Saturday, March 28, 2020

Salas - Teaching teams… What makes a good team? How do you develop teams and train for teamwork?

Peruvian Eduardo Salas is fascinated by ‘teams’ and ‘teamwork’. What makes a good team? How do you develop teams and train for teamwork? Teamwork matters as the research show that better team processes, and training, increases performance, saves money and saves lives. Teams really matter in most organisations and in the military, aviation and healthcare, they can be critical. His research involves studying real teams in action to uncover the behaviours and decision making process. 

Good teams

No matter whether a team is fixed, temporary, in the same place or virtual, temwork and collaboration is on the rise. Unfortunatley much teamwork is sub-optimal. But teamwork is not easy as it does not always come naturally to people. It is a complex business in terms of organisational and situational characteristics. 
Salas identifies seven drivers for teamwork as:
1. Capability: Right people with the right mix of knowledge, skills and abilities? 
2. Cooperation: Right attitudes about and willingness to team? 
3. Coordination: Demonstrate necessary teamwork behaviours? 
4. Communication: Communicate effectively with each other and outside? 
5. Cognition: Possess a shared understanding (e.g., priorities, roles, vision)?
6. Coaching: Leader and/or team members demo leadership behaviours?  
7. Conditions: Have favourable conditions (e.g., resources, culture)? 
The competence of individuals wiythin a team really do matter but parachuting in a star performer can disrupt a team. Beliefs around collective responsibility and success are important and team memebrs need to be sure that they can speak up and will not be embarrassed in front of their team.
Good teams have these characteristics:
1. Have clear roles & responsibilities
2. Driven by compelling purpose – goal, vision, objective 
3. Guided by team coach (leader) – promotes, develops, reinforces 
4. Have psychological safety—mutual trust 
5. Develop team norms, performance conditions – clear, known & appropriate 
6. Hold shared understanding of task, mission & goals – hold shared mental models 
7. They self-correct – huddles, debriefs 
8. Set expectations – clear, understood 
9. Shared unique information – efficient information protocols 
10.Surrounded by optimal organizational conditions – policies, procedures, signals 

Training teams

Ensure all team members are trained on team-based knowledge, skills and abilities. The science of training should be used including training on motivation. Teach how to debrief and huddle! By asking, What worked? What can be improved? What needs to be done differently? Use Simulation techniques such as games, role plays with embedded instructional features. Measure and Reinforce the training and teamwork. Deploy teams appropriately with kick-off meetings matters! 


Salas is a world expert on teams even used for astronaut training for Mars! His analysis of what makes optimal teamwork feeds into his views on the training of teams, with its emphasis on doing team based work or simulations. For all the talk of 21st century skills and collaboration, Salas shows that real collaboration takes place in teams who have a common purpose and that research can inform what we makes good teams and how we can train them. Given the ubiquity of online collaborative tools, like Microsoft Teams and Slack, Salas reminds us that what is also needed is a clear view of what teams are and how they should be supported and trained.


Salas, E., Fiore, S.M., et al. 2012 Theories of Team Cognition: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives (Applied Psychology Series)
Salas, E., Fiore, S.M., 2004 Team Cognition: Understanding the Factors That Drive Process and Performance
Salas, E., Team Effectiveness in Complex Organizations
Salas, E., Rico, R., The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Team Working and Collaborative Processes (Wiley-Blackwell Handbooks in Organizational Psychology)
Salas, E., Frush, K., 2010 Human Factors in Aviation
Salas, E., 2012 Improving Patient Safety Through Teamwork and Team Training

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