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Making Teams Work
By Cheri DeClercq, Assistant Dean of Graduate/MBA Programs, Eli Broad College of Business
Collaboration makes business happen. People working together can accomplish more and better outcomes than those operating in silos, and in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, no one has all the right answers. Yet the dysfunctions and drama sometimes associated with teams can make HR leaders wonder, “Are they really worth the trouble?” While teams provide a means of leveraging diverse thinking, experiences and perspectives – all of which can lead to a more balanced and creative approach to critical problem-solving – team challenges can often derail projects and initiatives, wasting valuable resources and leading to less than ideal outcomes. Developing high-performing teams that work effectively in our VUCA world is crucial to the success of any organization.
The Changing Face of Teams
Work teams are not a new phenomenon, but the expectations of today’s employees have changed – as has the environment of work itself – which has led to a greater reliance on collaborative groups, and more complicated dynamics in workplace teams. Our fast-paced digital economy requires that diverse individuals bring their experiences, perspectives and ideas together. The vast quantity of information available makes it virtually impossible for individuals to critically consider and implement viable solutions on their own.

Today’s new talent pipeline is digitally savvy, uber-connected, educated and focused on making a difference. Yet Millennials, more so than prior generations, expect fluid, flexible work environments – often resulting in requests for flexible hours and/or the option of working remotely. In fact, all top talent, regardless of generation, are seeking ways to find work-life balance. According to a 2017 FlexJobs study, approximately 3.9 million U.S. employees work remotely at least half time, an increase of 115 percent since 2005. Benefits attributed to a flexible approach to work location include higher commitment to the organization, increased job satisfaction, and better work-life balance.

Management is a team sport,” according to Dr. John Wagner, professor of management at Michigan State University’s Executive MBA. “As a manager, you cannot succeed on your job as an individual. Managing requires that you work with others and do so in a way that leads to shared success.“
Creating and developing high-performing teams is now more important than ever. But how can managers and talent development professionals ensure that teams work? We’ve identified five key attributes that drive high-performing teams.
Best Practices for Effective Teams
Challenges often arise when there is an assumption that all team members understand the goal in the same way. Differences in experiences and perspective often lead to “hearing” differently. Without clarity around what is success, team members can inadvertently go awry. Clearly defining the goal(s) up-front is critical to team success. Write them down and secure agreement.

Accountability is key in teams, and a second common area where teams falter. When creating teams and building accountability, start small and build your way forward. It’s important to establish opportunities for team members to demonstrate that they can be trusted to deliver, particularly when new teams are forming. Setting small targets for all team members (e.g. agreed meeting times and locations, communication protocol and expectations, etc.), and then ensuring that each delivers as expected is key to building trust in the larger sense. Small accountability milestones also provide a means to confirm goal alignment.

Feedback mechanisms are vital to ensure positive momentum – or to redirect individuals or actions that are not aligned with the goal (see point #1). Again, start small and start early with habits of constructively reviewing what worked and where there was mis-alignment or missed deadlines. Mechanisms that are designed into the team process at the beginning of the team development ensure that all members feel comfortable and are expected to share what’s working and how things can be improved.

Yes, communication is the solution to many workplace challenges, but finding ways to help your teams be direct and honest in their communication can make the difference between effective and efficient conversations and derailed, disgruntled team members. As part of the alignment process, target communication protocols that emphasize problems, cause, and solutions; not politics, posturing, and blame.

At the end of the day, people want to believe that their team members are equally vested to the success outcomes that are before them. Commitment (and its partner: trust) is a byproduct of creating the right environment, which the previous four points create.

Yes, teams are worth it. But the approach is differ-ent than ever before. Team members need to feel a part of the process and vested and connected to outcome. Otherwise, it’s just another thing on the increasingly long to-do list.

The Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University develops leaders who solve the world’s business problems. We offer a comprehensive portfolio of talent development options, including Executive Development programs, Executive MBA, Full-Time MBA, and master of science degrees in accounting; business analytics; finance; healthcare management; management, strategy, and leadership; management studies; marketing research; and supply chain management. Learn more about how we can help develop your leaders at broad.msu.edu/clo.