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Station Teams: Assembly Required

Too often teams aren't assembled. They just happen. A project comes along and a team is assigned to work it. The group gathers and attempts to figure out a solution, but trouble starts brewing almost at once. Only some of the people do any work. Some people don't get along. Meetings are frequent and mind numbing. No one is quite sure what the assignment actually is.

I call well-assembled teams Station Teams. Station teams are based on what we know to be true about people and organizations, and are aligned with the principles of WYSINWYG (what you see is never what you get), balance and simplicity. The constituent parts of station team assembly are size, civics, and work. Each of the parts is important in its own right, but taken together, they provide for continuous and effective team operation. Their assembly optimizes the chances for success.

When it comes to teams, size does matter. By definition it takes at least two people to make a team - there is no upper limit. But studies have consistently shown that performance is directly related to team size. With over forty years of research supporting the contention, we know that team size optimizes at five members. Beyond this point, productivity plateaus between six and nine members. With more than nine members there is a distinct productivity loss. The implication is obvious - keep teams small.

A team is primarily a social unit, and as such requires liberal applications of civility in order to thrive. This entails demonstrating respect for others, exercising courtesy and acting politely. It means behaving with integrity and putting the needs of the many above your own. When exercised, civility grows strong teams that are highly resilient. It produces long lasting loyalties, builds confidence and super charges productivity. Nothing, however, undermines a team faster than a lack of civility among its members. Such a lack has a devastating and corrosive effect. It must never be permitted to take root.

People usually know what is socially required. To be sure, most employers have policies regarding employee conduct, but few of these deals with subjects such as being "nice" to one another. Yet, being "nice" is one of those low cost, high payback behaviors.

We're right sized, have great attitudes and everyone is behaving well. Now what? What exactly do teams do? Teams gather data and make decisions about planning, developing and operating projects or tasks. The type of data and sophistication of the decision will largely determine how the team is assembled. Simply put, different types of work will require different types of teams.

As it relates to the business of team work, data gathering and decision making exist on a single continuum. At one end of this continuum is factual data gathering and at the other end is subjective decision-making. Remember that this continuum represents types of work to be accomplished. The type of work will determine the type of team required to get the job done.

That's a very brief look at team assembly. Remember that the care with which team makers and leaders assemble the team will directly impact the team's success.

George Ebert is the President of Trinity River Seminars and Consulting, a firm specializing in the custom design and delivery of team building, personal growth and ethical development programs. Mr. Ebert is a highly sought after speaker, educator and consultant with over thirty years experience in both the public and private sectors. He has presented widely throughout the Unites States. He is the author of the management cult classic, Climbing From the Fifth Station: A guide to building teams that work!

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