A second important characteristic of high performing teams is a results–driven structure. This characteristic reflects the need of every team to organize itself in a way that will enable it to be productive and, ultimately, to achieve what it has set out to do.
As teams are establishing themselves and initiating their collaborative work, members often ask what their team should “look like.” That is, should the team have a chair? Or co–chairs? A designated facilitator? Should the team organize itself into subcommittees? What is the “right” number of people to have on the team? Is it eight people? Or twelve people, or more or less? The answers to all of these questions depends on what specifically the team is trying to achieve. All teams must have a structure – it is not effective to be disorganized – but the structure should reflect the results that the team intends to achieve.
Although the organizing of teams often happens by default, the structure of every team must be examined and discussed by all team members. One industrious and motivated team member might agree to develop a meeting agenda or record and distribute the meeting minutes. Someone else – perhaps the person who calls the meeting – serves as the team leader and/or its facilitator. However, conversations rarely occur about the development of a team structure that will enhance and support the efforts of the group over time. These are discussions that teams must have as they embark on their collaborative endeavor.
The ways in which teams structure themselves to conduct their work vary based on their mandates and their reasons for being. In their work, Larson and LaFasto [TeamWork: What Must Go Right/What Can Go Wrong, Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications (1989)] identified three different kinds of teams, each of which has a different purpose and, therefore, a unique structure. They are:
- Problem resolution teams — These are teams that are
established to resolve problems on an ongoing basis. An example is an
epidemiology team that responds quickly and with maximum efficiency when
a disease breaks out in a particular location. Their most essential feature
is trust. If there is no trust among team members, there will not be
honesty, and honesty is necessary if the team members are going to understand
fully the roots or causes of the problem (in this case, the disease)
they need to solve. Members of these teams must believe fully in the
integrity of their colleagues and feel secure in an atmosphere of collegiality
and respect as they problem solve together. Given the nature of their
work, problem resolution teams are organized to move forward very fast
to contain and, ultimately, solve the problems they are addressing. This
requires efforts to make sure that the correct people are involved or
prepared to be involved in the work of the team, and clarity regarding
the roles and responsibilities of team members before the team begins
its work on the problem at hand.
- Creative teams — Other teams come together to create
something new, to innovate. An example is a product development team,
such as the McDonald’s Chicken McNugget Team. An important feature
of creative teams is autonomy from systems and procedures. Unfortunately,
this is not something that is easy to come by in criminal and juvenile
justice system work, but freedom from these constraints is necessary
to promote creativity and innovation. Members of creative teams have
the latitude to work beyond their traditional professional boundaries
and barriers to generate new ideas about how their own and their organizations’ work
can be accomplished in more effective and impactful ways.
- Tactical teams — The purpose of tactical teams is to execute and operationalize well–defined plans. Their essential feature is clarity regarding what they are supposed to do; a shared understanding of each member’s role; and responsibility in successfully carrying out the plan is essential.
Many communities/jurisdictions/agencies have several different types of teams in place that focus on a variety of specific criminal and juvenile justice issues. In these cases, it is important for each team to not only be clear about its own function and purpose, but also to understand how its work is related to and impacts the efforts of other teams, and the larger criminal or juvenile justice system.
While there is no single structure that is appropriate for all teams, there are elements or features of team structure that need to be considered and in place in order for teams to be maximally effective. The following are the four necessary features of team structure that are defined by Larson and LaFasto.
- Clear roles and responsibilities (or accountabilities) — Each
member must be clear about his or her function on the team, and understand
the tasks and activities for which they are responsible and accountable.
Individuals who do not understand fully why they are participating on
a group may not be as committed to the work of the team and may not be
willing or able to assume as much responsibility as those who know what
they are expected to contribute. Therefore, at the outset of a collaborative
team’s work and as new members are invited to participate, it is
critical that member’s roles and responsibilities are discussed
- Effective communication system — Collaborative teams
must establish and maintain effective communication systems. This does
not mean access to fax machines and email lists, or the development and
distribution of meeting minutes. While these are all very important,
an effective communication system requires that teams function in an
environment where members can talk honestly and openly with one another
about issues that are important to them and to their collaborative effort.
Collaborative relationships cannot be achieved unless members are willing
and able to be candid with one another about their work, their successes
and achievements, and, more importantly, the problems and challenges
they are facing.
- Monitoring performance and providing feedback — It
is essential for teams to establish mechanisms and strategies to monitor
over time their performance and effectiveness, and to use the feedback
they generate from these efforts to enhance and improve the work that
they are conducting. Teams must ensure that they are making progress
over time, that they are achieving interim objectives and moving towards
their long term goals, and that all team members are participating actively
and contributing constructively.
- Fact–based judgments — Finally, the research indicates that a necessary feature of team structure is fact–based decision making. Teams must be thoughtful, deliberate, and comprehensive in the plans they develop to gather and develop the information necessary to inform their work and their judgments. Members must agree that they will make decisions based on the best information available, and not on personal agendas, or how they think and feel about a particular issue.
Tools for Teams
Click here for a teamwork exercise that will guide your team through a discussion of roles and responsibilities.
Click here for the worksheets that accompany this teamwork exercise.
Click here for a discussion on developing subcommittee charters.
Adapted from concepts in TeamWork: What Must Go Right/What Can Go Wrong (1989), by Carl E. Larson and Frank M. LaFasto (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications).