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Team performance: basic competencies

Meta-analyses indicate that the team's "person composition" predicts its performance. Teams may thus be viewed as performance units whose summed motivations, ways of thinking and attitudes predict their performance. In addition to team level view, it is useful to examine each member's contribution to the team performance. -- In a two-phase development program, analysis of performance is preceded by analysis of the team's collaboration, see previous lesson.

Meta-analyses on the relationship between team members' personalities and team performance (Bell, 2007; Prewett et al., 2009) raise two broad factors as predicting output across a wide spectrum of teams. Team members' task orientation reiterates the results from meta-analyses on individuals' work success. The second predictor of team performance, collaboration however does not predict individuals' traditionally measured success at work. An equally noteworthy finding is that extraversion does not predict team efficiency despite that it predicts individuals' success in leadership and influencing jobs.

In addition to behavioral competencies driven by motivations, interest has expanded on information processing driven by ways of thinking. As consequence to the growth of knowledge work and emergence data-centric organizations, teams are growingly being viewed as information processors. In the study of almost one hundred teams, Aggarwal and colleagues demonstrated that thinking or cognitive style diversity predicts teams' collective intelligence and learning ability (Aggarwal et al., 2019). All in all, both the behavioral performance of teams and performance in information processing, ie., planning and problem solving are built on unique ingredients which should be given a closer look.

The wide spectrum of teams

Organizations incorporate teams with very widely different task contents. Frequent examples include leadership teams, production teams, service teams as well as project teams. Less frequent examples include steering and advisory groups and different teams whose action is initiated on an ad hoc basis such as surgical teams in hospitals. The wide spectrum of teams is further accentuated by their functioning increasingly in virtual settings.

The wide spectrum of teams requires more research and assessment into what kind of task orientation and collaboration is exactly needed. And whether there a need for some third or even fourth competence element, for example concerning information processing factors and their interrelations. For example, what would be a good balance between analytic and intuitive thinking in the team. Surely operative, service, planning and creative teams require different competency profiles.

General and specific competencies

The figure below displays a set of general and specific competencies driven by people's motives, ways of thinking and attitudes.

General & specific competencies

General & specific competencies
Quality vs. results orientation

Perhaps the most commonly occurring competency is the balance between quality vs. results orientation in the team's products and services. In some teams competency means turning out highly finished and faultless products or services. In other teams competence is about producing high volumes of products or services. The weight of these two very different objectives, particularly the balance between them is important. Tilts to either direction can have serious undesirable consequences such as maximizing results at the expense of quality or producing costly but needless over-quality. Equally important is that the balance be aligned with the genuine needs of clients.

Existing vs. new processes

In addition to quality vs. results seeking, an equally widely occurring behavior pattern concerns information processing that is, the team's emphasis on implementing existing processes vs. producing new processes in the team's planning and problem solving. Implementation of existing processes is considered to be a competency in operative jobs and in functions with standard processes such as in administration, maintenance and security. Creation of new processes is considered a competency in creativity requiring functions such as R&D, marketing and strategic planning.

Caution vs. risk-taking

Cautious vs. risk-taking decision making and implementation is the third broad-based dimension pair that distinguishes teams from one another. Cautious, double-checking, risk-minimizing and time consuming style is competence in teams that work with topics requiring extensive information, assessment or preparation before decisions are made. Equally so when the team's decisions concern life, health or major economic values. Quick, risk-taking decision making and implementation marks competence when the team tasks concern relatively simple topics, clear-cut goals or, when the team operates in a competitive environment. -- The specific competencies are narrower in content but concern a wide array of teams. Marketing, sales, communication, service provision and negotiation are different and differentially important competencies for the wide variety of teams.

Inventory of team competencies

In addition to the focus on single dimensions the WOPI concept enables performing a comprehensive and detailed inventory and development program on fourteen basic competencies. If the team members fill out the WOPI test, it is possible to proceed from team-level analysis to examination of individual members' contribution to the team's performance.

For team development programs it is most important to begin by asking the team members to appraise its CURRENT and DESIRED competencies with a "Group basic competencies" appraisal form in PDF form. Given the team leader's responsible position, it is useful to ask him/her for a view of desirable competencies. An external party may also evaluate the team's current and desirable competence. Team members' appraisals of current and desired states are averaged and compared to each other wherein the biggest differences indicate the most important development points. It is also illuminating to compare them to the team leader's or external party's evaluations.

A municipal service team appraised stronger external display at stakeholders, more active communication and liaison and better opportunities for expecting success as their most important development points. The team leader's appraisal coincided with the three development points. In addition, the team leader saw that competence would be strengthened and streamlined if the team gives up or relaxes from its heavy focus on details and evasion of mistakes. The team leader's other development point was to relax from the team's excessive listening to its customers and instead, rely more on its own decisions. These appraisals led to identifying and verbalizing the team's important competencies.

Team members' and the team leader's appraisals of the team's current and desired competencies give good ingredients for development of its performance. They create shared engagement which is necessary for development. As a deepening element the development program can be enriched with measurement of the team's competency potentials with the WOPI test. This indicates the motivational, thinking and attitude resources that the team has for implementing the needed competencies. The "Group basic competencies" profile deployed both in audits and development programs will additionally indicate the contributions of individual members in the team's collective performance. This obviously makes the development program much more extensive. The following presents several team audits with the WOPI test.

Four team audits

HR team in a listed company attained an average score on empathy clearly exceeding that in the general population reference norms. In other words, the team is expected to provide active ADVISORY, guidance and support to others, something seen as the most important competency expected from the HR function.

A comparison of competency potentials between HR teams in two listed corporations indicated that one team PERCEIVED its information environment with a significantly wider scope than the other team. The strategy of both companies was to claim their success opportunities in the disrupting information technology. The wider perceiving team has clearly better odds at planning and delivering its guidance services in the changing information world.

Competence deficit is in turn implied in the leadership team of a manufacturing plant displaying an extreme tilt toward fact-based APPROACH in its planning and problem solving. Although seeking new ideas is obviously not viewed a core competency in manufacturing, such a pronounced emphasis on facts tends to almost exclude any new ideas from appearing in the leadership team's planning and problem solving. Teams have a tendency to create self serving behavior norms and heavy emphasis on facts may lead to that coming up with new openings can even be considered ridiculous.

Grounding basic competencies on the team environment

The coach always needs to "ground" the contentwise broad basic competencies into the team's own business or substantive environment. In other words, it must be made clear what each basic competency means in the team's operations. It is easy to identify differences between industries and functions. For example, external display is a core competency for a sales team but its significance is smaller for a production team.

Teams' competence challenges vary also within industries and functions. External display is about allround promotion of reputation, marketing and setting displays with the purpose of leading and influencing the team's audiences and stakeholders. The important target audiences must be identified: for a municipal team, would it be an administrative stakeholder or service customer or both.

The appraisal form instructs to understanding the contents of the broad-based basic competencies. However, it is useful to clear out the meaning of basic competencies in a separate session before performing the appraisals and receiving the WOPI test results. The HR professional obviously cannot have detailed knowledge of all the fields and job domains which speaks for such an introductory session. Successful grounding of the basic competencies links them seamlessly to the team's operational reality enabling to make concrete changes.


The two-phasic team development program which begins from collaboration and culminates to analysis of performance offers a strong, tangible procedure to team development. The performance phase may be carried out only on the team level or it may be added with individual level assessment which obviously makes it much more extensive.

Aggarwal, I., Woolley, A.W., Chabris, C.S., & Malone, T.W. (2019). The impact of cognitive style diversity on implicit learning in teams. Frontiers in psychology, 07, February.
Bell, S.T. (2007). Deep-level composition variables as predictors of team performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 595-615.
Prewett, M. S., Walvoord, A. A. G., Stilson, F. R. B., Rossi, M. E., & Brannick, M. T. (2009). The team personality-team performance relationship revisited: The impact of criterion choice, pattern of workflow, and method of aggregation. Human Performance, 22(4): 273-296.


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