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Establishing Team Memberships

By: Deborah Mackin


A team can comprise a complete working unit (functional teams) or can include people from throughout the organization, including hourly staff and top management.

Whenever possible, it is best to seek volunteers for team members. People required to be on teams often lack commitment to the team process and act to undermine the team’s progress.
The critical issue that surfaces with team membership is inclusion and exclusion—who is or isn’t on a team. Members on teams are often left behind to “do the real work” and resentment grows.

When in doubt, it is better to include people on teams than to exclude them.

If there are no volunteers or staff to fill a vacancy, the team must look for another solution. It is not beneficial to leave positions vacant for long periods of time, unless team members agree to do so.
There are favorable and unfavorable times to introduce new members on a team. Generally, a team that is experiencing problems or has suddenly entered into a new phase of development will not readily welcome a new member; if problems exist, members may use the new member to avoid confronting them.

The larger the percentage of new members on an existing team, the more resistance there will be to their inclusion. For best team functioning, a minimal amount of training should be required of all team members in areas such as interpersonal skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills.

Determining Optimal Team Size
If the team’s goals and tasks are complex and demand considerable skill, small teams (from six to twelve members) are most effective. If tasks are relatively simple and redundant, teams can be sufficiently large to provide something meaningful to manage. If the team is responsible for a task requiring a lot of technological know-how, the team size should be large enough to include people who can perform the job, as well as those who can manage—and even design—the product (a cross-functional team).
The decision about team size must be based in part on how willing members are to help the team function smoothly. Members of a large team (between 15 and 25 members) have to be mature enough not to speak on every issue and be willing to delegate certain tasks to subgroups.

Orienting New Members
Orientation of new members is the responsibility of the team, not the new member.

To shorten the start-up time for a new member, make sure he or she is properly oriented to the team, its members, and its work to date. Orientation should occur within 30 days of placement on a team and should include:
• An overview of training specific to that team.
• A review of the team’s history and its purpose in forming.
• A review of team minutes, with an emphasis on decisions made to date.
• The sharing of all pertinent information and data.
• A discussion of notes and responsibilities agreed to by the team.

One way to orient new members is to have them interview three or four people on the team for specific information. Another option is to have the new member work one on one with a senior team member.

Using Member Substitutions
A substitute is a person who sits in for a team member when he or she is unable to attend a meeting. Substitutes are used when members sit on several teams and have occasional scheduling conflicts.

Each team decides when and where substitutes are appropriate. Generally, substitution should be voluntary, and equality and fairness of opportunity should be taken into consideration in choosing substitutes. Substitutes should receive an agenda and an update on items to be discussed. Implementing a “buddy” system also helps to keep members and substitutes current about team projects. Each team member is a buddy to another team member and is responsible for collecting materials and informing the member of any decisions made in his or her absence.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from The Team Building Tool Kit by Deborah Mackin. Copyright 2007 (Second Edition), Deborah Mackin. Published by AMACOM. For more information, www.amacombooks.org

About the Author(s)

Deborah Mackin is president of New Directions Management Services which specializes in training for team building, total quality management, customer service, and supervisory skills.