Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 57 – Team Work

This month we have a quick look at what makes a good team, and how to make that team “work”.

In this issue we will look at:
• Independent & Interdependent Teams
• Leading the team
• Temps, Contractors & On-hire staff
• Stepping into an existing team
• OpaL’s: Going it alone?
• Job Opportunities
• A Thought to ponder

Independent & Interdependent Teams
Team – the word conjures up images of a cohesive unit of people intent on working towards the same set of targets and goals. But how true is this in most organisations today, and what can we do to make sure that “teams” we are working in, are actually working together?

Essentially there are two types of teams, Independent and Interdependent teams. An interdependent team comprises a group of people who cannot complete their part of the assigned task without the assistance of the entire team. A good example of this kind of team is a sports team. One person may score an individual goal, but it is the team who “wins”. Or consider a library team. We have people who purchase/acquire the books, without books to catalogue the cataloguing team will be twiddling their thumbs, and without books to shelve and borrow, there is no point in opening the library. So you can imagine what would happen if the person who is supposed to be sourcing material for the collection spends all day on the net doing “research”, or talking on the phone, yes they may look busy but they are not doing what they should be.

An independent team of people, on the other hand comprises individual success, which impacts on the team’s success. For example, keeping with the sporting analogy for just a moment – take a tennis tournament. Each team is made up of individual players, who have the opportunity to win or lose their matches. Their individual scores are then tallied at the end, which will then determine which team of individuals wins the group prize. Or consider a team of sales reps. Each individual has a target that they must reach. Together the monthly sales figures determine the state of the organisation as a whole.

Leading the team:
It can be bad enough starting a new position with a new organisation without having to take on a leadership role at the same time. As a contract employee with IEA (or any other agency for that matter) you may be asked to do exactly that. But how do you cope with such a responsibility?

Firstly, IEA would not ask you do undertake a role that we did not think you could handle. However, there is a difference between confidence and arrogance. We can be confident in our abilities and walk into a new organisation, meet people for the first time and know that you have the skills and demeanour to help this team of people move onwards. It shows in the way that you smile, speak, shake hands and ask the right kinds of questions.

An arrogant leader on the other hand, tells “this is how it’s going to be”. Rest assured I am not suggesting for a minute that anyone is arrogant, but I am sure you can tell me about people who walk in and decide to change everything overnight. It happens, it’s also true that teams can become fractured very quickly as a result of this kind of action.

So if you ever find yourself in a position of authority, here are a few things to consider:

• Create the right atmosphere. Teams cannot work in a vacuum, nor can they work in an atmosphere of dictatorship and fear of failure.  Ask the right questions, but then – listen to the answers that you receive.
• You cannot force anyone to change, you can only change your own behaviour.
• Have vision.  Be clear about what it is you are hoping to achieve, and convey this to the team at all times.  If the priorities change it is vital that you tell the entire team, not just a select few.
• Establish common ground.  Your team should be pulling in the same direction.  Whilst team members will have different ideas and opinions it is important that everyone knows where the other people are “coming from”.
• Have the correct operational framework.  Make sure that the methods of communication fit the team and the work being done.
• Take the time to create the team.  Good teams don’t happen overnight.  Trust has to be established and relationships formed before the team can move forward as a unit.
• Be open to change and differing opinions.  After all, who is to say that the way something has always been done is the correct way of doing something.  Be willing to say I was wrong.
• Talk vs Action: Make sure that you don’t spend all your time talking.  You will still need to get the work done.  If you do your job properly you will know the best people to take the project/work forward.  But make sure this responsibility is shared otherwise some people will resent and begin to undermine your efforts and others will assume the “dictatorship” approach. 
• Allow job movement and sharing of tasks.  This allows everyone a chance to grow and to develop.  It also means that people can join or leave the group without causing too many stresses or strains on the rest of the team.
• For a team to be effective, certain rules and conditions should be in place first. When teams fail, staff turnover is likely to be high, morale will plummet and those who are left will feel they are being asked to do more with less…again.

Temps, Contractors & On-hire Staff:
If you are responsible for looking after a group of people, then it us up to you to ensure that those people who for one reason or another are only with you for a short period of time enhance the dynamics of your team. They are not your “traditional employee” but are those people who have been hired on a temporary or contract basis to fulfil a particular role within your organisation. 

It has been said by numerous contract staff that they have felt that they do not belong to the organisation for whom they are working.  They are left out of vital meetings or hear about vital decisions, staff changes, changes to working conditions and so on, in general conversations with other people, or even worse, as people are walking past them.

Imagine what it would be like if you were the person on contract. Vital decisions were being discussed, decisions will be made and they will have a direct impact on the way that you do your work, or if you are going to be working there at all.  How motivated are you going to be? How much work are you going to get done this afternoon? How soon are you going to be making a call to your employment agency asking if there are any other jobs going?

Of course a lot depends on the length of the contract and the job that you are being asked to do. But if it impacts on the work the contractor is expected to undertake, then please let them know.

For example, if your regular records officer is on holiday and you have asked an employment agency to supply you with a replacement, how successful is that person going to be if they are not told when staff have left or moved places, positions or departments? If your internal telephone directories are out of date, or your policies and procedures haven’t been written down simply because “everyone” knows.  Whilst this may not seem like vital information to you and the rest of your team, it is vital if the “replacement” person is to feel that they are part of the team, and able to do the job that they were hired to do.

Stepping into an existing team:
As with the leadership role as discussed above, stepping into an existing team anywhere on the corporate ladder can be a difficult period for you. It is important to remember that like a leadership role, you too will be expected to be confident in the skills and abilities that you have. You also have to have a whole slew of interpersonal skills that will be called upon in a very real and immediate way.

Establish your credentials, but don’t boast about the clients you have worked for in the past. Nor should you haughtily insist their way was better. Acknowledge that every organisation is different, yes the systems and processes may look similar, but the team dynamics can be the major factor of difference.
Do not be afraid to ask. See previous point. Every organisation will do something differently, so adaptation is essential, but knowledge is more important.

OPaL’s: Going it alone:
The One Person Librarian has to be a little more creative when forming his or her own team structure, as in most cases, the librarian does not have any immediate co-workers to call upon.  However, libraries do not exist in a vacuum.  Reporting structures, and its clients exist within the larger organisational framework, and it is from these groups that “loose” teams can be formed. 

Gaining support for projects is always difficult when you are a lone voice within an organisation, however regular bulletins, newsletters, and meetings with management will generate interest.  Have regular open days, and promote the Library and Information Week to your organisation.  Running a library is a constant marketing and PR exercise, especially around Budget time, and having enthusiastic supporters on your “team” can make the difference between survival or not.

As a part of the broader library and information community, it is good to remember that there is always a network of people to whom you can turn if you need assistance with a particular answer to a question.  For instance, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) have numerous groups, forums and meetings that you can join or attend.  The West Australian Information Network (WAIN) is an e-list designed to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between people.  If you would like details on how to join this group, e-mail and we will gladly pass on the joining instructions.

A Thought to Ponder
“Individually we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean”
Ryunosuke Satoro