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Team building resources

Glossary of useful terms for team building and teamwork is here

Part 1: Team roles

adapted from this lesson.

There are three necessary kinds of roles that individuals play when they are members of a team. There is a fourth undesirable but possible role. Note that individual team members often plays more than one role and some roles may require more than one person (sub-committee).

  • Task Roles — these roles are project specific but can include things like: finding volunteers, fund raising, obtaining materials, making calculations, etc.
  • Functional Roles — these roles define the project itself, i.e. its design and specification. Functional roles for the project are things like: research, planning, progress monitoring, clarifying, arbiter, acting as spokesperson for the group, troubleshooting, etc.
  • Maintenance Roles — these roles strengthen the team emotionally and can include encouraging, mediating, setting standards, listening, volunteering for other roles as needed.
  • Dysfunctional Roles** — some team members may interfere with the smooth functioning of the group. Dysfunctional roles include: being overly aggressive, blocking or nit-picking, back stabbing, seeking sympathy, disruptive clowning or joking, blaming, taking all the credit, dominating, manipulating and unreliability (e.g. not completing promised work.)

**An insightful and interesting read on the subject of dysfunctional team-mates (aka "bad apples") and their consequences to team dynamics is the article by Will Feltz, found here. The work is also described at the start of this podcast of "This American Life" on Chicago Public Radio.

Part 2: Life cycles common to many teams

adapted from observations and descriptions of educational psychologist Bruce Tuckman, summarized here.

In the 1960s, he developed an influential model of the four stages of group development: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and he later added a fifth stage: Adjourning.

  1. Forming — the stage when team members are still uncertain about the scope of their task and their responsibilities. If there is a team leader, others will depend on that leader to establish routines and assignments. There is generally minimal team conflict at this stage.
  2. Storming — this stage can see conflicts emerge, especially when decisions do not come easily. If there is a leader, then that person must clarify the roles and responsibilities of everyone on the team as well as mediate disputes if needed.
  3. Norming — with the scope of the team's task now well-defined, the individual's roles should be clear and all team members are likely to support one another and appreciate the skills that each team member brings to the effort.
  4. Performing — this stage sees team members working independently and productively, trusting that other team members are doing the same. Roles and responsibilities can shift as needed since the group should be both task- and people-oriented.
  5. Adjourning — this stage recognizes the accomplishment of the team as a whole and the individuals within it, enabling all to move on feeling good to have been a part of the group. Some members may feel a sense of loss as the team disbands.

Part 3: Brainstorming sessions

adapted from The Team Handbook by Peter Scholtes found here

Do's and Don'ts for a brainstorming session:

  • do write all ideas down. Someone can be group scribe or the team members can take turns.
  • don't hold back ideas, even ones that seem silly. The more ideas the better and everyone should be encouraged to freewheel.
  • don't discuss ideas during the brainstorming session. There will be time for discussion later
  • don't judge or criticize ideas. Remember the goal is to get as many ideas on the table as possible.
  • do piggyback on the ideas of others. If someone's idea inspires a related one, make sure to share that.

Successful brainstorming sessions require that everyone be clear on the goal so take a minute at the start to review the topic and then give everyone a minute or two the think about it. Once ideas get called out, it's important that everyone enforce the rules for brainstorming. Your group might want to appoint a referee or facilitator who might say things like, "no discussion now...next idea?" Once the ideas have been collected, your team may be ready for further discussion on their details, for a straw vote, or for some other means of culling the list.

Part 4: Working through common team problems

adapted from The Team Handbook by Peter Scholtes found here

Great teams make the most of individual strengths and minimize individual weaknesses, but you and your teammates are still human and problems can arise even on the most functional of teams. Some common problems and some solutions are:

  1. floundering: most often felt at the start and end of a project, this lack of direction arises from teams that are unclear on the task, uncomfortable with eachother or overwhelmed.
    • try to review the problem, define what's needed to move on, set aside time to make checklists and talk about them
  2. bullying: when a person wields a disproportionate amount of influence.
    • try to appeal to a higher authority (e.g. more senior team leaders or instructors), set and enforce rules of teamwork such as those for brainstorming.
  3. blabbermouth: when a person takes a disproportionate amount of "air time."
    • try to structure discussions so everyone must speak (e.g. go around the table for 1' statement), practice gatekeeping techniques (e.g., "yes we've heard this for you and now we have to hear what others think")
  4. wallflower(s): when a person won't speak or contribute to the team
    • try to structure discussions so everyone must speak (e.g. go around the table so 1' statement), divide tasks into individual assignments or reports, practice gatekeeping techniques (e.g. "what's been your experience with this aspect of the project?")
  5. unsupported "facts": when self-assured statements are offered without legitimate supporting evidence, often offered in such a way as to make further questioning on the topic seem impolite.
    • try these follow up approaches: "is that opinion or fact?" "how do you know that to be true?""OK but can you get us some data to follow up?"
  6. haste: an impatience to decide or do something, often dismissing contrary ideas
    • try to restate longterm goal, set and enforce rules of teamwork such as those for brainstorming, confront the "rusher" using some constructive feedback, appeal to a higher authority (e.g. more senior team leaders or instructors)
  7. discounting: when a team members ideas are dismissed or minimized
    • try to remind team that everyone's ideas matter and all should be considered, talk off-line with person showing dismissive behavior, structure inclusive times when all ideas are volunteered and considered (e.g. "before we move on, are there things we need to spend more time on?")
  8. digressing: tangents that lead to irrelevant discussions
    • try to work from a written agenda, direct conversation back to relevant subject (e.g. "we've gotten pretty far from our goal of X...")
  9. feuding: when two team members disagree and disagreement becomes the sole platform for their work
    • try to avoid putting these two on one task, contract a working arrangement for the two who are battling, appeal to a higher authority to mediate (e.g. more senior leaders or instructors)