Jobs, Teams and Technology

Employee participation and the ability to work without close supervision are highly cherished: architects, midwives and refuse collectors perform their jobs well because they make on-the- spot decisions based on background knowledge and experience of ‘what works’. They avoid delays caused by unnecessary referral to managers or manuals.

In the best cases they make time to learn and to reflect on what is working well and what should be changed. This generates steady flows of improvement and innovation. Allowing employees discretion in scheduling their own work and in controlling its pace also minimises physical strain and psychological stress.

Of course, individual jobs can’t just be examined in isolation. The ability to share problems and solutions with colleagues, to learn and reflect together, to provide and receive support in challenging times and to celebrate successes plays a vital role in engagement, well-being and performance. Self-managed teamworking lies at the heart of this equation.

Many organisations claim that their people work in teams. But are those teams simply groups of people who sit together and report to the same manager, but rarely co-operate with each other? Some work psychologists call these pseudo teams.

We’re concerned with real teams. Teams where people share challenges and opportunities in ways that break down barriers and demarcations; and where they generate ideas for improvement, innovation and growth using the insights that day-to-day work experiences give them. We know from a vast amount of research that self-managed teams empowered to plan and organise their own work are more productive in diverse organisations from factories to offices, and that they even save lives in places like hospitals. They also offer much better places to work.

What are ‘good’ teams?
  • Good teams are clear about their shared tasks, and about precisely who is part of the Once teams grow larger than 8 – 10 members it becomes difficult to maintain cohesion.
  • Teams plan, schedule and organise their work, even setting their own targets.
  • They are clear about the skills the team needs to achieve its purpose.
  • The team is empowered to make appropriate choices about recruitment, and recognises the importance of recruiting people who are good at collaboration and sharing.
  • Team members need to understand clearly their roles and the roles of other team members, so there is no ambiguity about who is responsible and accountable for each task.
  • Good teams set themselves clear, challenging and measurable objectives every The aim is not just to get the job done but to achieve significant improvements and innovations. Progress towards achieving these objectives forms an important part of regular team meetings.
  • Well-functioning teams assess and seek to improve their effectiveness in working with other teams inside (and sometimes beyond) the organisation.
  • Teams with a supportive, humorous and appreciative atmosphere deliver better results and their members are significantly less They are more optimistic, cohesive and have a stronger sense of their efficacy as a team.
  • Teams must also meet regularly and have useful discussions, enabling them to reflect on how well they work together and how to Teams that regularly change ways of working are not only more productive but also more innovative than teams that don’t. ‘We haven’t got time’ is therefore an unacceptable excuse. Such teams are also better able to respond to work pressures and adversity by innovating rather than feeling overwhelmed and helpless.
[Adapted from Professor Michael West, Effective Teamwork]

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