Creating A Teamwork Culture – Part 1

Creating A Teamwork Culture – Part 1

16.3 min read

Debbie Garrison

Success factors in business can be divided into two major categories:  those that deal with things and those that deal with people.  Although many organizations spend millions of dollars on capital equipment, human capital has the highest potential of value for the organization.  Teamwork and the role it plays in dealing with people within an organization is a top priority for many leaders.  This thesis will explore the positive and negative effects of teams, the value of teams in various venues, and both positive and negative issues that can influence adaptation of teamwork culture.

Understanding what a team is and how it works is the first step to implementing teamwork culture into your organization.  According to Modern Management website (2003),

A team is two or more employees who are organizationally empowered to establish their objectives, to make decisions about how to achieve those objectives, to undertake the tasks required to meet them, and to be individually and mutually accountable for their results. (n.p.)

Teams are organized so that appropriate talents and skills are pooled together to accomplish a specific goal.  This pooling of human resources requires team members to have an array of skills that individual or routine jobs do not demand.  The benefits of pooling these resources include increased productivity, improved customer service, more flexible systems, and employee empowerment. The goal is that the sum total of the team is greater than the individuals themselves.

Building a team begins at an even more basic level than just choosing team members.  The team environment is best served when the persons selected for the team have some similar and some diverse characteristics.  Some similar characteristics to look for when forming a team are an ability to communicate with various people, share knowledge, collaborate, generate ideas, respect other persons, productivity, flexibility, commitment, and be enthusiastic.  People must be able to think on their own before they can think as a team.  Also, a level of self-confidence must exist for the team members to feel safe in the team environment to express ideas that may be discarded by the team.  A type of safe zone must exist within the team to avoid stifling creativity and ideas.  Treatment of team members as internal customers should be the norm.  The diversity is best displayed in skills, critical thinking, and a “thinking outside the box” innovative focus.  Members having a variety of job titles and seniority, and white-collar and blue-collar employees can also be a diversity factor.  Diversity can also involve the technical and human needs of the team.

The best business strategy requires the best people strategy.  For an organization to be successful, the skills needed by the employees are the behaviors, attitudes, and knowledge needed to be successful both on the job and as an individual.  These personal management skills are the building blocks for good morale, a focused worklife, and greater organizational productivity.  The employees drive an organization’s success.  Employee’s skills must be aligned with the organization’s goals in an increasingly competitive market.  As each organization is unique, customization of the specific requirements (hard skills) is needed, but the generalities remain the same.  Soft skills are important to the success of the team and organization itself.  This skill set involves proper communication, team building, conflict management, good supervision, internal and external alliances, relationship building with stakeholders, working with others to generate creative ideas and solutions, participatory management, and performance evaluation.

The individual employee may need some additional education and training to perform well in the workplace.  Continual technological advances cause training to be an ongoing function in business. The ability to apply more efficiently new knowledge and skills will aid the organization in meeting and exceeding its strategic goals and competitive challenges.  Seminars and corporate training sessions are convenient, relatively inexpensive ways to update needed skills.  The education and training are important factors for increasing organizational performance.

Opportunities for lifelong learning should be provided to all levels of employees that will promote and increase organizational performance directly.  Learning should become a habitual activity rather than an occasional event.  Training must be tied to the organization’s strategic business requirements and maintain the organization’s core competencies in every field at every level.  Workers should be held accountable for learning new skills.  Many organizations are building the accountability into performance evaluations as a method of emphasizing its importance.

Some employees will shy away from or staunchly refuse training and learning.  Reasons can be varied.  According to Sparks (2004), learning requires vulnerability.  It involves self-disclosure and risk taking.  High-quality connections produce all three of these qualities.  High-quality connections also enable individuals and the collective to grow in unanticipated directions. (n.p.) Learning is more than acquiring information.  It is a social activity that leads to more complex ways of thinking.  Professional development leaders can increase learning by actively cultivating richer, more positive connections among people.  This would have a higher yield of professional learning than the importation of experts who dispense lots of information.

Enhancing the competency of the project managers and team members gives the organization more opportunity for success.  Organizations need to leverage and build on the knowledge, skills, and competencies available within the organization.  Competent people must be assigned to the team.  The term competent means that the team leader or member is operating at acceptable levels of performance in his or her areas of training and experience.  It does not mean that each member has perfect knowledge of all areas.  Competence also involves acknowledging what you do not know and having the courage to express these concerns.  The key is to know when to obtain assistance and expertise.

Communication skills are imperative in today’s workforce environment.  Many business leaders estimate that deficiencies of communication skills cost employers millions of dollars of lost productivity and errors.  The communication skills include interpersonal, teamwork, and negotiation skills.  An employee interacts with other people to perform his/her work emphasizing the need for skills such as the ability to handle stress, interact easily with others, listen to others, and cope with undesirable behavior in others.  Anyone who has been in the workforce for any period of time can attest to the fact that there is almost always at least one employee that is difficult to deal with and work around. Effective teams find that when positive talk exceeds negative talk, there’s a quality of connection among team members. This leads to the accomplishment of collective work that none of the individual team members thought was possible.

According to Zolgio (2003), a cohesive work team can add value to the organization if it pays attention to the ongoing development of three important connections:  to the larger work organization, to team members, and to other work teams. (n.p.) Building the right team is as important as the teamwork culture itself.  The culture must support and encourage teamwork for it to be successful.  According toMontebello (2004), the work itself must be conducive to teams, a culture of cooperation must be crafted, and organizational systems must be engineered to reinforce collaboration. (p. 541)  The work must be such that completion by a team can result in a better end product.

Before a group of co-workers can develop into a team, it must first be a team.  Teams are a reasonably stable unit with a shared responsibility for a defined piece of work.  Members develop  familiarity with one another and with the task, so they can get to work more quickly.  They learn who is skilled or knowledgeable in different aspects of the project.  According to Hackman (2002), the National Transportation Safety Board found that 73% of all mishaps occurred on the flight team’s first day of flying together, before they’ve had the chance to learn through experience how to best work together. (n.p.) Stability of the membership allows for growth of commitment to the team and to each other.  Competent teams learn fairly rapidly how to work together.

Another key element to the team’s success is the team members.  According to Mason (2003):

The team leader seeks to attract all the people who really know something about the issue and bring their ideas together as a way to structure discussion.  At their best, these leaders make scenarios a way for people to work new ideas into the planning and decision making system with out-of-the-box ideas and inputs. (n.p.)

Teamwork culture can be defined as a network of skilled employees who support each other in the achievement of corporate goals, and the delivery of exceptional products or services.  According to (2003):

Whether we realize it or not, a workplace is a community.  A team is also a community.  The town has a culture, a common language, a process of operation, rules for order, and a purpose for being, i.e., safety, security, and efficiency in living.  In the same way, a workplace is a community.  (n.p.)

As I have worked in Accounting for 20 years for several companies, I have experienced first-hand the workplace community.  Accounting has its own common language such as P&L or 2290.  Only a few outside the department know the vernacular used within each department.  I have also personally noticed a culture among staff members. Culture can include similar hobbies or sports, such as golf, or similar taste in clothing or choice of restaurants.  The rules for order and a purpose for being have also been identified.  Accounting rules of order and purpose for being include producing monthly financials and tasks accomplished in a specific method.  Personally, I would conclude that not only does the business itself become a community, but also the departments within the business are a segment of the community.

It is hard to find work places that exemplify teamwork.  A teamwork environment tends to flatten the traditional pyramid-style hierarchy.  This step can foster a more collaborative staff.  It can also be a threat to managers that tend to place their personal value in their job title. The isolation of the hierarchy and its power is being replaced with partnering, team relationships, common goals and visions, and a large change in the organization’s dynamics.  Teambuilding is a work culture that values collaboration.  In a teamwork environment, people understand and believe that thinking, planning, decision-making, and actions are better done collectively.  This is an exception to the way most business has been done in the past.  According to Mason (2003), rank-and-file employees expect management to set the direction the organization is taking, but resent detailed task planning.  If given some direction, they expect to be trusted to get it done. (n.p.) This is the very root of teambuilding. According to Chien (2004):

Performance is one of the key terms of modern organization.  Performance means the transformation of inputs into outputs for achieving certain outcomes.  Performance is the equivalent to the famous 3 E’s of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness.  Some elements of successful organizations doing total development work include selection of cohesive teams based on sentiments of mutual liking and respect for each other’s expertise, controlled convergence to solutions that everyone understands and everyone accepts, organize vigilant information processing and encourage actively open-minded thinking, avoid the facile, premature consensus, maintain the best balance between individual and group work, and initiate generation of new concepts. (n.p.)

According to Plato (427-347 B.C.), “The excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction.”  Polarity between employers and employees can occur without proper presentation of the goals and rewards of supporting a teamwork culture.  Opposition to the teamwork culture surfaces in a variety of ways through various stages of life.

One of the negative points to consider when teambuilding or promoting teamwork culture begins in childhood.  According to Grazier (2003):

Most of us in the workforce today were taught that teamwork is associated with play, while achievement and work were associated with individual performance.  Overcoming ideas gained in childhood can be a challenge.  Old paradigms die hard.   Another negative point is that changing the work group structure without changing the organization’s culture to support this, it will not work. (n.p.)

Individual achievement is almost an American ideal.  We are taught that ideal from early childhood.  Much of our educational processes are based on individual learning and achievement.  In school settings, teamwork is considered cheating.  After 12 years or more of this type of conditioning, buying into a teamwork setting will probably take change management and transitional thinking.  In order for this change to succeed, we must first understand the dynamics of change.  Three basic elements in creating successful change are both personal and organizational.  The elements are: the desire to change (personal), the ability to change (personal), and the permission to change (organizational).  Many organizations consider their people as expenses, rather than assets with intellectual property.  This idea must be among the first to change.  According to Grazier (2003), the reasons we resist change are very personal and unique, so changing the thinking of many people in an organization will probably require a variety of approaches.  The three elements involve motivation (desire), ability (skills), and authorization (permission) by the organization. (n.p.)  According to Bateman (1999), management must enlist the cooperation of its people to implement a change….with education, communication, participation, and involvement. (pp. 613-614)  With successful change management, teambuilding can begin.

So just what is teambuilding? Teambuilding is a process of awareness building.  It’s helping people become aware that they are greater collectively than individually.  People become aware that our decisions and their results can be better with collaboration and an honest appreciation of each other’s interaction.  The simplistic definition of teambuilding is helping people understand this.  We must shift our thinking and perception of others to an honest value of other’s skills, knowledge, and abilities.

Some advantages of teamwork culture are promotion of talents, skills, and creativity of diverse people.  It also utilizes skills, time, and resources for benefit of the employee and employer.  According to McGraw (2004), “without creativity we are nothing.”  (p. 30)  A trait common to creative thinkers is their perseverance in solving a problem.  Teamwork encourages collaboration, which, at its core is co-labor or working together toward a common, meaningful goal.  It combines collective knowledge so that the sum total of the collaboration is greater than what could have been achieved individually.  People who understand the power of collaboration seldom make a unilateral decision willingly.  These people know that any decision they make will be improved in some way by the thoughts of another.  According to McGraw (2004), the need to work in teams seems to be an essential part of the creative process. (p. 30)    According to Chien (2004), teams, which are increasingly being used, are organized in the workplace so that appropriate talents and skills can be pooled to accomplish vital tasks and goals.  (p. 289)

According to Dyer (2002), another advantage is with the increasing pressure to be “first-to-market” with a new product.  First-to-market organizations with dedicated team structures were quantifiably faster while maintaining a measurably higher percentage of quality in their products. (p. 16) Competitive arenas require quick decisions by knowledgeable employees who work close to the source of problems. Teams enable knowledge-based and innovative decision making in a much shorter time period.  This reduces product cycle times.

Some of the negative impact of teamwork culture remains that asking people to work together while simultaneously placing them in a competitive system often results in inaction rather than action.  If it is a team in name only, it will not be successful.  According to Grazier (1999), in that situation, inaction occurs rather than action.  There will be little energy to move forward.  (n.p.)


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About the author:

 Debbie Garrison is the Controller for Lesco, Inc., a regional truck leasing firm in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  She is a graduate of Bellevue University, Bellevue, Nebraska, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Management as well as an Associate’s Degree in Accounting and Business Administration from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, making the Dean’s List at both schools.  She currently resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband and their two dogs.

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