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Team development

Self-regulation is necessary if the potential of teamworking is to be realised. Teams will always be subject to management direction of some degree or another and it is important that the boundaries of their authority are understood. Nevertheless Acas/Tavistock research indicates that self-regulation was lacking in those teams which were not performing to their full potential. It is important to remember, however, that self-regulation will not happen automatically but must be developed. The task of management is to oversee the development of teams and provide the necessary support and training. There will also be a need for managers to accept that mistakes will be made as teams are given more responsibility. The emphasis should be on learning from mistakes rather than establishing blame. Unless teams are prepared to take reasonable risks, they are unlikely to develop independence and the ability to innovate.

Self-regulation often begins within the team as members decide on the order in which tasks should be tackled and their distribution among members. As teams develop, they can take on more responsibility for quality, production methods, hours and times of work and the selection of, or discipline of, team members. Mature teams may also manage their own relationships with other teams and take on responsibility for dealing with the wider organisation in such matters as the provision of finance and resources.

Work organisation theorists have described developmental models for teams. These should not be used as prescriptions but can aid understanding, particularly if a team does not seem to be developing.

A team's development may be viewed in four distinct phases (11):

  • First is the 'forming' phase when the team is in reality still a collection of individuals dealing with procedural issues and the atmosphere is often artificially polite. Enthusiasm for and commitment to the new team is high but competence is low.
  • Second is the 'storming' phase when the team members begin to experiment and flex their muscles. Relationships become stormier both between members and between the team and other groups, and members question outside influences such as set procedures. As the team struggles to find the best way to work together, members may experience a temporary lapse in commitment.
  • Third is the 'norming' phase where the team is beginning to achieve its potential. It has developed its own way of working that is producing results.
  • Fourth is the 'performing' phase where the team is fully mature and effective. It deals with change in an open and flexible way, constantly challenges itself but avoids damaging conflicts. Development of team members is a high priority.

Teams are unlikely to develop their potential without a struggle. They can get stuck in the early stages if members are too polite and not prepared to challenge the status quo. Teams may also become complacent after they reach an acceptable level of performance. If teams stagnate or encounter problems which they cannot overcome from their own resources, they will need help from management. This may include clarifying objectives, providing additional resources, training and team building exercises.

The idea of teamwork as the most appropriate form of work organisation for shop-floor production or the delivery of services assumes the long-term contribution of teams. It would be unrealistic to expect a team's 'performing' phase to continue indefinitely and consequently most teams enter a fifth phase. Some teams may be terminated at this stage but most will enter a phase of renewal which will probably involve beginning the development cycle again.

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