At the beginning of the 20th century, the organisational system that was based on individual effort and reward dominated the industrial landscape.

The emergence of teams can be traced back to the late 1920s and early 1930s with the Hawthorne Studies. These involved a series of research activities designed to examine what happened to a group of workers under various conditions.

After much analysis, the researchers agreed that the most significant factor was the building of a sense of group identity, a feeling of social support and cohesion that came with increased worker interaction.

Management guru Elton Mayo and one of the original researchers pointed out certain critical conditions for developing an effective work team: the manager should have a personal interest in each member's achievements, should take pride in the group, and should help the group to work together to set its own conditions. Also, the group should take pride in its own achievements and get satisfaction when outsiders show interest in their work.

Successful teams tend to have a clearly understood purpose; clear processes; exchanges of ideas and feelings that are based on mutual respect; a sense of involvement in each team member; and 100 per cent commitment in work and trust in each other.

Common problems

However, creating successful teams has had its share of difficulties. According to the Harvard Business Review, common problems that teams encounter are:

* Absence of team identity;

* Difficulty in making decisions;

* Poor communication;

* Inability to resolve conflicts;

* Lack of participation;

* Lack of creativity;

* Groupthink; and

* Ineffective leadership.

Team members must recognise their work behaviour and that of fellow team members to be able to work amicably together and celebrate the diversity of different personalities and work styles. Modern profiling tools make this possible.

Linked to the above is the need to improve communication and interpersonal skills among team members to build productive relationships. It is important for the team to understand the problems of perception and assumptions, to develop the skills of verbal and non-verbal communication and to improve their listening skills.

Whenever people work together,  conflict is bound to happen and working in teams is no exception.

When I started work in 1970, conflict at work had to be avoided as it indicated internal malfunctioning. This viewpoint evolved with time into the realisation that conflict is a natural outcome within any organisation and therefore it should be accepted.

Today, some conflict is viewed as necessary for a business to perform effectively and should be welcomed as long as it is managed properly.

Whatever the viewpoint, there is consensus that there are only five strategies for conflict resolution: domination, collaboration, compromise, avoidance and accommodation.

Knowing when to use the appropriate conflict-handling strategy is the key to successful conflict resolution.

Understanding what motivates team members and what builds team spirit lies at the heart of creating teams that work. A leader must be aware of the practical steps of team motivation and ensure that team members feel valued, are provided scope for development, have their achievements recognised and are offered appropriate challenges.

What Singaporeans want

In a recent Singapore Employee Survey, employees were asked what they wanted at work. They replied in order of rank:

1. Career or learning development opportunities

2. Recognition

3. Pay

4. Relationship with manager

5. Relationship with colleagues

Managers: ignore No. 2 — recognition — at your own peril. Many surveys consistently rank “appreciation for work well done” high up on the motivational index and well above “good wages”. Though giving praise and recognition may be difficult, remember: “A bit of perfume always clings to the hand that gives roses.”