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Teams That Work

Teams That Work

NOT every problem can be solved with a team. But when a team is called for, it is important to get it right.

Teams That Work by Scott Tannenbaum and Eduardo Salas is a comprehensive look at teams and the drivers of their effectiveness—long term. Fairweather teams that crumble when things get tough or can’t recover from setbacks quickly are not effective teams.

The authors say three components characterize effective teams: Sustained Performance (are able to generate positive results over time), Team Resilience (can work through challenges and can quickly bounce back from adversity), and Vitality (can maintain the energy, vibrancy, and resources needed for future success).

Before addressing the seven drivers of team effectiveness, they point out that all teams are not the same. And this is important to consider because helping your team succeed depends on the nature of your team. They highlight five team distinctions and place each on a continuum from low to high: Reliance. Membership Stability, Task Consistency, Proximity, and Similarity. For example, the Reliance Continuum:

Reliance Continuum

For teams that fall toward the far-left end of the continuum, sometimes all that is needed from a team perspective is for members to be civil with one another and not get in each other’s way. Perhaps all the team leader needs to do is provide individual feedback when deviant behavior emerges and occasionally host a social event, so team members see each other as real people. But for teams where team members must rely on one another a bit more, they need more than just being civil. They need to be able to pass the baton, know the planned plays, or adjust to one another on the fly. Teamwork and seven drivers become increasingly critical as we move from left to right on the continuum.

Where is your team on these five continuums?

The authors then get into the seven drivers of team effectiveness that consistently make a difference.

7 Drivers Of Teams


Fundamental question: Do we have the right people with the right mix of knowledge, skills, and other attributes?

If your team does have the necessary competencies, little will be accomplished. Consider both task-related capabilities and team-related capabilities. Team related capabilities include giving/receiving feedback, communicating, conflict resolution, leadership and interpersonal skills, and understanding how teams work.


Fundamental question: Do team members communicate effectively with each other and with people outside the team?

Quality is more important than quantity, and a breakdown in communication makes the team vulnerable, especially in crisis situations. “Quality communication means sharing useful information clearly, accurately, and on time to the right people.”

What drives team effectiveness is communicating unique information and knowledge that others may not possess or fully understand. That builds shared awareness among team members. Unique information can be related to an area of expertise, the status of a situation, or an action that is needed. It doesn’t need to be complex or highfalutin.


Fundamental question: Do team members possess a shared understanding about key factors such as priorities, roles, and vision?

When a team has conflicting or unreconciled points of view on priorities, roles, or how to handle certain situations, it can adversely affect to coordinate and perform effectively. In contrast, when a team possesses what psychologists call “shared mental models,” it often results in better performance. Another way to think about cognition is whether your team members are all “on the same page.”


Fundamental question: Is the context in which the team operates favorable for performing effectively (e.g., ample resources, supportive culture)?

Positive work environments create positive outcomes. There are some things that can’t be changed in an organization to accommodate the team. In that case, the team should learn to work around it. “It is helpful to think about conditions as operating on two levels: the broader organizational or business unit level and the local, team-specific level.”

What is the situational strength of the environment? “Some situations are so strong they essentially mandate behavior, others only offer hints or ‘nudges’ about what to do, and weak situations may offer no clues about expected behaviors.”

Organizational policies and practices, including performance management and compensation practices, create expectations about teamwork. The climate in which the team is embedded also matters.


Fundamental question: Are team members exhibiting the necessary teamwork behaviors for team success?

Coordination is about behaviors, not attitudes, and is at the heart of teamwork. Behaviors matter. The forms of coordination that matter the most are: maintaining situation awareness, providing back-up and support, learning and adapting, and managing team emotions and conflict.

Coordination is more difficult when team membership is frequently changing, task requirements are dynamic, people work in different locations, or team members have diverse capabilities and perspectives.


Fundamental question: Do team members possess the right beliefs and attitudes about their team?

Cooperation emerges from the other six drivers. Cooperation develops over time and is dynamic. “Cooperation isn’t like a skill or personality trait that you take with you from team to team. And it isn’t about your general attitude towards teamwork, but rather how you currently think and feel about this team.”

Four forms of cooperation are essential: trust, psychological safety, collective efficacy, and cohesion.


Fundamental question: Does the leader and/or team members demonstrate the necessary leadership behaviors?

Coaching is not just for the team leader but is more of an all-in driver. Others on the team can step in and help with these functions. There are seven essential leadership functions:


  1. Ensure clarity and alignment
  2. Hold teammates accountable
  3. Remove obstacles and garner support


  1. Manage team emotions and attitudes
  2. Foster psychological safety
  3. Encourage participation and empowerment

Team and task-focused:

  1. Promote learning and adaptation

People in power tend to self-anchor. That is, they tend to think and feel the same way they do. When in power, we have a harder time reading other’s emotions. We filter other’s opinions and thinking through our own opinions and thoughts and create false assumptions. “And, due to self-anchoring bias, our natural inclination can be to assume we are ‘reading the audience,’ when in reality, we are merely reading ourselves.”

What I have presented here is just a brief overview of the material they present. You will find in Teams That Work practical so-what-now tips and how you can use this knowledge whether you are a team leader, team member, consultant, or a senior organizational leader of teams. Unless you work in a vacuum, this book will provide many insights for you.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:09 PM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Teamwork



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