Interacting with a group of individuals is not necessarily a natural phenomenon. An effective team is made of individuals who display well-developed interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills are the ways in which individuals relate to one another, but at its very foundation, the most important interpersonal skill is communication. A study of Canadian cardiac surgery teams found that technical failures related to equipment or team members’ medical skills were not at the root of many negative patient outcomes. The study found that the teams themselves displayed dysfunction in areas of communication, decision-making, and leadership. These teams suffered from several communication breakdowns. For example, surgeons displayed a tendency to not communicate when they were over-committed. Similarly, roles and responsibilities had not been effectively communicated to junior members of the team such that they did not feel comfortable reporting negative incidents or taking a leadership role when appropriate (Flemin, Smith, Slaunwhite, & Sullivan, 2006). Sending and receiving communication is an important skill for any team member.
“Groups are the basic building blocks of an organization” (George & Jones, 2008, p. 323). Organizations have realized that individuals working as members of teams can achieve far better results than individuals alone. A team working toward a common goal allows its members to focus more intently on their area of expertise than would be possible if the goal was assigned to a single individual. Additionally, since teams are often comprised of members from diverse backgrounds, individual members can benefit from the experiences of others (George & Jones, 2008). Teams also benefit management as the team itself takes over the roles and responsibilities previously performed by supervisors. Self-managed work teams take responsibility for their actions and implement the strategy formulated by the organization’s management. This results in a flatter organization structure that works together closely and is able to respond more quickly to changes in the external environment (Clegg, Kornberger, & Pitsis, 2004).
Teams are not perfect and intervention is occasionally necessary when a team has gone awry. Over the course of a 12-month period, a team I was a member of was the recipient of two interventions. One was ultimately a failure, and the other a success. The first intervention occurred when the manager over the team decided to leave the organization. His manager felt that this disruption would splinter the team and its members would begin leaving for other organizations as well. This manager’s goal was to speak with the team as a group and individually and discuss what the previous manager’s departure meant for the team. The manager listened to the grievances of the team and promised to make many of the changes the team had requested. In the end, none of the changes were enacted and the team’s morale slipped to an all-time low.
Within the next year, the organization underwent a restructuring and both the replacement manager and top-level manager were removed. The team was entrusted to a top-level manager from a completely different part of the organization. Like before, this top-level manager met with the team members and the team as a whole and listened to their ideas. Rather than assign a mid-level manager to manage the team, this top-level manager allowed the team to manage itself. Now the team was entrusted with helping the organization achieve its goals directly, rather than relying on a middle manager to relay the organization’s strategy as he saw fit. The team responded positively to this change and began producing better than ever.
Clegg, S., Kornberger, M., & Pitsis, T. (2008). Managing and organizations: An introduction to theory and practice (2nd ed.). London: SAGE.
Fleming, M., Smith, S., Slaunwhite, J., & Sullivan, J. (2006). Investigating interpersonal competencies of cardiac surgery teams. Canadian Journal of Surgery, 49(1), 22. Retrieved May 31, 2009, from Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition database.
George, J. M., & Jones G. R. (2008). Understanding and managing organizational behavior (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.