Working in a team is more complicated than it might seem. People with different backgrounds, views on life, cultures, and religions come together in one group, thus it is not surprising that in many cases clashes and miscommunication can slow down the work. Conflicts within a team can complicate work and decrease its’ quality. But, despite all the problems that can arise in a process of teamwork, in many cases work in groups is more efficient than individual one. Therefore, in order to benefit from such cooperation people have to understand the rules of teamwork and adhere to some common regulations. This paper provides an introduction to some ground rules that should be established within a team and on the basis of these rules introduces an action plan that could be implemented for the efficiency of a virtual team.
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The team is formed of very different people. These differences can be as deep as cultural and religious, or they may be found in the types and quality of knowledge of each team member. In any case, an individual comes with his or her own values, norms, beliefs, and understanding of the way in which work has to be completed. For efficient cooperation, the group has to have its’ own understanding of the work and the way it has to be done. Of course, it is impossible to fit the needs and interests of each member into one working mode. Therefore, a group has to come up with the general rules and norms that will be same for each team member throughout the whole working process.
The best way to create norms for teamwork is within the team and by team members. If someone creates norms, they might not be accepted by everyone, or will not be perceived as equal treatment of all team members (Heathfield, 2014). In order for the norms to be accepted by each team member, everyone should be involved in their creation. There are different ways of creating norms within a team: either the whole team sits together and brainstorms or the team breaks into groups that discuss norms, and then the results are announced and agreed upon within the larger group (Karten, 2003). The main task is to keep everyone involved in the process, so each team member feels responsible for the result. When the whole list of norms is comprised, it should be reviewed and discussed by the team members, as they either might see some contradictions between a couple of rules, or come up with something new, which was missed on the previous stage. Lastly, when the final list is ready, it should be put somewhere visible. From time to time the group will have a need to return to the list of norms and remind each other what they have agreed upon (Karten, 2003).
These norms regulate how people communicate (or don’t communicate) within the team. Quite often the content of a discussion is lost because of the discussion quality. When people are not listened to they are not interested in speaking up. There are numerous communicational mistakes that can be avoided by setting some simple norms of communication.
Listening to others. Quite often people who like to talk and who know the subject enjoy listening to himself or herself than listening others. But working in a group is all about communication. And listening to the ideas of other people and hearing them present the basis of group work. If “listening to others” is not set as a group norm, then at some point people will either switch to individual work or be offended that others don’t take into consideration their opinions (Settle-Murphy, n.d.). Only by listening to one another people will be able to come up with a result, which could be called “group work”.
Letting everyone speak. Despite differences, each group member has something to add to the common work. This could be knowledge, different point of view or experience in the field. Therefore, each group member should be encouraged to express opinions. Not everyone will be eager to speak up, but each group member will have something to say because otherwise, they wouldn’t become members of this group. This norm is closely related to the previous one, as people can speak when someone listens to them.
Asking questions. Each person perceives the world through his or her own prism of opinions, values, and beliefs. Therefore, group members may not understand some notions or tasks in the same way. Moreover, lack of knowledge and experience may lead to limited comprehension. People within the group should understand that it is better to ask and clarify an issue than to do wrong according to own understanding. It is essential to realize that there is neither harm nor shame in asking questions. Much more harm can be done if questions are not asked.
Reacting to ideas, not personalities. This is a very complicated norm, as it is hard to separate work and personal attitudes. There are cases when ideas are rejected only because of the person who proposes them. And, on the contrary, ideas that come from a person with high level of authority might not be critically analyzed. While working in the group it is important to understand that common good (group work and results of this work) is more important than personal issues. The team should not suffer if some of its members have issues. Of course, it is hard to put emotions aside, but such norm of communication will be very helpful in the process of teamwork.
Controlling emotions. This norm is to some extend related to the previous one. But it covers not only the issue of leaving personal emotions aside but also the danger of involving emotional factor in the working process. While working in a group people can get over-excited, or discussions can become too heated. Of course, communication should not be cold and mechanical, thus warmth in relationships is appreciated. But emotions, if they are getting too strong, can stand in the way of doing work, as well as in the way of proper communication between group members.
Communication is extremely important in the process of group work, but it is not the only element that matters. The group performance also depends on the task norms chosen within the group. This part of the research reviews five task norms, which are essential for achieving high-quality results.
Setting deadlines. This is a simple but essential norm for effective cooperation. Each piece of work should be done in a definite period of time within the overall project timing. Without strict deadline definition group members might put some tasks for later, which will harm the overall result.
Respecting deadlines. Set deadlines work only when all group members respect them. Otherwise, the project progress will suffer significantly. If one of the group members understands that s/he will not be able to complete the task on time, the least that can be done is warning in advance. In this case, the deadline could either be extended or other group members would join and help.
Keep everyone updated. Each member of the group seldom works on all the tasks. More often they are allocated in accordance with interests, availability, knowledge, etc. Still, while breaking work in pieces, each group member should understand the overall progress of the project, as well as see that other group members are contributing (Settle-Murphy, n.d.). Therefore, updates are essential for effective communication within a group.
Allocate tasks equally. Group members can have a different level of knowledge, different backgrounds, and expertise in different spheres. Therefore, all these factors should be taken into account while allocating tasks. At the same time, all members of the group should get approximately equal amounts of work. Otherwise, there might be misunderstandings and dissatisfaction with people who have fewer tasks.
Decisions should be made together. Although this rule is the last one, it might be the most important of all. Working in a group means that all team members are equally responsible for its’ work, thus should be involved in the process of decision-making. If a decision is made by one or a couple of group members, they should still present it to everyone else and get a confirmation. Otherwise, the group might not be ready to take the responsibility for the consequences.
The first step in the process of setting norms is starting a discussion. This discussion will already present a general view of team dynamics and problems the group can expect in the course of work. Secondly, after discussion, a set of rules should be formulated and agreed upon. These rules should get a written confirmation (aka signature) of each group member. Each team member should have a copy of these rules, as well as they should be stored online for easy access. In the course of work, if someone notices that norms are not followed, s/he will have a right to remind other group members of them and bring some order to the group work. This possibility to access the norms at any time and present them to the group should also be fixed as one of the norms.
Heathfield, S.M. (2014). How to Develop Group Norms: Step-by-Step
Karten, N. (2003). Creating Team Norms. TechWell Corp
Settle-Murphy, N. (n.d.).Untangle your Virtual Team with 10 Most-Needed Norms