the group focus on its new mission.

Benefits of the Team Processes

Team processes offer the following benefits to the organization:

  1. Synergistic process design or problem solving
  2. Objective analysis of problems or opportunities
  3. Promotion of cross-functional understanding
  4. Improved quality and productivity
  5. Greater innovation
  6. Reduced operating costs
  7. Increased commitment to organizational mission
  8. More flexible response to change
  9. Increased ownership and stewardship
  10. Reduced turnover and absenteeism.

Individuals can gain the following benefits from teams:

  1. Enhanced problem-solving skills
  2. Increased knowledge of interpersonal dynamics
  3. Broader knowledge of business processes
  4. New skills for future leadership roles
  5. Increased quality of work life
  6. Feelings of satisfaction and commitment
  7. Sense of being part of something greater than what one could accomplish alone

Failing to Reach the Team’s Full Potential

Numerous reasons have been noted for why teams often fail to reach their full potential. Common reasons are:

  1. Failing to integrate the cooperative work methods into the organizational culture
  2. Lack of organizational systems necessary to support the team process
  3. Minimal up-front planning of how the organization plans to utilize teams
  4. Failure to prepare managers for their changing roles
  5. Failure to prepare team members for their new roles
  6. Inappropriate reward and compensation systems
  7. Inadequate training
  8. Impatience of top management with the time needed for maturation
  9. Incomplete understanding of group dynamics

Types of Teams

There are eight types of teams:

  1. Process improvement teams
  2. Self-managed teams
  3. Temporary/ ad hoc teams
  4. Work groups
  5. Cellular teams
  6. Special project teams
  7. Virtual teams
  8. Combinations.

Work Groups

Work groups, sometimes called natural teams, are teams of employees who have responsibility for a particular process (for example, a department, a product line, or a stage of a business process) and who work together in a participative environment. The degree of authority and autonomy of the team can range from relatively limited to full self-management, depending on the organizational culture. The participative approach is based on the belief that employees will be more productive if they have a higher level of responsibility for their work (see Chapter 2, empowerment). Since the team understands the work processes, the members should monitor and improve the processes on an ongoing basis. The team leader is usually the individual responsible for the work area, such as a department supervisor.

Work groups function similar to quality circles, in which department personnel meet weekly or monthly to review performance of their process. They monitor feedback from their customers and track internal performance measures of processes and suppliers. These teams focus on continual, incremental improvements in their work processes. They are similar to process improvement teams, with the key differences being that they are neither cross-functional nor temporary. Again, a facilitator is usually available for teams if they need additional support. Other outside personnel may be brought in as resources on a temporary basis.

More effective use of the work group team design involves applying it at all levels of an organization, with each level linked to the one above and below it (see Figure 1). The top management team monitors performance of processes for which it is responsible (for example, overall business performance), teams at the next level monitor and improve their processes (for example, logistics and delivery performance), and teams at the next level track and improve their performance. Since performance of a work area can be impacted by issues outside the team’s control, one work group might request that another (for example, the supplier work group) improve a particular process. Alternatively, a process improvement team may be organized that involves both departments working together.

Fig. 1 – Linking Team Structures

Initiating Work Groups

Basic elements should be considered when an organization is attempting to initiate work groups:

  1. Top management support
  2. Clear communication
  3. Improvement objectives and expectations
  4. Team training
  5. Appropriate competencies
  6. Supportive compensation and performance appraisal systems.

Other issues to consider include:

  1. Team’s scope of responsibility and authority
  2. Degree of autonomy
  3. Information needed by team and where obtained
  4. Decision-making process
  5. Performance measures and success factors
  6. Recognition and rewards for performance
  7. Competencies that must be developed
  8. Selection process for leaders and facilitators
  9. Risk management factors.

Five Factors in Team Selection (KESAA)

  1. Knowledge. Formal education, degrees, educational certifications, professional certifications, and self-study achievements
  2. Experience. Years spent applying knowledge and skills in types of organizations, in kinds of industries, and in jobs/ positions held
  3. Skills. Skill certifications, training received, and demonstrated proficiency in use of pertinent tools and equipment
  4. Aptitude. Natural talent, capability, capacity, innate qualities, deftness, knack, adaptability to change, natural ability to do things requiring hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills
  5. Attitude. Manner of showing one’s feelings or thoughts; one’s disposition, opinion, mood, ideas about, belief, demeanor, condition of mind, state of feeling, reaction, bias, inclination, emotion, temperament, mental state, frame of mind, ease in accepting and adopting new or changed plans and practices.

Phases of Team Development

A generic model for the phases of team development, described by Tuckman, is shown in Figure 2 below.

Fig.  2 – Phases of Team Development
  • Stage 1: Forming. When team members first come together, they bring with them individual identities and the values and the priorities of their own environment. Each team is a new experience, even for those who have been members of previous teams. Individuals enter this situation cautiously, feeling uncertain of what their role and performance will be in this new environment. During the forming stage, the team usually clarifies its purpose, identifies roles for each member, and defines rules of acceptable behavior (often called norms).
  • Stage 2: Storming. During this phase, the reality of the team’s task sinks in. Team members still think primarily as individuals and might attempt to form decisions on the basis of their individual experiences rather than pooling information with other members. Collaboration has not yet become the norm as team members fluctuate in their attitude about the team’s chances for success. The behaviors exhibited during this time may involve argument, testing the leader’s authority, attempts to redefine goals, and competitive and defensive acts.
  • Stage 3: Norming. In this phase, the individuals coalesce into a team by shifting their focus from personal concerns to that of meeting the team-related challenges. Interpersonal conflicts and the tug of external loyalties are reduced. Team members are willing to discuss differences for the sake of the team, resulting in more cooperation and dialogue.
  • Stage 4: Performing. At this stage, the team has matured to the point where it is working as a smooth cohesive unit. Team members have a good understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how they support the mission, and are now able to work through group problems. There is a better appreciation of the team’s processes and a general satisfaction with team membership. During this phase, the team is making significant progress toward achieving its goals. Although the four stages of development indicate a logical sequence that occurs over time, the actual progress made by each team will vary.

In 1977, Tuckman, jointly with Mary Ann Jensen, added a fifth stage to the 4 stages: Adjourning, that involves completing the task and breaking up the team (in some texts referred to as Mourning and/or Transforming).

Team Processes

There are two major groups of components in team processes— task-type and maintenance-type. Task-type processes keep a team focused and moving toward its goal, while maintenance processes help preserve the well-being of relationships between team members. Key task components include:

  1. Documenting and reviewing the team’s objective.
  2. Having an agenda for every team meeting and staying on the agenda. If other issues come up that need to be addressed, the agenda can either be intentionally modified or new issues can be placed on a list for the next meeting agenda.
  3. Defining or selecting, and following a technical process that fits the particular project mission (for example, a seven-step problem-solving model if the team is trying to solve a problem; see Chapter 13).
  4. Using decision-making techniques (for example, consensus, consultative) appropriate to the situation.
  5. Defining action items, responsibilities, and timing, and holding team members accountable.

Preventing Problems with Team Process

Two common ways of preventing team dynamics problems are to use norms and roles. A list of behavioral expectations (norms) is defined by the team during the first meeting or a predetermined set of norms used by all teams within the organization might be adopted. Following are a few examples of norms and the purpose of each:

  1. “Be on time for meetings.” Emphasizes that meeting time needs to be used productively and that having to wait for someone to arrive is a waste of others’ time.
  2. “At least four (of five) team members must be able to attend.” Recognizes that vacation, business travel, and other events may prevent some team members from attending a particular meeting, while ensuring that meetings are not held and decisions made by only a small proportion of the members.
  3. “No side conversations.” Ensures that members are fully present and listening to what is being said; making sure that each person’s ideas are heard and considered.
  4. “Staying on the agenda.” Although somewhat task oriented, this emphasizes that team meetings are not the place for personal gripes and that the team has an important mission.
  5. “Participation by everyone.” Clarifies that all are expected to play an active role, even though the particular skills and activities may differ.
  6. “Use the parking lot.” For issues not on the agenda that are to be set aside for dealing with at a later time.

Team Roles and Structures

  1. Steering Committee.
    • Top management is ultimately responsible for organizational performance improvement. One of top management’s key roles, then, is to identify and prioritize opportunities, and initiate teams to address those of greatest value to the organization. Projects might be selected on the basis of new strategic initiatives (for example, developing a new service for a new market niche), customer satisfaction data, cost-of-quality reports, or other strategic or operational performance measures or initiatives (for example, capacity, throughput, and Lean projects such as waste reduction).
    • In order to carry out this process and to simultaneously provide opportunities for learning, a special group called the steering committee is often set up for guiding and tracking team efforts. The group usually includes key leaders in the organization (for example, president, operations manager, quality manager) as well as others who represent particular interests. In an organization working under a union contract, the union representative is also likely to be a member of the steering committee.
    • The steering committee is often a diagonal slice representing all levels of the organization. One role of the steering committee is to initiate desired organizational improvement efforts. It is vital that each team have a clear understanding of its purpose and how that purpose is linked to and supports the organization’s strategic plans. This is done through a written charter that defines the mission or goal of each project, as well as key personnel (for example, team leader, members, facilitator) and project timing.
    • The steering committee may also have the responsibility for approving the team’s recommendations and certainly has the authority to enforce implementation. This helps ensure that teams’ recommendations are acted on. Inaction will result in the belief by team members that management is not serious about the process, and employees will be reluctant to get involved in future efforts.
    • Another role of the steering committee is to ensure that managers and team members are trained in all aspects of the team concept. This should include team dynamics, project management, process design and improvement methodologies, empowerment, managing organizational change, attributes of leadership and the transformation process, and how to motivate and reward efforts.
  2. The Charter
    • A formal document agreed to by both the team and by management. It legitimizes the team’s effort and provides a tacit agreement from management to provide whatever support is necessary to sustain the team. The charter should also include boundaries of the scope of work, authority and responsibility and related limitations, relationship of the team to other teams or projects, the team’s reporting relationships within the organization, and the expected deliverables.
    • If a process improvement team is chartered without a clear mission or objective, the team will either do nothing or will go in the direction it believes best. One way to test understanding is to ask, “What will you measure to determine whether the objective has been accomplished?”
  3. Team Structure
    • How a team is structured will depend on the scope of the process on which it will work. A cross-functional team is most widely used for process improvement, as it may be necessary to cover the full range of job functions that the process involves.
    • The dynamics of individual personalities will affect the team’s development and performance, and should be taken into account when selecting team members.
    • Every team needs a leader, appropriate team members, and, in some cases, a facilitator.
  4. Team Leader.
    • The team leader is responsible for coordinating meetings, which includes scheduling of meeting rooms, creating agendas, guiding the team through the agenda (including reviews of homework assignments), and reporting progress to the steering committee.
    • The team leader may also coordinate implementation of the team’s approved recommendations.
    • The team leader should have a vested interest in the process and is often a process owner responsible for the results of the process.
    • The team leader must have strong organizational skills and should be strong, compassionate, and sensitive when dealing with diverse opinions.
  5. Team Members.
    • Other team members are those involved with the process to be improved and may also include internal or external customers and suppliers. Technical experts and outsiders with no vested interest in the process are sometimes added to help provide additional knowledge, objectivity, or creativity.
    • The team members will generally have action items to accomplish outside team meetings and will often take on special roles during a meeting (such as scribe or timekeeper).
  6. Team Facilitator.
    • The team facilitator has the responsibility of helping the team to work effectively.
    • The facilitator can play a critical role by asking questions, thereby encouraging the group members to look at the technical process on which they’re working from different points of view.
    • It is important that the team facilitator understand quality management theory. In particular, he or she should recognize the impact of individual and social psychology in groups.
    • The facilitator is also available to assist the team with the technical aspects of improvement, such as process mapping, selecting data collection strategies, using relevant analysis tools, and ultimately guiding the development of a project plan to carry out improvement recommendations.

Dealing with Team Process Problems

Team members are most productive in an environment in which others are responsive and friendly, encourage contributions, and promote a sense of worth. Peter Scholtes spelled out 10 problems that frequently occur within teams and are typical of the types of situations for which team leaders and facilitators must be prepared. Following is the list along with recommended actions:

  • Problem 1. Floundering or difficulty in starting or ending an activity. Solution: Redirect team to the project plan and written statement of purpose.
  • Problem 2. Team members attempt to influence the team process based on their position of authority in the organization. Solution: Talk to the members off-line; clarify the impact of their organizational role and the need for consensus, and ask for cooperation and patience.
  • Problem 3. Participants who talk too much. Solution: Structure meeting so that everyone is encouraged to participate (for example, have members write down their opinions, then discuss them in the meeting one person at a time).
  • Problem 4. Participants who rarely speak. Solution: Practice gatekeeping by using phrases such as, “John, what’s your view on this?” or divide tasks into individual assignments and have all members report.
  • Problem 5. Unquestioned acceptance of opinions as facts, or participants making opinions sound like facts. Solution: Do not be afraid to ask whether this is an opinion or a fact. Ask for supporting data.
  • Problem 6. Rushing to get to a solution before the problem-solving process is worked through. Solution: Remind the group of the cost of jumping to conclusions.
  • Problem 7. Attempting to explain other members’ motives. Solution: Ask the other person to clarify.
  • Problem 8. Ignoring or ridiculing another’s values or statements made. Solution: Emphasize the need for listening and understanding. Support the discounted person.
  • Problem 9. Digression/ tangents creating unfocused conversations. Solution: Remind members of the written agenda and time estimates. Continually direct the conversation back on track. Remind team of its mission and the norms established at the first meeting.
  • Problem 10. Conflict involving personal matters. Solution: Request that these types of conflict be taken off-line. Reinforce ground rules.

Providing Constructive Feedback

Scholtes provides the following guidelines for providing constructive feedback:

  1. Be specific.
  2. Make observations, not conclusions.
  3. Share ideas or information, not advice.
  4. Speak for yourself.
  5. Restrict feedback to known things.
  6. Avoid using labels.
  7. Do not exaggerate.
  8. Phrase the issue as a statement, not a question.

Team Facilitation

  1. Facilitator.

    • A facilitator is a person who helps a team manage the task and maintenance processes. A facilitator does not normally get involved in the content— the technical aspects of what the team is working on. The role of the facilitator is instead to act as:
      1. A guide to circumvent the pitfalls of difficult situations
      2. A catalyst to assist in developing a plan and to provide follow-up to all management levels, thus maintaining continuity
      3. An objective evaluator and auditor of team progress, identifying any roadblocks to success and opportunities to improve performance.
    • Some specific responsibilities of the facilitator include:
      1. Cultivate an unbiased and impartial environment.
      2. Ensure that a full examination and discussion of issues takes place.
      3. Provide an objective framework.
      4. Maintain focus on mission.
      5. Help organize diverse and multiple viewpoints.
      6. Regulate interruptions.
      7. Ensure that everyone on the team has the opportunity to participate in discussions and decision making.
      8. Defuse destructive behaviors.
      9. Supply visual or verbal tracking of ideas.
    • In order to carry out these responsibilities the facilitator typically does the following:
      1. Encourages reluctant participants to speak.
      2. Helps to resolve conflict between team members.
      3. Provides feedback to the leader and/ or team.
      4. Ensures that ground rules (agreed-to group norms) are followed.
      5. Ensures that members are listening to and understanding others.
      6. Legitimizes everyone’s perceptions and feelings.
      7. Verbalizes what is going on.
      8. Checks for agreement.
      9. Maintains or regains focus on the meeting agenda or topic of discussion.
      10. Provides ideas on approaches for gathering or analyzing data.
      11. Ensures consensus.
      12. Periodically summarizes results.
  2. Sponsor

    • Each specific team usually has a sponsor responsible for ensuring success. The sponsor is an individual who has a significant stake in the outcome of a particular team project. 
    • He or she is often the process owner, and the person must be at a level high enough in the organization to be able to address any difficulties encountered by the team. 
    • In the early part of a continuous improvement effort, the sponsor may also be a member of the steering committee.
    • A sponsor’s responsibilities include the following:
      1. Helping to initiate the team effort by authorizing the activity.
      2. Defining the purpose and scope of the team.
      3. Coordinating the front-end planning.
      4. Helping to select the team leader, facilitator, and members.
      5. Negotiating additional resources needed.
  3. Team Leader.

    • The team leader is responsible for the team’s day-to-day success.
    • Responsibilities include:
      1. Organizing and managing team meetings.
      2. Working with the sponsor to develop and monitor the project plan.
      3. Keeping the team effort on track.
      4. Providing status updates to the sponsor and steering committee.
      5. Addressing group dynamics issues.
      6. Serving as a liaison between the team and other parts of the organization.
      7. Helping to resolve problems.
      8. Handling administrative duties and keeping team’s records.
    • A team leader is also responsible for contributing to the team’s content, although he or she must be careful that those contributions do not receive greater status than those of other team members.
    • When a facilitator is not involved, the leader also has the same responsibilities of a facilitator relative to team task and maintenance activities.

Supporting Factors

A team’s growth is a responsibility both of individual team members and of the organization. As shown in Figure 3, both must create the cultural synergy that makes teams productive.

Fig. 3 – Supporting factors fort effective teamwork

Avoiding Groupthink

During the team selection process, as well as when the team is functioning day-to-day, care must be taken to avoid groupthink. Groupthink occurs when most or all of the team members coalesce in supporting an idea or a decision that hasn’t been fully explored, or one where some members may secretly disagree. The members are more concerned with maintaining friendly relations and avoiding conflict than in becoming engrossed in a controversial discussion. Actions to forestall groupthink may include:

  1. Brainstorming alternatives before selecting an approach
  2. Encouraging members to express their concerns
  3. Ensuring that ample time is given to surface, examine, and comprehend all ideas and suggestions
  4. Developing rules for examining each alternative
  5. Appointing an “objector” to challenge proposed actions

Motivating the Team – Final thoughts

An effective team leader can provide an environment in which team members feel motivated. This can be achieved by applying the Six Rs:

  1. Reinforce. Identify and positively reinforce work done well.
  2. Request information. Discuss team members’ views. Is anything preventing expected performance?
  3. Resources. Identify needed resources, the lack of which could impede quality performance.
  4. Responsibility. Customers make paydays possible; all employees have a responsibility to the customers, internal and external.
  5. Role. Be a role model. Don’t just tell; demonstrate how to do it. Observe learners’ performances. Together, critique the approach and work out an improved method.
  6. Repeat. Apply the above principles regularly and repetitively.\\\RHE


Published by Ramon H. Enriquez MIE&M, RME

Ramon "Mon" Hojas Enriquez is a retired business executive who now spends his available time sharing the wisdom that he gained from his graduate academic preparations and more than 35-years of hands-on industry practice here (Philippines) and abroad; as an Independent Management Consultant for various industrial-firms, and as a Professional Lecturer/ Resource Speaker of leading Higher-Ed/ Training institutions in Metro Manila. He now focuses on management consulting, education and training---for the proper management of Supply-chains, Strategy-execution, and Decision-support. His affiliations with relevant leading global industry associations keeps him informed and updated on the current and future developments in the above-mentioned fields of interests. They include, among others: The Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), Project Management Institute (PMI), Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences (INFORMS), American Society for Quality (ASQ), Institute for Supply Management (ISM), System Dynamics Society (SDS), and Climate Interactive (CI)---and has been advocating Sustainable Development and Climate-action since 2000. Mon is a lifelong Systems Thinker and an avid micro-Blogger. His hobby includes Photography and the Graphics-arts, Singing, Guitar-playing, Songwriting; and Audio recording, mixing and mastering. When not traveling or visiting Clients, he normally spends his time at his QC-office cum studio or, at home with his Wife and dog.