Does the word 'teamwork' sound familiar to you? If so, your team is on the right track. But if your team is a loosely organized group of individuals who get together once in a blue moon sporting nametags, you have some work to do. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to turn your motley crew into a high-functioning team.

Create Opportunities for People to Get Together to Tackle an Issue

This is not something you'll have to invent, according to Kathleen Allen, senior fellow at the University of Maryland's Burns Academy of Leadership and president of Allen Associates. "In my experience, these issues will pop up on a weekly basis," she says. During these crunch times, a leader "needs to remind people what they're together to do." A time line is usually critical to success, she notes. The more opportunities people have to work together, the more likely it is they will begin to function as a close-knit team.


Mine the Learning from These Group Experiences

If handled well, an intense group effort can be the bridge that brings a team to an entirely new way of working together. Too often, though, after a short project during which people have worked closely together, the office drifts apart again. According to Allen, that is when the work really begins.

The first thing a leader should do is celebrate the work that has been accomplished and congratulate the team on a job well done. "It's important to bring the team back to reflect on how it felt to work closely together," Allen says. Leaders can expect some resistance to this. "People are probably going to say they can't imagine working together this way all the time and getting their other work done. And there will probably be a perception that people will have to give up autonomy."

The task is to convince staff members of the excitement of teamwork. "In a shared model, everyone on the team initiates things, rather than waiting to be told what to do by the leader," Allen says. "They have a part in creating the values and the vision of the organization." As for the perception that teamwork will lead to a heavier workload, Allen says the opposite often proves to be true. "When nobody's talking to each other, there's a lot of duplication."

Give the Process Time -- Lots of It

This is where many well-meaning managers go wrong. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is an effective team. "So often, I get a call from a CEO who says, 'We need to do team building this Saturday at 4,'" says Jim Jose, an organizational effectiveness strategist and leadership coach based in Tucson. "But team building isn't an event; it's a process." It's easy for a group of people to pull together for a few weeks and create what he calls a "rah-rah" atmosphere, but that doesn't make a group a team.

Perhaps the biggest reason this process takes time is that people who have spent their careers simply following orders are task-oriented, not adjusting easily to the more process-oriented nature of working on a team. Also, they may regard the process of working on a team as too touchy-feely. The key is to help employees understand that teamwork isn't about being nice; it's about smart business. A team atmosphere calls on everyone -- not just the leader -- to generate ideas, initiate projects and produce top-notch work.

"This is the classic 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,'" says Zachary Green, senior scholar at the University of Maryland's Burns Academy of Leadership. "We know organizations that are able to align the visions [of their employees] are smarter, more effective, more efficient and, most importantly, more creative."

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