by Matt Minahan, Ed.D. and Cherita Fayton

Many major organizational change programs rely heavily upon the successful implementation of effective team development programs. The purpose of using teams to do work is to create synergies that serve clients better than individual contributors might, to improve continuity, to build individual capacity, to improve product quality and customer service, and to provide work opportunities that are interesting and satisfying to staff.

High performing teams can deliver these benefits but the mere creation of teams does not assure high performance or a successful change program.

But What Is a Team, Really?

In any complex organizations, there are likely to be multiple and different kinds of teams, each with a different task, purpose, membership, modus operandi, leadership etc. That very variety can possibly contribute to the success of the organization and its change program, however, it also creates confusion about what a "team" really is in that specific environment, and what each "team" is being asked to do.

For that reason, we strongly recommend that a change program that is heavily dependent upon teams begin with a "Teams team," whose worwould be to develop complete and clear definitions of the teams, their membership, accountabilities for tasks, individual accountability in the teamwork frame, and leadership requirements. The following questions need answerig:

  • Is there a need for uniformity across teams?
  • If so, is there a preferred protocol?

How are team members chosen and by whom?

Often the leaders just pick the people they want, but large change programs are such good development opportunities for emerging talent that it can be very beneficial to coordinate the selection of team members within and among the team leaders, and with significant input from the HR function;

  • If the organization has an internal charging system, who is contracted and who is not?
  • With how many teams may a specialist expect to be involved?
  • How much time does team membership take?
  • What can a team or administrative assistant expect? How many teams will he/she support? How will their team support differ from the regular job?
  • How will task continuity be assured and how long should a team member expect to be associated with a particular effort?

Team size?

  • How many people do we really need to do this work?
  • What will be team roles and individual responsibilities for tasks and for leadership?
  • When are teams the appropriate modality? Is there some work that could be done by groups which don't require the same depth of commitment andcontinuity?
  • How do people enter and depart from existing teams?

Establishing Team Processes and Preparation

The work of the Teams team, then, would be to determine what teams need to be high performance teams at the point of start up, and in so far as possible, facilitate meeting those needs. Issues to address include:

  • Preparation and delivery of a common team building/chartering experience for teams within the organization or the change program. The team preparation opportunities should be sufficiently modular to address the differing needs across the variety of teams in the organization or change program
  • Identify the teams likely to need that kind of support first and pilot.
  • Determine which organization-wide work is likely to affect the functioning of teams and integrate that work with Team+work efforts, to make sure that the work of the teams is fully integrated with other initiatives, such as performance standards, scorecards at the level of the teams, incentives for teams, performance evaluation processes for teams and team players, 360 feedback, etc.
  • Consider the amount and type of administrative support the team will need.
  • Determine if additional support is needed from the HR function

Ongoing Support Systems for Teams

High performing teams need strong linkages and support from the whole enterprise to assure that communications stay open and that the infrastructure is an enabler rather than an impediment to performance. The inclusion of virtual teams adds some unique challenges for the change effort in this area.

As a result, the Teams team should be thinking about:

  • Identifying communication deficits, both technical and interpersonal. Who needs to know what about what for work to be done effectively? What are the problems today and what might then be anticipated, given what we know about future operations? What needs to be done to close these gaps?
  • New Technology ? can newer technologies be used to connect teams across physical distance?
  • What are the unique teamwork problems caused by distance/virtual teaming both for today and the future of the organization?
  • Teams are accountable for delivery of their outcomes within a budget envelope, which means they need resource information that is clear, accessible and current. Do today's resource information systems support team accountabilities and if not, how do they need to be different?
  • How do evolving efforts in resource management, time reporting and other systems affect team efforts and how do we need to respond?

Building Individual Team Members

Team members need skills beyond team membership. Each team member will bring personal competencies and undeveloped areas to the team that will both enhance and detract from team functioning. Raising the skill levels of team members in certain key areas will improve overall performance of the team. Some individuals will need this kind of training, others will not.

The work of Teams team could include:

  • A simple skills assessment in skill areas that support effective team membership.
  • Ensure availability of specialized training that could either be incorporated into team preparation or made available to individuals in bite?sized increments.
  • Skills might include such things as planning and organizing, negotiation, feedback and straight talk, conflict resolution or even some technical training or knowledge management skills.


Since teams are not generally new to most organizations, but are likely operating in different modes across the organization, it is feasible and makes sense to test out any new ways of operating with existing or new start teams in advance of implementation. These experiments will provide insight and opportunities to fine tune teamwork thinking across the organization. If the Teams team recommends using pilots, their work could include:

  • Identification of potential pilot teams and their leader
  • Formalization of a pilots process with clear goals and evaluation criteria
  • Implementation of the process with the pilot teams including preparation, technology support and team chartering and kickoff.


Obviously, everyone has a referent for the word "team," but unfortunately, not all people have the same referent. Even though the same word is used, because of the variety of ways to apply the concept to the variety of different organizations, the names will be familiar but operating will differ. All groups will have leaders, members, communication patterns, business processes, decision processes, etc. The challenge that organizations face when they decide to support their change program with a "teams" based approach is to provide enough of a common framework and adequate support to the broad array of teams to support them in their work.