In 2009, I completed my PhD research on the interactions and ways of working of practitioners carrying out different roles in the same setting. I explored how teachers, teaching assistants and speech and language therapists/pathologists navigate the tricky territory of negotiating how to do their jobs most effectively alongside each other in schools.
This research was one of the first stages of my career that made me aware of my fascination with how teams function and what’s going on behind the scenes for each individual in the team. My interviews with 53 teachers, teaching assistants and speech and language therapists helped me formulate a sense of what I thought I could see going on as factors influencing team dynamics. What’s more, my observations helped me understand how people reason and make decisions and how effectively or otherwise others in the team become aware of these processes.
Why do teams matter?
This PhD research took me into a research position focusing on the ‘health workforce’. My research then took me into working with teams who are undertaking complex health promotion initiatives, as an evaluator.
As an evaluator, I have regularly drawn from the concepts I developed during my PhD, such as the Perceptions of Professional Roles model below.
This model, as simple as it is, reminds me that every practitioner in every team (from teams of two to several thousand and so on) has a perception of their own role and the roles of others. My research showed that these perceptions were rarely identical.
Why are roles important?
My research taught me that its not just roles that are important, it is the definition of these roles and the shared understanding and acceptance of them that make the difference to the effectiveness of team and the extent to which its members enjoy being a part of it.
But why does it matter?
Well, it matters because we want to do a good job of what we’re paid to do (hopefully). And it matters because we are human beings. And so are our fellow team mates.
As the eternal student of psychology, I have gathered wisdom from many fields of psychology, and can easily draw on my own humanity, to realise that most people want to feel heard, appreciated, understood and respected. And guess what? These are the indicators of effectiveness of teams.
A team is a group of individuals working together towards the same or related aims. The existence of a team assumes that more than one person and their skillsets are required to achieve these aims.
Communication and feeling valued
One of the things that interested me the most about my research was that people assumed that other people saw their role in the same way that they did and vice versa. But the interviews proved otherwise.
The cause for the tensions, frustrations and ‘failures’ of the teams was always a breakdown or lack of communication.
A breakdown or lack of communication leads to misunderstandings, hurt feelings and can be a downward spiral into tension and conflict.
All of this points to the need to: define and agree on roles as a team and to celebrate each person’s role. There is no way to do this other than to communicate.
I love teams of two to a hundred (and beyond)!
So, why this brief voyage into the psychology of teams?
I only know of one community development related venture that is made up a team of 1. The rest are teams of two or more. An organisation is a big team. And all of the above still applies.
Teams are tricky to get right because, again, we are human. Feelings can get hurt, easily.
I have learned to observe teams and see the dynamics with compassion for all concerned. This is something that has served me enormously as an evaluator. It is a skill I have also applied to coaching teams ranging from national sports teams to school teams and small business teams.
Whatever type of team you are in, remember that the way you perceive your role and the roles of others comes through your own map of reality and your own set of filters. It is well well worth taking the time to communicate about this and other aspects of how the team operates very regularly.
Define and agree on the role of every team member, communicate regularly, and your team should flourish!
If it doesn’t there is something else at play and there may need to be some hard questions asked. I can help, keep reading.
If you would like to strengthen your team (be it a team of two or a whole organisation), I can help. By asking team members a few questions in confidential surveys and/or interviews, I can provide the entire team with an overview of what’s working and what’s not (without pointing fingers). It doesn’t take a lot to boost team morale but having someone who can see what is going on from a neutral position and communicate this with sensitivity can mean the difference between a team that is a joy to be in (which are the ones that make the biggest difference) and a collapsing team that people dread. I am here to help, and the Team Support Process that I just described is available to you wherever you are in the world. To discuss or to ask for more information, be in touch by email.
Greenstock, L. (2009) ‘Using graphic symbols’: An investigation into the experiences and attitudes of a range of practitioners using graphic symbols with children in the Foundation Stage (three to five year olds) school settings. Doctoral Thesis. De Montfort University: Leicester.