Why does your team work that way? [#3 of a series on teams]

With guest bloggers Anton du Toit and Lachlan Heasman.

Each team can have its own way of doing things. Team members may have a relaxed attitude, or a get stuff done approach, or be very congenial. This vibe (also called the “climate” of the team) can be fine and effective until someone thinks it needs to change, then it can be a significant challenge to create a new vibe.

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UCLA researcher Connie Gersick was studying how task forces “actually get work done”, and found that how the teams approached their work can be established early and unknowingly. When the team first meets, the way team members work can be established in the first few minutes. Importantly, this was done without discussion, rather than being discussed openly and decided upon. Some teams Gersick studied would be relaxed about their work, and others would be focused on the getting something done quickly, for example. The teams would stick with this approach through the first phase of their time together, no matter if the approach was right or wrong for the task that the team was assigned.

Getting it right from the start

The lesson for us is to be careful about how we approach our first meetings with teams. We need to make sure the way the team is going to do their work is openly discussed when the team is first together, and make this explicit to everyone in the team. This way we intentionally create the right vibe, before it is set in the team.
We will cover another interesting and useful finding of Gersick’s in the next post.

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