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Developing Effective Teams

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Priorities of team development

Identifying and optimising the factors that contribute to effective team work is a central alcohol and other drugs (AOD) workforce development strategy. Changing to team-based working arrangements has been linked with improved organisational performance and worker wellbeing.

The following three issues should be considered as central priorities when a new team is set-up, or when reviewing the effectiveness of an established team.

Priority 1: Establish the team's goals and objectives

Effective teams have a "shared mission" that is identified by explicit team goals.

Priority 2: Set up team structure and processes

Careful thought and planning is required to ensure team membership achieves a balance between maintaining a manageable size, and inclusion of the required mix of skills, knowledge and experience.

Maintaining an optimal team size

In general, teams of 4-7 members are likely to be most effective. Groups of this size avoid difficulties with coordination, communication and decision-making that come with larger groups.

Managing diversity of team membership

Diverse teams are best used for problem-solving, creative work or clinical care. The following strategies may assist in the management of teams containing members from diverse professional or personal backgrounds:

  1. Include more than one expert from each field
  2. Rotate the team leader role
  3. Model desired attitudes and behaviours as part of team leadership

Providing teams with autonomy

Teams can operate with various degrees of autonomy. An autonomous work group is more likely to be effective when:

  • Team members perceive autonomy to be desirable (i.e., not everybody is comfortable with certain types of autonomy)
  • Team members have the necessary skills and knowledge to operate within an autonomous group (i.e., goal setting, planning, coordination)
  • Managers and supervisors have the capacity to adapt their work practice to support the needs of an autonomous team
  • The organisational culture, policies and procedures support independent and innovative work practices.

Clarifying roles and responsibilities

A lack of clarity (ambiguity) regarding team members' roles and responsibilities can interfere with team effectiveness. Where some degree of role flexibility and overlap is required, it is important that a shared understanding is developed amongst team members of the boundaries of role flexibility (i.e., are certain tasks or roles "quarantined" for specific group members).

Priority 3: Establish workplace supports

Three key workplace supports for teams are feedback, rewards and support.

  1. Providing performance feedback: Effective teams need clear and timely performance feedback. Feedback should be provided to the team as a whole and to individual team members in terms of their contribution to team performance. It is recommended that feedback is provided on a private one-to-one basis to individual workers, and publicly for a group or team.
  2. Providing rewards linked to performance outcomes: Recognising and rewarding high quality performance has an important influence on workers' job satisfaction and motivation. Rewards do not have to be financial. Most workers place importance on a range of outcomes that provide recognition and encouragement. Wherever possible, it is best to provide rewards and recognition to all team members based on the team's performance.
  3. Providing supervisory/managerial support: The impact of supervisory and managerial support on a team's capacity to operate effectively should not be underestimated. In general, supervisors and managers can support effective team functioning by:
    • Providing access to human and material resources (practical support)
    • Providing encouragement to the team (symbolic support)
    • Allowing sufficient time for effective performance.

More Information

For more information about developing an effective team, please see Chapter 3 (pdf 1.6MB) of the TIPS Kit.