How to establish a collaborative environment among teams

by Max Meng | March 4, 2009

In the workplace, organizations in many countries around the world are relying more and more on work teams and see them as a valuable asset to accomplish goals and objectives. I recently read an article by Greg Burns entitled “The Secrets of Team Facilitation” from Training & Development (Alexandria: Jun 1995. Vol. 49, Iss. 6; pg. 46). Burns theorizes that the common denominator for effective work teams is high-quality facilitation. He says that facilitation focuses mainly on group processes and he emphasizes that trained facilitators need to have competency in two broad areas: diagnostic skills and intervention skills. Expert facilitators should have a mastery of eight principles: 1) group development; 2) goals; 3) roles; 4) communication; 5) meeting management; 6) decision making; 7) problem solving; and 8) conflict management.

I found several other points of particular interest, one of which was where Burns emphasizes goals among the group members need to be “specific, easily understood, and measurable”. For example, he described improving customer service is a journey, not a goal. A number of company’s I worked with make this mistake. He goes on to say: “to reduce customer-complaint calls by 50 percent,” is a measurable goal that a work team can pursue. I have found this to be a very important principle I advise CEOs whom I work with. That is easier said than done.

Another principle Burns dealt with was how to provide effective communication among team members. He described the group dynamics of a work team. One member of the team usually emerges as a formal or informal facilitator, who plays a key role in analyzing interruptions which may prevent the team from achieving its goals and objectives. I thought it was an insightful description of power dynamics.

According to Burns, research indicates people feel free to interrupt others they perceive as lower than themselves in rank, status, or power. The facilitator needs to provide equal participation among its members so that there is not persistent interruption which may cause disempowerment resulting in a fight or withdraw from cooperation.

When I facilitate group discussions in companies or during my raining sessions, I try to be sensitive to this power dynamics. Before I begin a discussion I restate the goal and objectives and briefly establish ground rules. This helps formalize my role as a facilitator and establish a collaborative environment.