31 March 2022

Do teams need to be both great at getting their work done and be happy? Could a team usefully be effective and unhappy?

Author: Robyn Mercer, Brave People Solutions

Here I explore the distinction between two team elements, being effective and being happy and I list what teams need to be effective and to be happy. I also provide 2 checklists to assist to identify these two components.

Our work gives us a lot of insight into how people work both as team members and as leaders, including what people do that is great. We also see a lot of great teams. Unfortunately most often, it is the nature of our work that we tend not to be assisting those well performing and high functioning teams. It is when things aren’t working as well as they could be that we are called in to support and assist to rebuild teams.

In a recent conversation discussing how well a team is going, I suggested that the team was effective but unhappy. This was a useful focus and insight for the leader as his team are experts who are incredibly diligent, dedicated and hard working. Establishing the distinction between their effectiveness and their happiness was useful to help us move forward with the project of supporting the team. That conversation is the catalyst for this article.

  • Is there a useful distinction between effectiveness and happiness when evaluating what is working or not working in a team?
  • Does this distinction provide a useful basis for establishing when and how to support team members and team leaders?

We use the research on good performance as a basis, starting from the premise that most performance challenges come from the environment not from individuals[1]. This means we look at systemic and organisational factors, as well as the behaviour of people in the team, to identify the team landscape.

Here are the essentials for an effective team and a checklist for identifying effective teams. Following these are the essentials and a checklist for identifying happy teams. It is helpful to note the difference and use this to guide your evaluation of any team you lead or work with.

Overview of the essentials for an effective team

1. Clear job roles, standards and expectations.

  • As much certainty about continuity of the work as possible. Uncertain or temporary jobs or work based on one fixed-term contract followed by another one, keeps people uncertain and does not increase performance.
  • Clarity about roles and responsibilities and those of others in the team. This facilitates team work and accountability. It is very valuable to make sure everyone knows what doing a good job looks like by having clear standards and expectations.
  • Good jobs that are well designed. These are not too narrow nor so broad as to allow each team member to know what they need to do every day and what others in the team are responsible for.
  • Good risk management, safety and business continuity. This is a big topic area and includes training people who can back-up and work across business critical roles to support service continuity and so that people can usefully go on leave.

2. Manageable Workload.

  • In the face of high workloads, assist people to understand the priority work. Recognise that there is a limit to applying the ‘doing more with less’ and ‘work smarter not harder’ approaches to work. There is a point at which there is just too much work for a person or a team to deliver on. (This isn’t against efficiencies, but there is a limit for people).
  • Service standards are clear. Despite a smaller budget and less staff, people still need to provide good service to customers/clients.

3. Systems and ways of working.

  • Systems, policies and work practices that make it easier to get the job done not which make it harder. Where it is harder than it should be to get work done, we often see difficult and poorly implemented IT systems, out of date ways of working and redundant steps and duplication in work steps.

4. Decision making

  • Ease of decision making. Slow and poor decision making, including when there are layers of people who need to check or approve work in order to get approval to proceed, limits efficiencies and frustrates everyone.

5. Supporting team and individual performance

  • Timely praise and acknowledgement for good work.
  • Support for improvement so that people learn to master their jobs and improve how they work.
  • Address poor or under performance and bad behaviour as it arises, including acknowledging the fact that other team members are taking up the slack or working in an unhappy team.

6. Communication

  • Telling people what is going on at the team, division and organisation level when it is relevant and important to do so.
  • Managing the message and taking the corporate line. Owning and managing decisions that you have to implement.
  • Efficient and well run team meetings with an agenda and follow-up on agreements.
  • Giving organisational context or explaining strategy and goals in a way that makes sense to the people in the team, the work they do and how it benefits the running of the team.

7. Conflict Management

  • Making behavioural standards clear.
  • Consistently and fairly addressing behaviour when it falls below the standard. This relates to both the work, the processes of the team and how the team works together. It is important that this be done consistently and in a timely way because it demonstrates that the standards are important.
  • Building skills so that people have the capability to tackle and resolve concerns between themselves.

8. Supporting change

  • Ensuring strong and effective change leadership including communication, consultation and involvement of staff.

9. Professional and personal development and growth.

  • Enabling learning, development and growth at work,
  • Supporting career options and career progress
  • Keeping people employable and skilled.

Checklist for an effective team

  • I know what is expected of me at work and what a good job looks like
  • I can judge when I am doing a good job and feel satisfaction in the work I do
  • Resources, work practices and systems including IT and other necessary technical support, are safe and enable me to do a good job for my customers/ clients
  • Decisions that effect my work are made in a reasonable time and are communicated to me
  • I know how well I am doing at my job and I receive recognition and praise when I do a good job
  • I feel like the organisation values me and the work that I do
  • When I make full effort, and even if at times I feel overwhelmed, I know that ultimately, I can get through the most important work in a timely way
  • Our team meetings are worthwhile, constructive and follow-up action and results come from the meetings
  • I’m clear about the big picture goals of the organisation, any proposed changes and the impact that will have on me
  • I can see that everyone in the team is working to their best and if there are issues with work or behaviour, that support is given to resolve issues
  • My team leader displays a constructive approach to change and challenges and remains overall positive about the organisation
  • Disagreements, complaints or challenges between team members and or the team leader are addressed and managed
  • I feel supported through change at work and have a reasonable say in changes that directly impact on me and my work
  • My job is challenging and I feel as if I am learning and growing in my profession/work role
  • I feel more skilled now than when I started my job
  • I feel I can put most of my energy and attention to working for our customers/clients and not on the challenges of getting the job done.

Overview of the essentials for a happy team

1. Identity

  • Identifying as a team with an overall common purpose and not as disparate groups with a different agenda to that of the rest of the team. Over time lack of unity leads to in-groups and out-groups and cliques form i.e., a small close-knit group of people who do not readily allow others to join them. No-one wants to work in a team with cliques!

2. Courtesies, care and compassion

  • Maintaining the most obvious signals of courtesy and harmony including saying hello and goodbye to the group.
  • Including all team members in invitations for relevant work and/or work social events.
  • Showing empathy and providing support.

3. A sense of feeling valued

  • Acknowledging people’s contributions, efforts and diversity.
  • Being listened to.
  • Ensuring feedback isn’t only given when something goes wrong. People are acknowledged for extra efforts, diligence, team work or great service. This builds discretionary effort towards both the work and includes providing work training and emotional or social support to others. These actions help ease the way through our working life.

4. Trustworthiness

  • Concerns, complaints or problems are listened to and addressed.
  • Delivering on commitments made by the leader or the executive.
  • Leaders who display solidarity and don’t disparage team members, colleagues and customers/clients.
  • Giving people a reasonable sense of what will happen to their job in the future and if they have a career or even ongoing work with the organisation.

Checklist for a happy team.

  • I, and the people around me, feel an affinity with the whole team
  • If I need help, I know I can approach anyone in the team and they will acknowledge me and respond as best they can
  • Even though we have personal friendships or feel more connected to some people than others at work, we include everyone in our work social interactions and events
  • I see the basic social courtesies consistently displayed towards everyone in the team
  • I don’t have to listen to people speaking rudely, or behaving in any other way that shows disrespect, to me or to the people around me
  • I don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about what others in the team are doing, or how they are behaving
  • There are no obvious favourites in the team and we value everyone across different roles and contributions.
  • I believe that my team leader and executive manager have my best interests, and the best interests of the organisation, at heart
  • I feel informed and kept in the loop on issues and believe the information provided to me by the team leader and executive manager about what is happening now and is planned for the future
  • Issues or concerns I have raised have been dealt with effectively and within a reasonable time and there are no outstanding issues
  • I feel I can put most of my energy and attention to our working for our customers/clients and not on the team dynamics and conflicts around me.

Building a positive performance culture includes the leader minimising threat

A great leader creates the environment and importantly this includes managing and minimising the threats we all feel from time to time at work. Only once this is done can harmony be the standard. A poor leader uses fear and threat (real or perceived) to give themselves more power at the expense of the members of the team and ultimately at significant cost to the organisation.

Examples are where the leader badmouths or ignores the decisions of the executive, tells the team they will ‘protect them’ from the policies and decisions of the organisation and allows or even encourages people to ignore requirements. This negativity may include emphasising uncertainty about their job, challenging people’s status and ignoring expertise and the views of team members.

Your experience?

  • What could you add to the list of the characteristics of effective teams?
  • What could you add to the list of the characteristics of happy teams?

We are keen to talk to you about your team or the challenges you face in building a great team. Call Robyn on 0408703344 or Tulsi on 0423300590 from Brave People Solutions.

[1] SixBoxes: A summary of Gilbert’s work on performance is sourced at: https://bravepeoplesolutions.com.au/do-teams-need-to-be-both-great-at-getting-their-work-done-and-be-happy-could-a-team-usefully-be-effective-and-unhappy/