The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Why Team Time Is Good for the Organization

Colleagues from various departments at University of Missouri-Kansas City participated as a group in a recent CUPA-HR virtual workshop

What if I told you that 82 = 392? It’s not fuzzy math, I promise! For a recent CUPA-HR virtual workshop, we had 82 registrations, which resulted in 392 individual attendees — which tells us that most attendees participated in a group setting.

Learning and working in teams has many advantages, including helping individuals develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills and helping to increase productivity. Team members often work together to clarify concepts, solve problems and apply concrete solutions. In the 2015 Harvard Business Review article “Why Organizations Don’t Learn,” the authors explained that when team members’ familiarity with one another increased, so did quality and productivity.

The authors state: “… [W]e’ve found that working repeatedly with the same people can enhance coordination, optimize the use of valuable expertise residing within a group, speed the response to new circumstances and improve how people combine their knowledge to solve problems effectively.”

The Matrixed Approach to Working in Teams
According to Gallup’s recent State of the American Workplace report, 84 percent of employees are matrixed to some extent (a matrixed environment is one in which employees work across multiple teams and with team members who may report to different managers). For higher ed, this team approach can help cut across departmental and organizational lines to create greater connectivity among employees.

Matrixed teamwork also allows employees to learn from and understand roles that are directly or indirectly related to their own, resulting in higher levels of creativity, problem solving and productivity. And this kind of teamwork fosters an inclusive and democratic environment, enabling team members to build stronger relationships and to hold one another accountable.

To Team or Not to Team?
Team time is essential when a single goal can be realized by multiple groups (this goes for multiple goals that can be realized by multiple groups, too) and when talents from several groups can converge to solve a problem more effectively and more efficiently. Soliciting support from peers across your organization to resolve a matter or address a challenge or think up the next great idea can help everyone involved see the issue from a different perspective and how the issue may be perceived from another campus area.

And remember, in a good team setting, making mistakes, experiencing failures and embracing the unimaginable to solve a problem are accepted and needed.

Other Considerations for Team Building
Quiet Team Members:
How can we effectively engage the quiet team members? One example is restructuring how the team meets. For example, Amazon starts every meeting in total silence. Before discussions begin, everyone is asked to read the meeting memo. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos began this strategy not only as a way to ensure that everyone knows and has had time to reflect on the meeting’s intent, but also as a way to ensure that everyone’s attention is focused on the present issues. This approach gives the introverts in the room time to formulate their thoughts beforehand and encourages the extroverts to listen and be receptive to others’ perspectives.

Smaller Institutions:
If you work in a small institution and/or you’re a one-person HR shop, you may find it difficult to form cross-functional teams. The easiest way to address this challenge is to be proactive. For example, maybe you’d like to have some discussion around onboarding new faculty and staff. In this instance, you could invite individuals from different hiring departments to come together to brainstorm what onboarding should accomplish, who should be involved in onboarding a new employee and what the onboarding process might look like in your organization.

How to Help a Team Get to Great
While working and learning in teams has many advantages, not all teams are great. Some click and are cohesive from the get-go; others, not so much. Here are some ways to help any team start off on the right foot and keep making progress:

  • Make sure everyone on the team understands the goal(s) of the team’s work and each person’s role.
  • Gauge the team norms and individual personalities, and structure the team in a way that brings forward each team member’s indispensable talents.
  • Have a good communication plan in place.
  • Know when to allow conflict and when to deescalate it.

Making use of teamwork has many advantages, both to the individual team members and to the organization as a whole. So, next time you’re “stuck” on a problem or a challenge, or just want a fresh perspective, pull in some colleagues for some good old-fashioned teamwork!

Looking for a great way to pull your team together for some learning and dialogue around what it takes to be a strategic, forward-thinking higher ed HR professional? Join us on November 30 for the CUPA-HR virtual workshop, “Today’s HR Practitioner and the Toolkit of a Champion.” Your entire team can attend for just $95!

Additional Resources
6 Steps to Team Problem-Solving From Start to Finish

Building HR Competencies (and Solving Problems) Through Group Think

CUPA-HR Knowledge Center Toolkits related to employee relations and leadership and strategy