Why working in a team shouldn’t be rocket science

Since the beginning of our existence, humans have been hard-wired to organise ourselves to work together, gather food, create communities, and create shelter in order to survive. There was no manual; we either made it work or we didn’t survive. Simple.

From an evolutionary psychology point of view, it could be said that those of us that exist today do so because our ancestors worked together, so it should simply be in our DNA. We should be able to do team work well and yet, it seems to be becoming increasingly difficult. We live in an extraordinarily complex world, with so many distractions, competing priorities and levels of sophistication, especially in terms of how we need to work together to achieve the results that our society, communities, and families need or want.

I’ve been doing a lot of work with Aston Organisation Development Ltd over the last 12 months, with the aim of helping teams to work effectively to improve patient outcomes. Professor Michael West talks about Quality and Safety.

There are some key principles that I would like to share, but there has been a lot of learning on my part that I will continue to share over time… so keep your eyes peeled!

Principle one – Focus on outcome:  Teams are about tasks, and we come together to achieve a certain outcome. Increasingly it’s about working on tasks that are complex, where there is no obvious solution, and it’s through working synergistically together that we can innovate.

Principle two – Sum of the parts:  Teams are primarily about using the knowledge, skills, expertise, and diversity to work on complex puzzles and problems, and to create innovation.

Principle three – Fine tuning:  You need to work at it. Like any habit, it is about forming a set of helpful behaviours. Like an athlete, we need to practice and develop that ‘team working muscle’.

Principle four – Predictors of team performance: We need a very minimum of 3 key ingredients to be in place for effective team working.

  • Clear objectives
  • A need to work together to deliver the objectives – interdependence
  • The opportunity to review, learn, and change – reflexivity

To work in high performing effective teams we need all of the above – plus many more – essential ingredients to be in place.

Principle five – Volume:  The more teams in an organisation that have the essentials in place, the more likely you are to move from high performing teams to highly effective organisations.

Principle six – Use the strong evidence base is strong (it reinforces what you already know): The evidence base for team-based working is strong. We can easily demonstrate the impact on staff engagement, patient outcomes, and higher levels of innovation to name but a few.

Teams are complex entities; when working at their very best, teams can achieve phenomenal heights in terms of human endeavour. Look around you today and reflect upon what you have achieved as being part of a team, the value of your contribution, and the benefit that you collectively brought. If you’re not achieving the results that you expected then it could be that you need to spend more time on the structure and process of team working.

2 thoughts on “Why working in a team shouldn’t be rocket science

  1. What strikes me:
    The layer of complexity includes the numbers of teams people are expected / required to be involved in. This can lead to competing/ conflicting objectives, conflicting roles and little time to reflect.
    A key for organisations is to minimise the potential for complexity, conflict and competition.

    1. Oooooh, nice one. And I agree. On average most people work in 4 teams. I’ve been working with a CCG and it’s blown that ‘average’ out of the water. Most GP’s on a CCG work in 8 plus teams/groups or have 8 plus roles. How many teams/professional roles do you have?

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