Teamwork, works!

Sabah Harahsheh

Royal Wedding Cake preparation

Picture: John Stillwell/Getty Images

Define “teamwork”:

“A set of two or more individuals interacting adaptively, interdependently and dynamically towards a common and valued goal – in addition, team members are each assigned specific roles/functions to perform, and a team has a limited life span (Salas et al., 2000).”

We’ve all heard the idiom, “many hands make light work” as well as the contrasting idiom; “too many cooks spoil the broth” – teamwork can be effective in carrying out a task, but used ineffectively, the results can indeed counter the productivity intended.

To explore this, Salas, Burke and Cannon-Bowers performed an integrative review on the understandings of teamwork. They focused on what comprises effective teamwork, and decided that eight skill dimensions can be generalised for any team.

Skill Dimensions:

  • Adaptability
  • Shared situational awareness
  • Performance monitoring and feedback
  • Leadership/team management
  • Interpersonal relations
  • Co-ordination
  • Communication
  • Decision making

Cannon-Bowers and co were able to extract common definitions (for teamwork from reviews they performed) in order to arrive at seven core principles that characterise effective teamwork

The Principles – teamwork is characterised by:

  1. Flexibility and adaptation in behaviours, cognitions and attitudes; and require parallel capabilities among team members, a certain measure of knowledge as well as necessary skills and attitudes.
  2. Observation – for the behaviours and actions of all team members to be monitored by each other, as well as to have the freedom to provide and accept feedback based on the monitoring behaviour; this requires a mutual agreement in the monitoring of performance and that constructive and timely feedback will be given, as well as an overall and shared awareness of the situation.
  3. Support and understanding during operations, among members in a team to be mutually displayed and agreed upon and requires back-up behaviour (compensatory behaviour) as well as the ability to adapt.
  4. Communication among all members that is clear and concise; referring to closed-loop communication (where communication has an active feedback system).
  5. Coordination of every action that is required, where actions will be interdependent, which again requires shared mental models and the development of interpersonal relations.
  6. Leadership taken on by one of the team members most apt for the role, so that activities can be directed, planned, distributed and coordinated effectively. This requires the development of common problem models, clear directions, an environment where performance can be enabled, decision making and problem solving, and the maintenance of the coherence of the team.
  7. The context and requirements of the task which influence; all teams are not equal, the contextual factors as well as the task at hand to be carried out by the team must be considered before the importance of various competencies needed within a particular team are decided – the Importance of particular team competencies will vary by the nature of the team.

Each of these skills will vary among each team member and so different roles will be assigned to different members, so that

“a team of experts can become an expert team (Salas et al., 2000).”

With these principles in mind, can you point out which principles may have been overlooked in the following example?

A wedding cake business was to design and create a generic style wedding cake for a number of weddings for one week (a certain promotional offer), but was unsuccessful in meeting the needs of the customers. The couples, for whom the wedding cakes were for, felt neglected because although the business had them complete a market style survey to determine their tastes, the final product did not reflect their tastes. The business owner wondered what the problem was, because each highly skilled individual (chef and those with business roles) on the team was allocated specific tasks based on their expertise.

Answer: Upon investigation, the owner found that there was a breakdown in communication between those in charge of the marketing aspects (surveys) and the team of chefs.


Reference:

Salas, E., Burke, C.S., & Cannon-Bowers, J.A. (2000). Teamwork: emerging principles. International Journal of Management Reviews, 2(4), 339-356.

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7 comments so far

  1. Jack Scanlan on

    Thanks Sabah for the interesting post. I agree that teamwork can be effective when done right although teamwork can be a disaster if not done right. I feel that sometimes when working in teams and one or more members arent pulling their weight that it affects the rest of the team and how much weight they subsequently pull. It is very important to set goals and to realise everyones abilities before begining something in a team. To take collingwood as an example, you need a big full forward like Chris Dawes and Travis Cloke to take the big marks however when they dont take it they need crummers like Alan Didak, same goes for the defence with Ben Reid and Ben Johnson and of cource it would not work without ruckmen and midfielder such as Darren Jolly and Dane Swan. All together as a team they can be really effective and everyones different abilities together make them effective. As well of this of course a team neads a leader such as Nick Maxwell or the team would lack direction

    • habasabah on

      Hi Jack,

      Thank you for your comment! Something tells me that you’re a big AFL fan 🙂 I like that you’ve used something that interests you to apply to this topic. It’s the best way of learning! It’s funny how you’ve listed those players in such a ‘matter of fact’ manner, as though you know exactly what you’re talking about (I have no idea!). I’m more of a soccer fan and I did consider using examples of bad teamwork from the World Cup in 2006 – but since the Royal Wedding is all over the news I thought that would be a more suitable topic to use! 😛

  2. jackscan on

    Just goes to show, alot can be learned from sport!

  3. technology on

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

    • habasabah on

      Hi!

      Thanks, although you might be referring to the whole blog which is a collection of the efforts of a group of students (rather than just myself!) – this blog post is mine however, and it’s based on an article called “Teamwork: emerging principles” by Salas, Burke and Cannon-Bowers. 😛

      Thank you very much for reading our posts! It’s nice to know they are being read by other people for other reasons than just for the sake of an assignment 😛

      Take care 🙂

  4. cherylday21 on

    Sabah, thank you for your post on teamwork, I find it interesting Salas et. al did not investigate any component of commitment. As we all know from university teamwork on group assignments the level of commitment from the team varies significantly. This in turn results in varying levels of effort, dedication, responsibility and loyalty to team members and the project at hand. As Jack has mentioned this affects the rest of the team and alters the workload of others. In university they have quite an emphasis on group work in order to build team skills for the future. Unfortunately I do not think the lecturers or unit coordinators understand the stress and frustration this can cause for those who are committed to their studies and work hard for good results. I can understand “two heads are better than one” and “the power of teamwork” can achieve great results at times (not always), but the frustrations can be somewhat overwhelming.
    I see the teamwork involved in sport quite differently. Teamwork in sport is most certainly a fundamental component, however still requires a degree of commitment by all players.

    • habasabah on

      Hi Cheryl,

      Thanks for your comments. I agree with you, having gone through so many tedious group assignments throughout my education, where certain members don’t pull their weight (but since most of the group want the good marks for their efforts, everyone commits, except for that one person, who ends up getting just as good a mark as you anyway! – it’s why peer assessment is so good!), I really would have preferred to write my post on that topic rather than what the article was discussing (HOW to make an effective team) – which I guess if some of the slackers read, they might learn a thing or two! Then again. old habits die hard.

      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to rant, I’m writing my reflection now and I might just “copy -> paste” this into it!

      All the best Cheryl, thanks again 🙂

      Sabah


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