Friday, 7 June 2013

iMedia Teamwork today and what it means for business

The nature of teamwork has changed over the years and today we are more used to virtual teams and cross-functional teams. These terms are now embedded in job descriptions and the skill of working in such a team or managing such teams successfully is sought after. Virtual teams mean a group of people who are brought together for a particular project but do not share the same physical workspace. This might include team members from other countries. Cross-functional teams might also be virtual teams but this term relates more to the mixed skill-set of the people brought together rather than their physical proximity.

In some of the latest team research from Ashridge ManagementIndex 2012-13, (scroll down the page to Published Research),77% of respondents say they are increasingly asked to manage cross-functional and virtual teams.

The benefits and limitations of such teams is analysed in an interesting research paper from Michigan State University which although from 1992, has been cited today at The Team Building Directory under the heading Resolving Conflict at Work. (The sub-heading Cross Functional sourcing team benefits and limitations relates better to the import of the article, we believe.) This paper actually goes further than the benefits and limitations because it looks at factors affecting the teams' performance. Now, these factors are crucial and perhaps more relevant for iMedia. In fact, the benefits are all conditional on factors – so that's a lesson in itself, isn't it?

Benefits

  • If the team members are selected carefully, the team brings greater knowledge and skill together at one time and increases the effectiveness of the product.
  • If the client gives the right participation, then the product benefits as well.
  • If the team is given the right authority levels, then the product benefits as well.
  • If the team leader is effective, then the product benefits from greater team effort.

Limitations

  • More time used in reaching decisions
  • Issues over team’s autonomy to make decisions
  • Interference from outsiders trying to influence the team
  • Lack of insight on whether the team is performing well
  • Over-domination of some team members
  • Lack of time

Factors affecting the team's success

  • Selection of the team – type of skill, personal chemistry (personality?), willingness to participate and ability to influence a section of the organisation.
  • Size of the team – the larger it is the more difficult to manage, of course.
  • Access to the right information, tools, materials, budget requirements, management support, client participation (note we have transposed the word client for supplier in this case, to make better sense for our industry.)
  • Recognition of the team’s role and their contribution to success. If there is evaluation by the company, perhaps annually, then their contribution in a team should count.
  • Assigning people to the team that have the requisite skills needed.
  • An effective trained team leader
  • Clearly defined project/task
  • Motivation of team members is significant.
  • Organisational readiness for cross-functional teams
This then leaves us with questions. Are your own teams being effective and efficient and if not why not? If the great majority of teams today are cross-functional and virtual, what conditions should management create to help these teams succeed? Does your company ask and listen to your teams about what they need?

Tough questions with no straight answers. But, only you can answer them for your own company. Do you want more successful projects might be your starting point?

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