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Team performance: basic competencies

Meta-analyses indicate that a team's "person composition" predicts its performance. Teams may thus be viewed as performance units whose summed motivations, ways of thinking and attitudes predict their performance. In addition to the whole team, it is useful to examine each member's contribution to the team effort. The notion of teams as units links them as elements of the organization's strategic competence.

Meta-analyses on the relationship between team members' personalities and team performance (Bell, 2007; Prewett et al., 2009) raise two broad factors as predicting output across a wide spectrum of teams. Team members' task orientation reiterates the results from meta-analyses on individuals' work success. The second predictor of team performance, collaboration however does not predict individuals' traditionally measured success at work. An equally noteworthy finding is that extraversion does not predict team efficiency despite its predicting individuals' success in leadership and influencing jobs.

In addition to behavioral competencies driven by personality traits and motivations, interest has grown particularly in team information processing. As consequence to the growth of knowledge work and datacentric organizations teams have been viewed as information processors. Woolley and colleagues published in Science (Woolley et al., 2010) a methodology for measuring collective intelligence in groups of people. In the almost two hundred work groups collected from random individuals the researchers' measure on the c factor predicted work group problem solving better than traditional general intelligence (g factor). In their study of almost one hundred teams, Aggarwal and colleagues demonstrated that cognitive style diversity predicted teams' collective intelligence and learning ability (Aggarwal et al., 2019). In all, both the behavioral performance of teams and performance in information processing, ie., planning and problem solving are built on unique ingredients which should be given a closer look.

The wide spectrum of teams

Organizations incorporate teams with very widely different task contents. Frequent examples include leadership teams, production teams, service teams as well as project teams. Less frequent examples include steering and advisory groups and different teams whose action is initiated on an ad hoc basis such as surgical teams in hospitals. The wide spectrum of teams is further accentuated by their functioning increasingly in virtual settings.

Although the meta-analyses are able to identify two broad personality factors that predict efficiency across a wide array of teams, mediating factors were also found. For example, the more the team tasks require interaction amongst team members, the more predictive personality factors are. In other words, the influence of personality factors on efficiency materializes in interaction. Another important research finding which remains tentative because of the small amount of data is that the predictive power of personality factors varies according to the team's task content. For example, task orientation predicts performance better in performing than creative teams.

As a whole, the meta-analyses seem to indicate that task orientation and collaboration (but not extraversion) are the necessary ingredients in a team. It could even be said that without one the team's activities are not more than performing isolated tasks without collaboration or, multifarious social interaction without the effort of fulfilling task goals. In summary, teams have to incorporate both a focus on task completion as well as a genuine desire to do things together. Examination of teams begins with the question whether a sufficient amount of both elements is found in the team and what is their mutual balance.

However, the wide spectrum of teams requires more research to answer the question whether a third or fourth ingredient, for example concerning the ways of information processing, is needed beyond the two necessary elements. For example, would would be a good balance between analytic and intuitive thinking. Similarly, more data is needed on the differences in emphasis: eg., what is important in performing vs. planning vs. creative teams.

General and specific competencies

The figure below displays a set of general and specific competencies driven by people's motives, ways of thinking and attitudes. The competencies enable description of both the team and its individual members: what competency or performance potentials and deficits are found in the team and what is each member's contribution to them.

General & specific competencies

General & specific competencies
Quality vs. results orientation

Perhaps the most commonly occurring competency relates to the balance between quality vs. results orientation in turning out products and services. In some teams competency means turning out highly finished and faultless products or services. In other teams competence concerns the ability to produce high volumes of products or services. The strength of these two very different objectives, particularly the balance between them is important. Equally important is that the balance be aligned with the organization's strategic agenda and the genuine needs of clients.

Quality and results orientations are both highly socially desirable. Often the official leadership philosophy presents both as core values of the organization. However, critical and realistic examination of quality vs. results seeking can reveal the team's less obvious operational principles and changes needed in them. Tilts in either direction can have serious undesirable consequences such as maximizing results at the expense of quality or producing costly but needless overquality.

Existing vs. new processes

In addition to quality vs. results seeking, an equally widely occurring behavior pattern concerns information processing that is, the team's emphasis on existing processes vs. new processes in its planning and problem solving. Implementing existing processes in planning and problem solving means a fact-based way of approaching things, focused, concrete perception and production of rational, standard solutions. Implementation of existing processes is considered to be a competency in operative jobs and in functions with standard form processes such as in administration, maintenance and security.

The creation of new processes means approaching things by seeking for new ideas, perceiving with an abstract and broad, beyond the visible extending scope as well as production of solutions addressing the unique features of situations. Creation of new processes is considered a competency in creativity requiring functions such as in R & D, marketing and strategic planning.

Caution vs. risk-taking

Cautious vs. risk-taking decision making and implementation is the third broad-based dimension pair distinguishing action patterns widely across teams. Cautious, double-checking and risk-minimizing, but time consuming style is competence in teams that work with structurally complex issues or topics requiring an extensive information base, assessment or due preparation before decisions. Cautious action is particularly important when the team's decisions involve questions pertaining to life, health or major economic values.

Quick, risk-taking and unhesitating style of making decisions and implementing things counts also as a competency for some teams. When the team tasks include structurally simple issues, clear-cut goals and the team operates in a competitive environment, the risk-taking and quick-tempoed work style certainly represent competence. The specific competencies are narrower in content but concern a wide array of teams. Marketing, sales, communication, service provision and negotiation are important competencies for many teams.

Inventory of the team's competency potentials

In addition to single dimensions it is possible to perform a comprehensive and detailed inventory covering fourteen basic competencies. The measurement of team members' competency drivers - motives, ways of thinking and attitudes - gives a prediction of the team's performance potentials and deficits. In addition to such team-level competence or performance potentials it is also possible to step down from the team level onto examination of individual members' contribution to the team's performance.

The measurement of competency drivers predicting performance potentials can be compared to the competence CURRENTLY realized in the team. This is done by asking the team members/external parties to perform an appraisal using a specific appraisal form, see later. Similarly, the team's DESIRED competencies may be performed through calculating all team members' average appraisals for the comparison. That is, sometimes changes in the work team's environment may pose new competency challenges against which the previous self-appraisals and measurements can be compared.

Translating competencies into business language

The coach translates basic competencies, versed in general language, into the business or substantive language of each team. For example, the competency ”Strong external display”, driven by the inspiration motive (is), means marketing, allround promotion and display setting with the purpose of influencing the audience. Or, ”Idea-oriented approach”, driven by idea-orientation (or), in turn implies to content production and product development.

The translation of basic competencies into the field’s substantive language links the basic competencies seamlessly to the team’s operations. Of course the coach with HR background cannot have detailed knowledge of all fields and it makes always sense to converse upon translation issues with those responsible for business operations. The more specifically the team's business or substance-related challenges can be defined, the more pertinent light is shed over the importance of single basic competencies. For example, above average outer display is required from a sales team to begin with, while an average level is wholly sufficient for a production team. Specific business challenges can also vary within a branch or operational field which means that it is important to identify the team's relevant business or substance-related competence challenges beforehand the development program.

The team's fourteen current or desired basic competencies can be appraised with the "Group basic competencies" appraisal tool in PDF form. The appraisal results can be directly compared to the measurement results derived from the standardized WOPI questionnaire. The following presents some main findings from the inventories of competency potentials and deficits in three organizations.

Three cases

HR team in a listed company attained an average score on empathy clearly exceeding that in the general population reference norms. In other words, the team is expected to provide active ADVISORY, guidance and support to others, something seen as the most important competency expected from the HR function.

A comparison of competency potentials between HR teams in two listed corporations indicated that one team PERCEIVED its information environment with a significantly wider scope than the other team. The strategy of both companies was to claim their success opportunities in the disrupting information technology. The wider perceiving team has clearly better odds at planning and delivering its guidance services in the changing information world.

Competence deficit is in turn implied in the leadership team of a manufacturing plant displaying an extreme tilt toward fact-based APPROACH in its planning and problem solving. Although seeking new ideas is obviously not viewed a core competency in manufacturing, such a pronounced emphasis on facts tends to almost exclude any new ideas from appearing in the leadership team's planning and problem solving.

Teams = objects of identification

The new employee generations identify much stronger with their own team than the organization toward which people may remain virtually indifferent. Viewing teams as collective actors helps in building a team identity which to identify with. Emphasis on collective goals and cooperation that both obligate and inspire team members works to building team spirit. An appropriate amount of competition with the own team and other teams adds incentives to the joint effort and spirit building.

Looking at teams as collective actors opens the possibility for creation of team spirit. Although one must be wary of cheap and easy parallels, the idea of team spirit may be loaned from the world of sports. The goal of sports teams is scoring points through joint collaboration of all players. In addition to the actual scorer, every team member feels genuine joy as the team scores a point. All team members share the motivation and engagement in developing one's own competence for the good of the team. The feeling of unity ("we are one") and pitching in for the team are a natural ingredient in the ethos of sports teams.

Strategic integration

Team-centric organizations and self-managed teams have raised teams into a more important position than before. The unit view builds strategic standing for teams as places where organizations implement their core business competencies. Obviously it must be kept in mind that autonomy always carries the risk of dissolution, of teams operating without appropriate strategic coordination. To minimize the risk, but most of all for strengthening leadership, particular attention must be paid to aligning teams with the strategy. It is possible to come up with a strategic position chart with teams as implementers of the organization's core business competencies. Finally, the unit-like, to-strategy-coordinated teams can finally extend the much talked strategic direction to the entire personnel.

Aggarwal, I., Woolley, A.W., Chabris, C.S., & Malone, T.W. (2019). The impact of cognitive style diversity on implicit learning in teams. Frontiers in psychology, 07, February.
Bell, S.T. (2007). Deep-level composition variables as predictors of team performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 595-615.
Prewett, M. S., Walvoord, A. A. G., Stilson, F. R. B., Rossi, M. E., & Brannick, M. T. (2009). The team personality-team performance relationship revisited: The impact of criterion choice, pattern of workflow, and method of aggregation. Human Performance, 22(4): 273-296.
Woolley, A.W., Chabris, c.f., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T.W. (2010). Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science, 330, 686-688.


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