Six Essentials for Teamwork Success

by Santiago Iniguez

Teamwork is part of the DNA of companies and all other types of organizations, and business schools are keen on getting their students to work in small groups with the aim of preparing leaders able to lead them and make them productive. 

My experience is that seasoned digital exchange, along with in-presence interaction, can solidify relations among team members and improve productivity, as compared to just traditional physical interfacing. I wonder if you have confirmed this on your telework over lockdowns during current pandemics. 

What practices could be adopted to empower the team to become more cohesive, perform better and assume collective responsibility, for success as well as failure? 

  1. Decision-making procedures need to be effective but avoid oversimplifying issuesso as to reach agreement. They must also involve the search for a common denominator, as well as looking for innovative solutions. I tend to recommend groups that are taking big strategic decisions not to do so by majority, because this approach can often lead to conventional outcomes or the continuity of the status quo. Instead, I believe teams should designate a leaderfrom the group according to their specialist skills, give them all the input necessary, let everybody have their say, and then allow that person to decide. 
  2. Rotate leadership of the group frequently or on an agreed time frame. Regardless of whether some of the team’s members have more evident leadership skills, rotating leadership can add a new dimension, highlighting unexpected ideas. It is also an opportunity for those with greater leadership skills to learn from their colleagues. 
  3. Diversity is essential for teamwork success. A good gender balance in groups tends to lead to more empathy and consensus, but it is also important for the mix to be cultural and ethnic. The point of a working group should be to bring together people who think differently from one other, and with a range of views on business or a particular sector. Logically, the role of the leader is to make as much as possible of this diversity, and to be able to propose specific solutions that the others in the group will sign up to. Sameness among team members is one of the leading contributors to groupthink. 
  4. 4The Three Cs: Collaboration, so that all are working toward the same goal, regardless of individual viewpoints; Coordination, which tends to be the job of the leader, and so that the tasks in hand are carried out according to schedule, and that everybody contributes; and Communication, which is essential to avoid misunderstandings, which can be the cause of conflict between group members. These are advices from management expert Benjamin Voyer. 
  5. 5Taking a constructive, can-do approach. One of the main risks is that some members will sit back, something the team leader needs to keep an eye on. It is important for leaders to cultivate a spirit of generosity, empathy, diplomacy, and avoid being brusque and talking too much, and instead find a way to implement the decision that has been taken, even if not everybody was initially in agreement. 

On occasion, when talking to the members of a team on our MBA programs that hasn’t gelled properly, or that is underperforming, they tell me that this group is worse than the others and that its members are not contributing equally. I tend to reply that their group was potentially just as good as the others, and that the problem lies with the capacity of each of its members to lead. At IE Business School, when assigning groups, we always aim for diversity in the hope of sparking learning synergies and personal interaction. The training and background of its members, along with their academic merits and admission tests, are also taken into account. Nevertheless, on occasions, some teams just do not work, either due to personality conflicts or because of common errors. In such cases I usually remind those involved that the problem was not the team itself, but the lack of leadership and emotional intelligence. 

  1. Combine interaction in presence and online. Our experience at IE Business Schools that working in hybrid formats, combining classroom sessions with online studies, generates better results in work teams than purely in presence teaching. Teams that work online develop a series of skills and tend to be more respectful than those that work together in the classroom. Each member’s contribution tends to be more balanced, perhaps because it is more tangible and permanent in a digital format. In a traditional face-to-face classroom situation, it is easier to take a back seat. Online interaction also allows for a deeper intellectual experience between members, which helps cement relationships and encourage greater openness. 

Management expert Susan Cain advocates of the advantages of working online, such as getting the most out of the diversity, given that “introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online.” (Quiet: The Power of Introverts That Can’t Stop Talking, p.88) A lot of companies could benefit from hybrid programs that combine in presence activities with a digital interaction as a way to identify introverts with leadership potential. Brainstorming in online groups produces better results than individual work or just in presence interface. It is the best combination of individual work with a team effort. 

This article is dedicated to my students of GOMBA S1, 2021 at IE Business School