Empowered teams. Self-managed work teams. Projects teams. The list of emerging teamwork strategies could go on forever, trending on to the next best-ever management theory in rapid succession.

No matter what new team management strategy becomes the flavor-of-the-month, my own experience tells me that successful, high-productivity teams always possess these two fundamental characteristics:

  • A common goal
  • A management committed to succeed

Team formation challenges

The manager’s task of defining the team structure is critical to a team’s success, but tricky to do because there are so many ways to segment a group into teams. Here are two “don’t do’s” I recommend:

  • Do not limit team creation to things like products, job titles or work shifts. Varying the experience and knowledge levels of the individuals on a team in this manner creates exciting dynamics, and some managers have found this useful. Most would say that, while this helps organize the group, it does very little for increasing productivity.
  • Stop looking for the common responsibility or job description, and instead develop the team around one goal they all can understand and get excited about.

During a teamwork training session I taught to hundreds of support representatives annually, their productivity rose dramatically every time. The key to this: When I split them into somewhat random teams and gave them a goal, they typically increased their performance by 50 percent.

Undergird the team with structure

Once you’ve formed the team and their productivity is on the rise, it’s important to put a structure in place to promote this behavior to continue.

A key place to start: team incentivization.

One of the most common mistakes made by managers is to implement a team structure but only reward individual performance. This creates a mixed message! The manager wants to commit to the team structure but, as soon as it begins to affect the amount of money they take home, their team commitment takes a backseat.

The easiest way to solve this problem is to add team incentives into the structure. The team must be a component to an already existing incentive program and must be integrated with all other metrics and goals.

One of the most common ways to do this is a “cascade” method; the individual team member’s goals relate to the team goals,  your team’s goals relate to the business group’s goals and the business group’s goals relate to the company’s goals. With this method the individual contributor can see how they can impact the organization in both positive and negative ways by the work that they produce.

Next step: observe

Once your team is created and you have performance metrics and incentives in place, it is time to sit back and watch them work. This is probably the most difficult time for a manager. It’s time to let go and let them make their own decisions, whether right or wrong.

Managers who implement teams for the first time tend to step in too early with an answer prematurely, preventing team members from learning by their own successes and failures.

The dynamics of a well-organized team may take a little while to develop, but all of the confrontations and issues are a learning and growing period for them.  Not allowing the team to work out their own issues create an environment where the teams will not succeed because the message is clear that the manager is still in control of the decision.

Does it actually work? Yes!

In a recent company support center re-engineering project I was involved in, it was clear that team development would be key to success. The management saw increases in overall productivity and improvement in the work relationships between individuals.

“Not only did our overall service delivery improve, but I began dealing with less employee conflicts,” said Julie Mascarella, Customer Support Manager for Lewis Computer Services. “The number of people in my office with questions or issues has been substantially reduced.”

If you are a manager or leader of managers, and you are about to undergo team development or team structure changes, I not only encourage you to consider the above tidbits, but consider contacting me directly. I’ll give you a no-cost 30 minute consultation – a chance for me to understand your unique situation and to see where and how I can be of assistance in this process, either through one-on-one consultation or team workshops.