When we consider our roles at work, often there is a focus on individual skills and knowledge – our training and the specialties we bring to a job and how it contributes to the result. One thing we don’t necessarily consider is how important our collaboration or work alongside others is. After all, it is rare to work on projects alone or only with our own input – particularly in market research.
I was recently involved in work with a new project team, which got me thinking about the process and what is required to build an effective, high performing project team.
Teamwork can be defined as ‘a cooperative process that allows ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results’ (1). This process relies on individuals working together in a cooperative environment to achieve common goals – in fact, the literature on teamwork consistently highlights that one of the essential elements is a focus towards shared goals and purpose. (2).
A market research consultant will likely work with many different people to achieve an outcome, including the client, scripters, developers, sample suppliers, respondents and data analysts, to name a few. As we know, the areas of problem-solving, decision making and concept mastery tasks, in particular, are strengthened by working in a team (4). However, what clients usually only see through the process is the consultant delivering the end output – something that would not have been possible without the contribution of an entire project team.
Often, it is the quality of the communication, leadership and workflow that bring people together collaborating on the project journey and ultimately determines the success of the project – and organisations can sometimes suffer from assuming that these will flow naturally. Despite the benefits of this working in a team, one of the major constraints in achieving effective performance in teams is resolving conflicts that arise between team members. (5) So how can we ensure this goes smoothly?
A review of the leading literature in this area confirms some key, consistent features that help create successful teams: (3)
- Commitment to shared goals with team members engaged and in agreement about the outcomes they are working towards. For example, we are working to deliver this project by x date, with these requirements and this budget.
- Interdependence where the ‘whole is greater than the sum of their parts’. This means that the team can achieve more as a whole than as individuals. This involves each person being aware of their area of expertise and seeing how this complements others in the team.
- Interpersonal skills – the ability to convey trust, honesty and support, as well as showing respect to other team members. When we think about the ‘culture’ of a team, it would ideally be one in which a member feels they can trust and depend on other team members and feels they are working towards a shared purpose.
- Open Communication with the ability to give and receive constructive criticism, as well as listening to and expressing needs and concerns. This is particularly important in managing conflicts or setbacks as they occur – and being able to deliver negative feedback in a way that is constructive and effective.
- Team Composition – members need to be aware of their specific role and understand what is expected of them. For some teams this may look like assigning roles to team members that they remain in for the duration of the project, while others may be more flexible – but setting the expectations early on and making this explicit.
- Commitment to team processes – members need to be accountable for their contributions, which also involves effective leadership and shared decision making. Establishing ‘buy-in’ to this process is likely to help team members become engaged and invested in the team and its progress.
The current literature suggests that making this process of teamwork explicit – defining and acknowledging the roles and efforts of those contributing – has many benefits.
Specifically, having a number of contributors allows for rich and panoramic data from several viewpoints, as well as greater employee engagement from feeling like a valued and important contributor to a team. Those familiar with the SCRUM methodology, for example, will agree that having predetermined roles and designations in a project allows for a smooth progression, as well as the opportunity to safely reflect on the wins and losses.
When we consider our own experiences of being in a team, it is likely that the best experiences have involved clear roles, shared goals and effective leadership; and feeling that we have helped the group accomplish something worthwhile.
As I highlighted earlier, in the research context clients often only see the consultant delivering the end output – not the full team behind the output. Elevated outcomes evolve from everybody involved in delivering the outcome being made feel they have played an essential role in the accomplishment.
Conversely, if we can reflect on our least enjoyable team experiences, it is likely there was a lack of role clarity or effective communication – which in turn impacts the team’s ability to achieve its eventual goals – as well as making a working environment frustrating.
What has been your experience of building an effective team? Is this a structured process, with clearly delineated roles and processes – or something more intuitive, with members settling into roles themselves? Please feel free to leave your comments below.
1. Scarnati, J. T. (2001). On becoming a team player. Team Performance Management: An International Journal, 7(1/2), 5-10.
2. Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1999). Learning Together and Alone: Cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning ( 5th ed.). Needham Heights: Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.
3. Tarricone, P., & Luca, J. (2002, July 7-10). Successful teamwork: A case study in quality conversations, Proceedings of the 25th HERDSA Conference, Perth, Western Australia, 640-646.
4. Gigone, D., & Hastie, R. (1997). Proper analysis of the accuracy of group judgments. Psychological Bulletin, 121, 149-167.
5. De Dreu, C. K. W., & Weingart, L. (2003). Task versus relationship conflict, team performance, and team member satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 741-749.