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Effective Teamwork in Challenging Times

Updated: May 11, 2022

How to overperform when most meetings are virtual.


We all know when we are working in a great team. Levels of collaboration are high, lots of interesting ideas are discussed and the end results are satisfyingly good for everybody. But what has the pandemic changed? Most team meetings are now virtual and the dynamics are not the same.

It's worthwhile looking at the four key characteristics of highly effective teams. We sometimes call them the four key team styles. There is also research that suggests that, while all four are very effective, they can be classified in a hierarchy, from the very best styles to the somewhat less effective ones that are still important to use in a team situation.*

The very best team style: Self-Actualizing

The team that ranks high in Self-Actualizing tends to approach its assigned task or tasks with a high degree of enthusiasm. Members like and encourage a lot of creativity and thinking out of the box and ideas are shared with little or no regard to hierarchy.

The next most effective team style: Humanistic

Highly humanistic teams approach group problem-solving and decision-making with a orientation on instinctively trusting the motives and ideas of their fellow members, even if these members are new and more or less unknown entities to the group. They view their team as a vehicle to help everybody in the team learn and grow professionally. This leads them to use excellent active listening skills.

Almost as important as the first two styles: Achievement

This style is characterized by a focus on achieving excellent results. Achievement-oriented teams are not perfectionists, but they do focus on achieving the best possible results with the resources available to them. They do this by setting themselves tough, but realistic goals and objectives and by making simple effective plans to reach them.

The fourth very effective style: Affiliative

Highly affiliative teams place creating loyalty amongst all team members as their highest priority. They do this by spending time in the initial stages as they get to know each other by quickly recognizing good ideas and valuable contributions made by fellow members. For them, the social dimension is as important as the work-focused results dimension. They can be slower starters than other teams, but, over the long run, they tend to get consistently better-than-average results.

Now, of course, the pandemic has turned a lot of our assumptions on their head, including how to effectively work as a team when all our meetings are virtual. Should our focus be different now? It seems we could do well to question our assumptions in this new reality.

For some time researchers have been looking at virtual teams. Their interest significantly predates the pandemic, because for many years, employees based around the globe have been meeting almost exclusively online and people have been asking themselves if their performance is as good as those teams that are able to meet in person. There seems to be evidence that virtual teams have difficulty in being as effective as in-person ones, but the jury is still out. More intriguing is some initial evidence that the four most effective team styles remain vital to a team’s success, but their relative importance may not be the same. In particular, it seems that a top-performing virtual team places most importance on the Achievement style (which is the third in our classical ranking). A quick search on line shows some solid anecdotal evidence that, by quickly getting down to business, setting objectives and strategies and then following through with simple and effective planning and controlling of activities, a virtual team will deliver consistently good results.

This recent article, published by the BBC, seems to lend weight to this shift in focus.

Does this means that in online meetings you should forget enthusiasm, creativity, encouraging the sharing of ideas and acknowledging the contributions of others? Of course not. But it does seem that, by placing a strong emphasis on good planning, organizing and execution, a virtual team which has shorter time spans for its meetings and less opportunity for the social aspects of its interaction, will achieve above-average results.

Lots of researchers are working on virtual versus in-person teams, so we are talking about a fascinating work in progress.

* This research comes from Human Synergistics® and its work with team and organizational culture profiles.

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