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Effective Leadership

Building a Rubber Band Ball: How To Work Effectively in Teams

Rubberband Ball: Team

To build a durable, bouncy rubber band ball like the one shown, you must have multiple individual rubber bands of various sizes and colors that are wrapped around from various angles over time, right?

Building an effective team is kind of like building a rubber band ball. It takes a variety of people with different personalities, skills, and talents working together over time. 

Importance of team building

  • Share expectations for accomplishments
  • Trust, support, and respect differences
  • Nurture and maintain team

Team building is an ongoing process that helps a work group evolve into a cohesive unit. The team members not only share expectations for accomplishing group tasks, but trust and support one another and respect one another's individual differences. A team takes on a life of its own and needs to be regularly nurtured and maintained. With good team-building skills, you can unite staff around a common goal and generate greater productivity. Without them, you limit yourself and the staff to the effort each individual can make alone.

Impact of effective teams

The impact of an effective team is vast. Some of the impacts include…

  • Good communication as a team and as individuals
  • Increased productivity and creativity
  • Team motivation toward goal achievement
  • A climate of cooperation and collaborative problem-solving
  • Higher levels of job satisfaction and commitment
  • Higher levels of trust and support
  • Diverse co-workers collaborating well
  • Clear work objectives
  • Better operating policies and procedures

Building an effective team

Now that you know the importance of building an effective team, let’s dig a little deeper and look at how to do that. 

1. Symptoms of ineffective teams

Before deciding on what team building tips would be best for your team, it may be helpful to understand what symptoms signal a need for team building.

Does your team have…

  • Decreased productivity or service quality
  • Confusion about assignments or misunderstandings around decisions that cause them to not be carried out properly
  • Missed signals or unclear relationships
  • Conflicts, hostility, or apathy among staff members, including complaints of discrimination or favoritism and negative reactions to the manager
  • Lack of initiation, involvement, imagination, innovation, such as using routine actions for solving complex problems
  • Staff meetings with low participation or minimally effective decisions

All of these can be signs that your team is ineffective as a whole and could likely benefit from purposeful, targeted team building. 

2. Tips for building an effective team

In your church environment, you may have to work with other staff, including clergy, or with volunteers to accomplish shared goals. The potential for confusion or inefficiency is likely when others are involved.  However, methods to enhance team productivity are available. 

Consideration: 

  • Be considerate of each person's ideas as valuable. Remember that there is no such thing as a stupid idea.
  • Be aware and considerate of unspoken feelings. Whether you are a team leader or simply a member of the team, set an example for your team by being open and sensitive to their moods and feelings, even if they are not specifically shared. 

Communication:

Communication among team members is absolutely vital. In fact, it is the single most important factor in successful teamwork.

  • Be clear when communicating directives, tasks, and questions. Not only do you want to avoid confusion with your own communication, but you also should make sure you have a clear understanding of what you as a team AND you as an individual need to accomplish, including timeframes, responsibilities, standards for success, and even basic ground rules for the team.
  • Share and encourage other team members to share information. Sharing the importance of each other’s contribution anddemonstrating how all of your jobs operate together can help move the entire team closer to goals. In addition, share frustrations that may come from communication breakdowns. 

Cooperation:

  • Encourage trust and cooperation among people on your team. Remember that the relationships that you and your team members establish among yourselves have a huge impact on your team’s functionality. As the team begins to take shape, the ways in which team members work together and take steps to improve communication, cooperation, trust, and respect in those relationships will most often directly correlate with the team’s success and effectiveness.
  • Act as a harmonizing influence. You don’t have to be the leader of a team to look for chances to mediate and resolve minor disputes. Take that opportunity to point toward the team's higher goals.
  • Listen and brainstorm. People are often afraid to disagree with one another and that fear can lead your team to make mediocre decisions. Discussion of different ideas can inspire creativity and spur your team to better results.

Accomplishment:

Evaluate team performance and celebrate progress and accomplishments. Your team should talk about the progress you are making toward established goals to be aware of both of the successes achieved and the challenges that lie ahead.

If your team’s leader doesn’t address performance standards, ask to discuss questions like these with your team:

  • What do we really care about in performing our job?
  • What does the word “success” mean to this team?
  • What actions can we take to live up to our stated values

3. Stages of an effective team

The four stages of high performance are:

  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first came up with the memorable phrase "forming, storming, norming, and performing" in his 1965 article, "Developmental Sequence in Small Groups." He used it to describe the path that most teams follow on their way to high performance.

Reference

The Performing Stage is not the end of the process. These stages reflect an ongoing cycle of teams.

Teams need to continually focus on both process and product, setting new goals as appropriate. Changes in team membership or large-scale changes in the external environment can lead a team to cycle back to an earlier stage. If these changes - and their resulting behaviors - are recognized and addressed directly, teams may successfully remain in the Performing stage indefinitely

Stage 1 - Forming: 

This is the time when the team is just coming together and experiences the usual pains of starting something new. 

During the Forming stage of team development, team members are usually excited to be part of the team and eager about the work ahead. Members often have high positive expectations for the team experience. At the same time, they may also feel some anxiety, wondering how they will fit in to the team and if their performance will measure up.

Behaviors observed during the Forming stage may include lots of questions from team members, reflecting both their excitement about the new team and the uncertainty or anxiety they might be feeling about their place on the team.

The principal work for the team during the Forming stage is to create a team with clear structure, goals, direction and roles so that members begin to build trust. A good kick-off or orientation process can help ground the members in terms of the team's mission and goals, and can establish expectations about both the team's product process. During the Forming stage, much of the team's energy is focused on defining the team so task accomplishment may be relatively low.

Leader tasks during the Forming Stage focus on providing direction and establishing clear expectations for both the team as a whole as well as individual team members.

Stage 2 - Storming:

As the team begins to move towards its goals, members discover that the team can't live up to all of their early excitement and expectations. A shift begins in feelings, behaviors, and tasks.

During the Storming stage, the focus may shift from the tasks at hand to feelings of frustration or anger with the team's progress or process. Members may express concerns about being unable to meet the team's goals. During the Storming stage, members are trying to see how the team will respond to differences and how it will handle conflict. People may work in different ways for all sorts of reasons, but if differing working styles cause problems, they may become frustrated.

Behaviors during the Storming stage may be less polite than during the Forming stage, with frustration or disagreements about goals, expectations, roles and responsibilities being openly expressed. Members may express frustration about constraints that slow their individual or the team's progress; this frustration might be directed towards other members of the team, the team leadership or the team's sponsor. During the Storming stage, team members may argue or become critical of the team's original mission or goals.

Team Tasks during the Storming stage of development call for the team to refocus on its goals, perhaps breaking larger goals down into smaller, achievable steps. The team may need to develop both task-related skills and group process and conflict management skills. A redefinition of the team's roles and tasks along with goals can help team members past the frustration or confusion they experience during the Storming stage.

During the Storming Stage, leaders need to:

  • Establish processes and structures.
  • Build trust and good relationships between team members.
  • Resolve conflicts swiftly if they occur. Provide support, especially to those team members who are less secure.
  • Remain positive and firm in the face of challenges to your leadership, or to the team's goal.
  • Explain the "forming, storming, norming, and performing" idea, so that people understand why problems are occurring, and so that they see that things will get better in the future.

Stage 3 - Norming:

During the Norming stage of team development, team members begin to resolve their differences and appreciate colleagues’ strengths.

If the team is successful in setting more flexible and inclusive norms and expectations, members should experience an increased sense of comfort in expressing their "real" ideas and feelings. Team members feel an increasing acceptance of others on the team, recognizing that the variety of opinions and experiences makes the team stronger and its product richer. Members start to feel part of a team and can take pleasure from the increased group cohesion. Constructive criticism is both possible and welcomed.

Behaviors during the Norming stage may include members making a conscious effort to resolve problems and achieve group harmony. There might be more frequent and more meaningful communication among team members, and an increased willingness to share ideas or ask teammates for help. Team members refocus on established team ground rules and practices and return their focus to the team's tasks. Teams may begin to develop their own language (nicknames) or inside jokes.

During the Norming stage, members shift their energy to the team's goals and show an increase in productivity, in both individual and collective work. The team may find that this is an appropriate time for an evaluation of team processes and productivity.

Step back and allow team members to take responsibility for progress towards the goal. 

Stage 4 - Performing: 

This is the stage where the team and its members are hitting their stride and making real progress.

In the Performing stage of team development, members feel satisfaction in the team's progress. They share insights into personal and group process and are aware of their own (and each other's) strengths and weaknesses. Members feel attached to the team as something "greater than the sum of its parts" and feel satisfaction in the team's effectiveness. Members feel confident in their individual abilities and those of their teammates.

Team members are able to prevent or solve problems in the team's process or in the team's progress. A "can do" attitude is visible as are offers to assist one another. Roles on the team may have become more fluid, with members taking on various roles and responsibilities as needed. Differences among members are appreciated and used to enhance the team's performance.

In the Performing stage, the team makes significant progress toward its goals. Commitment to the team's mission is high and the competence of team members is also high. Team members should continue to deepen their knowledge and skills, including working to continuously improving team development. Accomplishments in team process or progress are measured and celebrated.

Delegate tasks and projects as far as you can. Once the team is achieving well, you should aim to have as light a touch as possible. You will now be able to start focusing on other goals and areas of work.

Action Steps

When the team makes a mistake collectively or by an individual OR when a breakdown occurs within the team, how it is handled can be as important if not more important that the mistake or breakdown itself.

1. Admit it.

Taking ownership when you or your team makes mistakes will set the example of accountability for all of your team members.

2. Correct it.

Regardless of the mistake or breakdown, correcting the wrong it vital to putting the team back on track.

3. Redo it.

If simply correcting the problem is not possible, the team may need to completely re-do the task or project in order to move forward appropriately.

4. Go above and beyond.

As an individual team member your effort to help resolve any current issue and prevent future breakdowns is important to the collective success. Going above and beyond the minimum requirements of your role on the team increases the likelihood for resolving or preventing mistakes and breakdowns.

5. Study it.

Study what went wrong to cause the mistake or breakdown, what could have been done to prevent it or done better to resolve it quicker, and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. 


We hope this has been a helpful resource on effective leadership. For more courses on leadership and many other topics, consider becoming a certified member of the Professional Administrators of the United Methodist Connectional Structure (PAUMCS).

Through PAUMCS, those who support the local church, annual conference, general agency or other church entity, can become certified administrative professionals working in The United Methodist Church.  Certification classes offer training in:

Understanding tax issues related to the Church
Working effectively in groups and teams
Ethics & confidentiality
Sexual misconduct
Church polity

…and more.

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