Mabel Mowatt’s professional background is in social work
and palliative care. Time as a manager of a palliative day care
hospice increased her interest in management skills. She now
combines freelance writing and teaching national courses for
palliative day care leaders, with being a hospital-based senior
Those trying to manage a team may be aware of how much time is
spent sorting out petty squabbles that have no relevance to the
team’s objectives. Unresolved difficulties cause stress and staff
end up concentrating on them instead of working. Creating an
effective team may take effort but it saves wasted energy.
An effective team is made up of members with differing skills
and experience. The role of the manager is to blend these together.
This is never more vital – or more problematic – than with the
proliferation of multi-disciplinary teams.(1) As tasks become more
complex, organisations are dependent on co-operation between
Anyone who has been involved in a merger of organisations will
appreciate the potential difficulty of developing a common purpose
and blending different management structures. It is important that
individual managers keep the caring profession’s focus on the needs
of the client and the common goal of the team, whatever their skill
base. If staff come from different educational experiences,
professionals should share core values aimed at providing a
comprehensive assessment and appropriate resources.
To create an effective team, managers need to ensure that staff
are aware of the team goals. Participation facilitated by the
manager creates a common purpose and individuals feel valued. This
creates an atmosphere that encourages innovative ideas. Developing
team goals, in line with the organisational goals, is a team
process; a team will not be committed or effective if these are
imposed from above.
Do you as a manager encourage discussion at team meetings? Do
you create an atmosphere in which pinions can be aired without hard
feelings? Do you consider other people’s ideas as valid as your
Team members need feedback and it should be given in the most
positive manner possible, with the intention to improve not
denigrate performance. As a manager feedback must focus on whether
team goals are being achieved; it must never be solely about
A team that is encouraged to study their own performance will
also take a part in problem-solving, but the manager needs to be
proactive in involving all team members, not just the most voluble.
Performance will improve in an atmosphere where conflict is managed
and not allowed to become personal. The manager, as facilitator,
needs to help the team identify its talents, skills and experience
and make sure that they are acknowledged but also used
Since talents and skills vary, leadership for different projects
should move around team members. They need to know that their line
manager supports them; if mistakes are used as a source of learning
rather than punishment, creativity will be encouraged. Staff who
are constantly watching their back are wasting energy and will not
dare to be innovative.
Failure to share knowledge and information can leave some
feeling excluded and deskilled. Monopolising information may make
the sole informant powerful, but it makes the team ineffective.
Managers must lead by example and develop open communication about
good or bad news. If a decision has been made that does not seem to
take into account the staff discussions, then the manager needs to
Unco-operative members who have their own agenda can sabotage
the team. Negativity can be infectious and debilitating. Equally
destructive is the silent member, who thinks by not being involved
they can blame everyone else for failures. Their non-involvement
may be the main reason for failure as others’ stress increases.
The main managerial tool for creating an effective team is good
communication. Each person needs to have a job description which
the manager should use as a basis for supervision and appraisal.
Regular supervision creates a climate of open communication and
opportunities for self-reflection. Individual pieces of work along
with the individual’s understanding of their role in the team and
their effect on the team should all be included in these
Informal contact is also important; social gatherings, even
coffee breaks, play their role.
An effective team is one that has a common clarity of purpose,
an understanding of each other’s skills and knowledge, and a
willingness to communicate and develop as individuals and as a
team. A team that works and plays together not only achieves its
goals but also creates a good place to work.
This article looks at the role of a manager in encouraging a
group of individual professionals to work as an effective team,
blending skills and experiences. The importance of supervision and
appraisal as tools of the trade are highlighted and comic examples
are used to illustrate particular situations.
- J Stokes, “Problems in Multidisciplinary teams; the unconscious
at work”, Journal of Social Work Practice, Vol 8 No 2, 1994
- A J Bateman, Developing a Productive Team, University of
- P Lenconi, The five dysfunctions of a team, – a leadership
fable, Josey-Bass, 2002