Recommend strategies for improvement

Where would the glorified scientists of the western world such as Newton, Einstein, and Mendeleev be without their assistants, Sir Edmund Hilary without Tenzing Norgay and Neil Armstrong without Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins. Any breakdown of a team often results in tasks never being achieved or achieved to a poorer standard. In today’s world of teamwork, inspired by the multinational companies with their multicultural workforce, desirable outcomes are achieved by using strategies that focus on involving all members and value all views.

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We see organisations and cultures adopting ideas and practices from one another to broaden understanding and improve working practices. With varied results they take the ‘good’, reject the ‘bad’ and tolerate the grey area in between. TSI often experiences an underlying clash of cultures when it comes to ways of working, the ideas of teamwork where all members contribute their skills for the overall development of the institution come into conflict with ideas aired such as a fixed hierarchical structure that often questions ‘who holds power over who in the eyes of others’.

This study will attempt to highlight and clarify current thinking with regards to teams through the literature review and indicate how they apply to TSI. The study will then go on to seek views of staff about effectiveness of teams, how teams be run more effectively at TSI and what changes if any need to be made from a management point of view. The study will focus on five main areas: he study will relate the theory of successfully running teams with what is perceived to be practised in TSI.

Recommendations on how to promote effective team-working in TSI will be presented in the concluding remarks. The Technical Studies Institute is a military college in the United Arab Emirates. The country itself has undergone considerable change since drilling of oil began in the 1950’s, along with the need for an experienced international workforce, came the need for managing such a wonderfully amalgamated multicultural workforce. Motivational strategies have in the main been financial; where in the main salaries are far higher than those offered from their home countries.

Often fear of losing such a good income or promotional opportunities indirectly affects peoples willingness of sharing good practice and ideas, as the wrong person may be credited for it, overall having a negative effect on good team-working practices. TSI has the following mission statement: ‘The mission of the Technical Studies Institute is to train and produce academically and practically competent generations of national technicians in accordance with the most developed scientific techniques to operate and maintain the various equipment of the armed forces.

‘ This has been translated in practice into an institution that prepares approximately 1500 students between 16 and 28 in achieving both internally set and external city and guilds qualifications in the fields of electrical and mechanical engineering. Students are then passed on to a specialist training department to develop their practical skills on military equipment. All lectures are conducted in English, except their requirements of Islamic and Arabic classes.

Outstanding students are offered a chance to complete an engineering degree from universities overseas such as UK, USA, Australia and some in the UAE itself (which even though have mainly lecturers from the previously mentioned countries is not considered as prestigious). The staff at TSI comprise of an interesting mix of nationalities. Only UAE nationals (‘locals’) hold military officer status. They often hold administration and management jobs with a wide range of responsibilities from the mundane to the intricacies of running an institution.

United Kingdom citizens often hold academic advisory posts, section supervisor posts (with restricted powers contributing to the function of management) and mostly lecturing posts. Sudanese, Jordanian, Syrian, Palestinian citizens (and a few from other Arabic speaking countries) are well represented, they hold lecturing posts and technician posts in the main. Pakistani and Indian citizens generally hold technician posts and some curriculum design posts. One would expect such a diverse work force would have unlimited potential in running highly effective and productive teams if managed well.

A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. They go on to clarify their definition and give us a real insight into their thinking. Small number of people – ten people are more likely than fifty to successfully work through individual, functional and hierarchical differences towards a common plan and hold themselves jointly accountable for results. Large groups will find it harder finding enough physical space and mutually convenient times to meet.

Crowd or herd behaviour becomes a problem in larger groups, taking away the intense sharing of view points needed to build a team. It is more likely that a hierarchical way of working will be noticeable, especially in setting statements of purpose and when teamwork values breakdown. Complementary skills – teams must develop the right mix of skills. Belbin (1993) did much work in showing that it is the complementary roles of diverse skills, characteristics, qualities and weaknesses that produce a successful team, not as one may expect, those only containing high-achievers.

Unfortunately it is surprising how teams are assembled primarily on personal compatibility, maybe removing the incompatible ones early-on, or secondly by using formal position in the organisation to gain team membership. This could lead to hierarchical issues, or ignore the voice of lower positioned colleagues that can contribute more as often they have their ‘ear to the ground’ and have a greater insight into actual realities of the organisation. Everard and Morris (1990, p. 172) define teamwork as A team is a group of people that can effectively tackle any task which it has been set up to do….

The contribution drawn from each member is of the highest possible quality, and is one which could not have been called into play other than in the context of a supportive team. Personal learning and development are often a consequence of teams. Teams that focus on performance quickly notice skill gaps, and quickly remedy this by identifying development needs. A healthy fear of failure is a consequence of a teams shared commitment, rather than unproductive feelings of insecurity. Each team member’s sense of individual accountability, ‘not to let the team down’ encourages learning.

This opportunity for personal growth becomes the individual’s reward for being part of the team. West-Burnham (1992, p. 119) highlights that teams need to be nurtured and developed, There is a substantial gap between labelling a group a team and creating an effective work team which is able to function in a total quality environment. Too often teams are established and expected to operate simply by virtue of having delegated tasks. Little consideration is given to the way in which the team functions.

Committed to a common purpose and performance goals – the best teams invest a tremendous amount of time exploring, shaping and agreeing on a purpose that belongs to them both collectively and individually. In fact, in real terms, they never stop this ‘purposing’ activity because of its value in clarifying implications for members. Team purposes give teams an identity. This identity keeps conflict constructive in the main by providing a meaningful standard to resolve differences between individual’s interest and the interest of the team.

Individuals will put the team first ahead of their own interests otherwise the team will break apart (Katzenbach and Smith (1993)). Committed to a common approach – teams need to invest time to establish how they will work together to accomplish their purpose. Every team member must do equivalent amounts of work beyond commenting, reviewing and deciding. Team members must agree on who will do particular jobs, by when, what skills need to be developed, how the group will make and modify decisions to get the job done. In doing this, they are implementing a common approach.

If jobs are unequally split, some members will have little to do outside of meetings, listening to reports of what work has gone on outside the group, changes the dynamics from a team to a hierarchical group where ‘workers are accountable to leaders’. Socialising amongst team members is probably one of the most underestimated tools that a manager has in producing high performing teams. It is here that members develop mutual trust, and their own unique way of energising and supporting one another, often focussing individuals more on tasks at hand. It is a non-threatening environment which only aids team building and motivation.

It has been noted that in a social settings, or joint sporting activities, the informal, comfortable setting has actually solved many work related problems (Katzenbach and Smith (1993)). Schein (1988) and Bell (1992) promote the idea that teams are about socialising and developing individual members as well as meeting task objectives. Nias et al. (1989) observed that effective teamwork, including the open and good-humoured discussion of classroom successes and failures, became possible only when colleagues already liked each other on a personal level.

Mutual accountability – If the leader is accountable, then why should members work so hard, if the team is accountable as a whole, then individuals will work hard for the credit. A culture of publicly blaming each other will be avoided at all costs, and weaknesses will be confined to group member’s knowledge only. Commitment – what sets apart high performance teams is the degree of commitment towards one another. Each member will genuinely help other members to achieve both personal and professional goals (Katzenbach and Smith (1993, p. 65)). Such commitments go beyond company activities and often beyond the life of the team itself.

Such teams show qualities such as: quality work, mutual trust, taking risks on people, giving talent the chance to grow and fail, being there for one another and having a good time (Katzenbach and Smith (1993, p. 76)). Conflict in teams. O’Neill (1997) offers the following definition for teams suggesting conflict is an essential part of the process for a successful team, ‘A team is a small group of people who recognise the need for constructive conflict when working together in order for them to make, implement and support workable decisions.

Stephenson (1985, p. 105) supports this idea by stating conflict is present in all organisations and is the ‘inevitable outcome of interdependence linked with the scarcity of resources’. More often we see different interest groups in schools and colleges being encouraged to compete for limited resources causing more conflict. Stephenson (1985, p. 105) goes on to say that conflict can be constructive if used well, and destructive if conflict is ignored or by-passed. Dalin and Rolff (1993, p. 28) talks about constructive conflicts,

‘Instead of avoiding conflicts, the IDP (a structured school improvement programme throughout northern Europe) ‘uses’ conflicts as opportunities for understanding the reality of the school, for raising key issues related to participants’ perceptions of reality, and for exploring ways in which energy ‘stored’ in conflicts can be released for the benefit of the school. Conflicts offer opportunities for learning because they often provide a chance for clarifying issues, for putting unresolved issues on the table and for helping to understand another point of view’.