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Management development monthly feature: Teamwork technology for results


Leading teamwork and management expert and co-founder of the CPD Business School Charles Margerison looks at the uses of technology products in teams.

Team Comms

We increasingly take it for granted that any important information will be held on a computer server. If we go to an airport, our travel details will be on the computer regardless of which team member meets us. If we ring up our insurance company, we expect any member of the team that might answer the phone to have our details available. Likewise, if we talk to our bank we expect people to instantly produce information.

However, we might still have some difficulty with our doctors and lawyers, who seem more reluctant to move to computerware. Otherwise, we see great benefits for clients and customers arising from team members having access to information storage technology.

Within a team there have been major strides made to improve communication through products like Lotus Notes and other versions. The email of course is the most pervasive of all online communication systems. Today, it is not unusual for each team member to receive and send twenty or more emails a day. In the days when only pen and paper where available, and messages were typed by secretaries the number of communications were far less. We can assume the team member of today is far more up to date, and involved in the discussions and decision taking place. Or can we?

Speed and Understanding
It is noticeable that most activities improve in terms of speed, accuracy, delivery and quality when technology is added to normal processes. This is most clearly seen in the field on transport, where we have discovered in the last 100 years how the use of cars, trains, planes and now space rockets enables us to have more time than when walking and riding on a horse to get from A to B

In the field of communication, we now take it for granted that a person in Australia can speak via phone and internet to someone in the UK or USA in real time. Likewise, we accept that email can provide an instant message across the world, when only a few years ago it took seven days both ways to send a letter.

We accept that with the aid of computers we can check into airports quicker, order goods online, get articles rather than go to a library and host of other activities that save time.

Team Outputs
But what has technology done for team communicator and for teamwork? Until recently the amount of technology available to improve teamwork was no further advanced than the telephone, plus white board and flip chart with marker pens. In theory, the internet is the main modern communication technology that should be able to help managers:

- Save money
- Gain easier access to knowledge
- Speed up the process of learning
- Have access to a world of knowledge
- Reduce training costs
- Improve time management.

All the above are excellent reasons why management and staff development using the web should have taken off. However, with a few exceptions, the internet has not yet been used as well as it can be to improve training and performance at work.

The reason for this is a lack of innovation. This emerges from my discussions with line managers. As one of them said,
‘ The people who are least inclined to use new training technology are the training people. They have got used to a way of working that involves case studies, role plays and exercises. They are not orientated towards technology’

One of the training managers I talked to said :
‘ We use technology for specialized training such as Excel for spreadsheets, and Word for data processing, and that works well as it is clear what has to be done to acquire the skills. We do not use technology for open ended problem solving’

Another of the line managers said, ‘We use the internet for downloading information, but not for solving the day to day problems’.

Team Assessments
Gaining feedback is a key to improving performance. Until recently, there has been little done to provide team feedback. The focus has been in personal feedback through appraisal systems. The ‘away day’ to review how a team is performing has become more popular, but even this has been lacking in rigorous feedback.

In order to make sense of team communications and feedback, we used what is known as the Margerison McCann Team Management Wheel. It is based upon observations in a wide range of teams from those in petrochemical refineries, to banks and to service industries and government utilities.
We found nine key factors that need attention in every team and these are listed below:

  • Advising - Gathering and reporting information
  • Innovating - Creating and experimenting with ideas
  • Promoting - Exploring and presenting opportunities
  • Developing - Assessing and planning applications
  • Organizing - Organizing staff and resources
  • Producing - Concluding and delivering outputs
  • Inspecting - Controlling and auditing contracts and -procedures
  • Maintaining - Upholding and safeguarding standards and values
  • Linking - Co-ordinating and integrating the work of others.
  • This system of team work has been tested rigorously on a comprehensive worldwide program, involving over a million people. The team management system, which is based on the above, factors has been used in over 40 countries and diverse cultures inclusive of:

    - North and South America
    - Europe
    - Arabia
    - South East Asia
    - Australasia
    - China

    The above led us to create the Team Wheel as it known. This visual technology shown below provides a quick way for team members to assess their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, we have created the Team Performance Index that helps team members and other stakeholders complete a 360 survey on how they see the team.

    Team wheel diagram

    Figure 1. The Margerison McCann Team Management Team Wheel

    This is the new world of team technology that is advancing at an ever rapid pace. It will transform teamwork as we know it. Each team member will have at the fingertips a vast array of information to help them. Many organizations however do not allow staff to surf the world wide web. Instead they have their own Intranets, which is in effect their own communication channel on which they import resources they consider to be relevant.

    The Guinness Case
    We therefore concluded that the internet could be used to resolve real work issues. In discussions with senior managers at Guinness they asked Dr Richard Hale to put forward ways in which this could be done. The result is that we have created an Online Management Development System for teams and team projects. They have people from different parts of their organization meeting for projects that last for between 90 and 100 days under our guidance.

    The web site that we have established at provides a number of key functions inclusive of :
    - 360 feedback for all participants online
    - a library of relevant articles and access to information
    - a reference section, with summaries on important documents
    - a database for each person relating to the people on each project
    - a structure for the recording of agendas and notes of understanding arising from meetings
    - a place for team communications
    - the place for sharing and comparing reports and findings and action taken.

    In addition, all members have access to questionnaires and personal feedback on issues such as leadership, problem solving, time management, career advice and teamwork. Also, team members have access to online course content to support their project work. This technology, combined with on the job learning applications, will revolutionize team project work and sets the standard for team communications in general.

    The 360 survey approach to assessing performance has become popular – see It provides a powerful technology to get the feedback required to make improvements, and the web based delivery makes it quicker to complete and understand.

    These areas of team technology are having a considerable impact on communication and performance when used as part of a planned process for managing improvement, rather than just introduced because the technology is available. Therefore, it requires a thoughtful process of design to ensure team members get the best from the systems available.

    This requires facilitation skills of a high order, and increasingly the internal training staff have to learn how to use the new technology to be in the front line of business development. E – learning is as much about team learning as it is about individual skill development. The team communication technologies described here can help any change process once the objectives are clear and those involved committed to learning how to use team technology.

    But it requires more than conventional training. It requires a business based action learning effort to bring people together to make the best use of technology, and the centre of that is action learning teamwork.


    R Hale – Powering uP Performance Management – Gower Press 2000
    C J Margerison – Managerial Consulting Skills – Gower Press - 2001
    C J Margerison – Team Leadership – Thomson Learning 2002

    Related web sites

    About the Author

    Charles Margerison is a founder of Team Management Systems and Chairman of Value Projects Ltd. You can e-mail him at [email protected].


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