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Working in the voluntary sector
Working in the voluntary sector

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1.1 What makes a team effective?

The effectiveness of a team depends on the contribution of the people in it, and each person is likely to have a particular role to fulfil. You may recall the discussion in Week 1 on roles and tasks and you will look at the idea of ‘team roles’ later this week.

Here is an example of a team not thinking through its aims and who will do what.

Case study: An ineffective team

A group of enthusiastic volunteers have the idea of getting together one Saturday a month to clean up a park (with the support of the local council).

They did not communicate beforehand about allocating jobs and who would cover which section of the park. More importantly, they did not decide who would direct or ‘lead’ the team.

After the first two Saturdays, the team disbands due to arguments between team members and a lack of progress.

The requirements for effective teamwork are perceived to include:

  • clear and agreed goals for the team – that is, the team members all know what the team is trying to achieve and agree with its goals
  • appropriate team membership – the team needs to be the right size and include the skills, knowledge and preferred ways of working to be effective
  • good communication between team members
  • attention to both task and processes – the task is what the team exists to do, but the team will only achieve it if equal attention is given to the processes and relationships involved
  • a means of measuring progress – if people cannot see how well they are doing they may feel discouraged.

The downside to teams can be that bringing individuals together can sometimes slow down and complicate everyday processes and create conflict, which can make even the simplest task difficult to achieve, as illustrated in the case study below. However, good teamworking (and team leadership) skills can resolve difficulties at meetings and will help make the members relate well to each other to complete the task.

Case study: A team meeting

This conversation takes place during a committee meeting of the trustees of an animal shelter. Marek is chair of the trustees and chairing the meeting. Also present are Mina (leads on social events), David (leads on administration) and Vasu (leads on animal care).

Marek: I haven’t done an agenda because the main thing we need to do is sort out the programme of events for the next three months.

Mina: Oh. I thought we were just going to talk about the Christmas party.

Marek: That isn’t for four months.

Mina: Yes, but if I am going to book a decent band, I need to do it soon, and we don’t have another meeting for two months. It is already getting a bit late to book a hall, too.

David: Well I really hope you get a better band than last year. They were dreadful. I won’t come if you book them again. The food wasn’t really very good either.

Mina: It took me ages to find anyone who was free that night and when I emailed people to get their opinion, no one answered. If I don’t get any support from anyone you can’t blame me if you don’t like it.

[The meeting continues for a further ten minutes with discussions about previous parties the members had been to.]

Marek: Actually we’re wasting time here and I know Vasu needs to leave at 8 pm. Mina, why don’t you look into options for the party and email us? We’ll all commit to responding this time. Would you like someone else to help you with the arrangements as it sounds like we all let you down last year!

Mina: Yes, that would be very helpful, thank you.

Vasu: I wonder if we could now talk about our volunteer numbers. I know it’s not on the agenda but we’ve lost five people in the last two months, and if we don’t replace them soon we are going to be in serious trouble. We haven’t got enough people to cover the rota.

Marek: That’s a good point, Vasu. That’s a much more pressing concern than social events.

[The meeting continues for 10 minutes with everyone contributing ideas and suggestions about volunteer recruitment and retention.]

Marek: We’ve got some good ideas here but I think further discussion about volunteers will be needed, especially as Kai isn’t here and as our lead on volunteer coordination, he must be involved. Vasu, would you be able to liaise with Kai and take forward our discussions from today? We ought to finish the meeting now. David – could you write the minutes for today’s meeting?

David: But we didn’t agree anything about the events programme and it needs to be printed this week.

Marek: Oh yes of course! Why don’t I circulate an email tomorrow with the suggestions we’ve had over informal chats recently and then we can vote on what we want to do?

Activity 2 Case study on teamwork

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Reread the case study. Write brief notes on the extent to which the committee met the following team and meeting requirements.

Clear and agreed goals for the team

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Appropriate team membership

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Good communication between team members

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Attention to both task and processes

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A means of measuring progress

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This framework should help you to develop your thinking about teamwork, and how teams that you know are structured and whether they work effectively.

Some issues you might have thought of including:

  • Clear and agreed goals for the team/meeting: It would have been more effective to send out an agenda beforehand, saying what the meeting was scheduled to discuss. Vasu (and possibly Kai) would then have had a chance to say the volunteering issue was getting urgent and needed adding to the agenda, and Mina could have raised the Christmas party issue.
  • Appropriate team membership: Marek is the chair of the trustees and chairs their main meetings; Mina looks after social events and particularly the Christmas party; David does administration and the minutes of meetings. Not all the team was present at this meeting (Kai was mentioned as being absent) and Marek suggests that Vasu meets with Kai to take forward the discussions about volunteers. It is sometimes difficult to get everyone you need at a meeting (particularly with volunteers or trustees) so it is important to set a schedule of meetings well in advance so that everyone can attend.
  • Good communication between team members: You probably noticed that there was more talking than listening at first, and it took Marek a little while to get the meeting back on track. Again, this shows the importance of planning a meeting and ensuring that the key issues are on the agenda. However, Mina had obviously been harbouring some grudges about the lack of support over the Christmas party so perhaps this had been her first chance to air her concerns. It did cause some conflict but Marek helped resolve this eventually.
  • Attention to both task and processes: The team in question are the trustees of an animal shelter. Trustees generally provide the overall strategy and leadership for a voluntary organisation. In this case study, if team meetings regularly happen without agendas or all team members being present, then this could affect how the team functions and meets its objectives. Marek seemed a little slow in resolving conflict in the team relationships but did so by the end of the meeting. He did this by making suggestions of how to help Mina with the Christmas party, but also by giving a steer to Vasu for taking forward the crucial question of volunteer recruitment and retention.
  • A means of measuring progress: This is less clear from this case study but Marek does suggest further meetings or email communications for moving issues forward. The meeting appeared to end on a positive note.