How to Build Effective, Successful Management Teams

Teamwork and team spirit - Hands piled on top of one another.In one of my recent blog posts, Teamwork Basics: Creating Positive Interdependence in Groups, I offered three strategies you can use to get people feeling and acting like they are in the same boat together:

  • Start shining the spotlight on the whole, not the pieces
  • Solicit help shining the light
  • Know the standard you are striving to achieve

Building on that theme, I’ll tell you why the project team is the easiest team to build compared to the management team: The laboratory definition of a team is “a small group of people working together toward a common goal” — laboratory being the operative word here because most of the definitive research conducted on team dynamics occurred in lab experiments.

Researchers would give randomly formed groups various tasks to accomplish together and then observe their dynamics. The famous four-phase model (forming, storming, norming, and performing) by Bruce Tuckman [1] followed from such experiments.

Of all the groups you hope would develop effective team dynamics, the project team is most like the groups in that original research. Think about some key similarities:

  1. A collective focal point for the group that requires their collective effort,
  2. A clear beginning, and,
  3. A clear ending.

These three similarities create what I sometimes call a “container” (or even a “vessel” as in “get the individuals feeling like they are in the same boat together”). This is an excellent recipe for successful engagement and effective dynamics to emerge. In a healthy organizational culture and with some good basic facilitative support or servant leadership, many project teams will develop fairly effective dynamics.

So why are management teams, staff groups, and departments so much more of a challenge to build?

Because they don’t fit the laboratory definition of a team. They seldom have:

  1. A collective focal point for the group that requires their collective effort,
  2. A clear beginning, and
  3. A clear ending.

What’s a team-minded manager to do?

Do you want to know the most basic prescription for developing effective team dynamics in management teams, staff groups, and departments? Here it is: Develop a rhythm of serial (i.e., one after the other) collective focal points for the group that requires everyone’s collective effort to achieve. The focal points should be realistic, challenging and “winnable” for the group.

For example, you could set monthly (i.e., iterative) group results that cut across and require the collaboration of all members of the management team, staff group, or department. Then shine your biggest spotlight on that collective goal and shine your pen-light on the individual accountabilities. Hold monthly planning meetings to set and plan for these collective targets. Use weekly and daily meetings to adjust plans and focus on the collective targets. And “retrospect” (a term from agile software development for process improvement meetings — see the previous blog post) at the end of every iteration about how you could improve for the next iteration.

With a relatively healthy organizational culture and a little facilitative support and/or servant leadership, your management teams, staff groups, and departments will naturally develop effective team dynamics if they are challenged to work together — and high-performance results should accrue. That’s how you build successful, dynamic, collaborative leadership and happy team members.

Reference: 1. Tuckman, Bruce. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological bulletin, 63, 384-399.

Christopher Avery helps leaders worldwide to operate their business — and lives — far more productively and successfully. Find additional resources to master leadership and build responsible teams at and The Leadership Gift.

Posted in Agile, Coaching, Collaboration, Teamwork on 11/10/2010 01:00 am
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