Dr. Tom Mason and Tuesday Strong (photos provided)

Labor force problems will remain severe, and unmet labor needs can stifle growth. The inevitably higher costs of talent require new emphasis on making teams much more effective. Fortunately, there are ways to do this, and we need not wait for artificial intelligence and other future technologies.

According to the Institute of Supply Management, wages have risen, but not faster than inflation. The demographic realities are that the U.S. labor force is only growing at about 0.5% per year, and it is aging. Retirements will continue at high levels and replacements will be hard to attract and expensive. Innovation is needed now to continually increase the efficiency of the teams of skilled professionals that will drive labor saving advances in products and processes.

It is appealing to focus on overhauling hiring and retention practices and look forward to technologies like artificial intelligence. However, another asset may be hiding in plain sight. Why not renew your focus on improving teamwork? There are systemic changes in collaboration that produce synergistic improvement in productivity. And instead of new technology, these changes these changes use management pioneer Peter Drucker’s lesson that, “teamwork requires actually more internal organization, more cooperation, and greater definiteness of individual assignments than work organized in individual jobs.”

Here are five aspects to consider as you develop a strategy to engage team members more fully:

Understand key drivers of synergy

Synergy is the interaction of team members that produces a combined result that is more valuable than can be produced by summing all their efforts working individually. Effective teams understand the skills needed to navigate conflict, avoid oversights of critical issues, and coordinate efforts to accomplish shared goals. It’s not enough for people to apply their talents well; professionals benefit from applying teamwork skills that yield more timely completion of more effective projects. An essential aspect of fostering such synergy is keeping individuals engaged with each other and the common goals.

Communicate and be transparent

To promote engagement, it is essential that team members have easy and timely access to information about the project status and their role in it. Therefore, be deliberate about responsibilities and accountability. Responsibility and accountability are not synonyms. Responsibility means having to do the work; accountability means enjoying or bearing the consequences of how the work is done. Increasingly tasks are becoming more complex, and team members’ responsibilities can be interrelated with sequencing and timing requirements to consider. By improving synergy, we improve the function of the team. High functioning teams have sound missions, and clear roles and responsibilities supported by oversight. Progress of all the work is transparent and all members are encouraged to look for potential for innovation.

Delegate appropriately

Just as individual employees have specific responsibilities, teams have distinct responsibilities as well. Teams require different levels of delegation. This means that fully self-managed teams that are responsible for making most of their decisions would receive a different level and type of support from their team leader than other teams. But not all teams are fully self-managed, some are not intended to be, and others are in the process of being developed into self-managed teams. Team leaders need to ensure teams understand their level of authority to make and implement decisions.

Emphasize equity

When possible, teams should be comprised of individuals with different but complementary skills. Leaders can ensure teams are cross-functional and consist of individuals who have the right mix of experience and skills to collaborate well in making progress, dealing with challenges, and achieving goals. Team members need feedback, to be encouraged and to feel empowered to work with others for collective success. Assignment of responsibilities and applications of accountability within the team should be perceived as equitable to maximize the contributions, and the growth and creativity of each team member. And, as we know, creativity produces innovations.

Use data to assess synergy

Among the important measures of project progress, there should be explicit efforts to measure team performance. Measuring team effectiveness at resolving conflicts, finding solutions, exhibiting communication and transparency, and team member perceptions of equity and empowerment may not be precise, but it is vital to continuously improving synergy.

The progress of technologies such as artificial intelligence and the growing needs to get more value from expensive technical talent will provide more and better ways to enhance synergy in teams. However, now is the time to use the concepts described here to get the benefits that are already achievable.

Dr. Tom Mason is retired from teaching but continues his interests in technology and entrepreneurship.

Tuesday Strong’s company, Strong Performance Management, LLC, is approved by the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency as a provider of continuing education for licensed professional engineers. Learn more here.

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