As team-based work becomes an increasingly common and important part of modern organizations, it’s important to ensure that teams use the most effective strategies to maximize performance.
There are two important aspects of team-based work that teams must manage to improve their performance: task-work and teamwork.
- Task-work deals with how teams accomplish work tasks.
- Team-work deals with how teams work with each other and with other teams.
Managing both task-work and team-work requires that teams invest time into planning these activities before starting work on the task at hand. Often, teams consider planning activities to be low-priority, but in reality, putting time into these activities up-front can lead to significant performance gains and reduced process loss in the long run.
A team charter lays out the plans for how the team will manage various teamwork activities, or in other words, an operation plan that will guide the team through the work process. Team charters have several purposes, including:
- Clarifying roles and expectations for team members
- Determining the team’s strengths, as well as areas that may require additional development
- Identifying stakeholders and opportunities that may aid in accomplishing the team’s goals
- Specifying how the team will make decisions if conflicts arise (e.g. through voting vs. consensus)
- Setting up feedback mechanisms and processes for performance evaluation.
The team charter can be developed either by the team as a whole, or by the team leadership or other managers. However, it’s important that all team members agree to the terms of the charter before work begins, so that everyone is “on the same page.” Step-by-step resources about how to develop a team charter are abundant online; a search using the term “team charter” will provide many examples.
Performance strategies explicitly delineate what the team intends to do and how they intend to accomplish the required tasks. This includes:
- Prioritizing goals and objectives (short-term and long-term)
- Delineating a plan of action that will address each of the required tasks
- Defining the specific tactics that will be employed to achieve the team’s goals
- Contingency planning and developing alternative strategies to task completion
As with the team charter, make sure that all team members are “on board” with the performance strategy in order to increase commitment and performance.
Teams as dynamic entities
Like living beings, teams can be thought of as having a life cycle with a beginning, middle, and an end. Similar to living creatures, events that take place early in a team’s life can have a profound impact on how it functions later in life. By establishing structured team-work and task-work patterns early on, teams can promote effective functioning for the future. Some components of high-quality planning include:
- Having an orientation toward the future
- High levels of interpersonal interaction between team members
- Accurate knowledge about team strengths and weaknesses
- Clearly-defined roles for team members
- Adequate and accurate resource allocation
Teams that establish a quality charter and performance strategies early in the process will be able to concentrate efforts on performance rather than dealing with administrative issues, mistakes, duplication of work, miscommunications, or other process-loss issues – ultimately leading to higher levels of performance.
There are several ways to promote increased team-work and task-work among work groups.
- Team-work.Encourage teams to develop charters that are both complete and consistent.
- Rather than stating that “group meetings will be held as necessary,” a complete charter might lay out a schedule for meetings as well as details on when and where the meetings are to be held and what topics are to be discussed.
- A consistent charter will match team members’ skills and expertise to their assigned tasks.
- Task-work.Performance strategies should be as specific as possible.
- Teams should develop performance outcome goals for the future (e.g. yearly, 5 year) in terms of return on investment, revenues, net income, etc.
- Performance strategies should identify key markets and outline plans to target those markets through pricing, brand image, advertising budget, product line breadth, etc.
The best performance outcomes are a result of a combination of sustained high-quality team-work and task-work. Although the initial time investment into these planning activities is significant, the performance gains that result can be substantial.
This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Mathieu, J.E, & Rapp, T.L. (2009). Laying the foundation for successful team performance trajectories: The roles of team charters and performance strategies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94 (1), 90-103.