Chapter 5

Team Skills

Group/Team Skills

Effective Meetings

Creative Problem Solving

Group/Team Skills


The prime responsibilities of a team member are:

To meet the needs of the patients, families or clients.

To help the team develop into an enjoyable, productive and united group of successful individuals.

Team work, or people working together to reach a common goal, has several benefits. Teams are often better at solving problems and finding opportunities to do things better. They often produce higher quality products and services and at less cost because they combine people with different skills, working styles and interests. In the best version of the old "two heads are better than one" adage, effective teams use the combined similarities, differences and expertise of their members to do the best job possible within given resources and time.

Teams have drawbacks, as well, of course. One example is that some people do not like to work with others. Many people are best at working alone once they are given a specific job to do. Effective teams recognize this fact and incorporate privacy and individualism for their team members who need it. Another drawback is the greater potential for conflict between workers. This requires an organization that recognizes this potential and helps individual team members understand their roles and helps them develop skills to better work within a team. Lastly, teamwork is sometimes hurt when there is insufficient accountability for the work of individual members. People need to accept their own responsibilities and be held accountable for their performance.

Groups or teams in this section means a collection of people who:

Work together to achieve a specific goal in ways that are interdependent. That is, the work of one member affects the work of the other members in either helpful or harmful ways.

Work within an organization such as a company, hospital, department, committee or task force.

Work within an environment that hopefully encourages creativity, enjoyment and successful completion of planned work. This is not required, but it certainly helps.

There are books that define groups as different from teams. For them groups are built of independent people who prefer not to be working together but must for administrative or organizational reasons. These books present teams as defined in the three points above. For our purposes we will use either group or team to represent the three-point definition above. This will allow us to concentrate on what works best for you rather than getting caught up in definitions and theories.

The term team building has many different definitions as well. For the purposes of this material, team building means: helping a team develop their basic skills for working together with a long-term view (if the team stays together) of continually improving their team's performance. Team building can be done intensely as a team forms or over time as the team develops their relationship and work.

There are also many models of team building that different leaders in the field have suggested. This book does not propose a specific model but rather tries to help managers, supervisors and staff understand what knowledge and skills are common to most leaders in any field -- for this unit the leaders in the field of team building.

Working Styles

Imagine yourself standing in a very crowded lobby waiting for an elevator. In the crowd there are four people you will be watching who have very different styles of working. As you read the following summary see if you can imagine any of your colleagues or friends who fit the descriptions.

As one of the elevators opens, the first person gets on the elevator quickly, pushing their way through, and presses the button to get to their floor without holding the elevator door for other people to get on.

A second elevator arrives and the second person we are watching gets on, holds the door open and says a hearty "Good morning. How are you today?" to everyone who gets on. To make sure that every possible person can be crowded onto an already full elevator he keeps the door open and says to someone waiting outside, "Come on in. There's always room for one more!"

The third person we have been watching sees the crowd and rather than inconvenience anyone, takes the stairs up four flights to their floor.

The fourth person has waited somewhat impatiently and finally gets on the last elevator to arrive. He gets on the elevator, looks for the elevator license that says how many people can safely be in the elevator and then he asks one person to get off since they have exceeded safety standards.

These fairly extreme examples summarize what many different studies have described as different working styles. Some studies divide people into four categories, as we have done, while others use six, eight and even 16 different categories. The number is less important than what the similarities and differences show us.

We all have different ways of working and communicating. Some of us are shy with some people and assertive with others. Some of us like to lead a group while others like to follow. There is no right or wrong style; just different ones. Each of us has a combination of many styles. We use different styles in different situations, with different people and at different times depending on the circumstances.

For example, on a stressful day when you are in a rush you might be like the first person getting on the elevator. On other more typical days you may take the stairs.

When we discuss styles it is important to look at which descriptions fit you more often than not rather than on trying to pigeonhole yourself permanently into any one style.

Let's look at our four people one more time. The first person is often seen as the "go-getter" with all the ideas but little time to follow through on the necessary work. They are often seen as military leaders who delegate the work while they concentrate on the next action or idea. Sometimes these people are also called "Type A" personalities because they are driven by their work and have little time for family or socializing. They are the ones that people often say "get the job done". If they have the time and interest they prefer to do the job themselves but often delegate or order other people to do it for them.

The second person is more of a promoter of ideas and actions. These people take an idea or plan and help others to see the benefits. Often these people end up in sales, in teaching or in entertainment. They love to socialize and have less energy to actually get the work done.

The third person is most comfortable when they are not centered out and they prefer to follow the rules to get the work done. They like the way they have been doing things and do not appreciate being told or bullied into doing it a different way. These people (some say about 50% of our population) actually do the work. Family and personal life tends to be more important than work but doing a good job is also very important. The second and third person tend to have family photos prominently displayed while the first and fourth groups tend to display neutral or "powerful" paintings and photos.

The fourth person is the one who evaluates if the ideas, plans and actions are actually done according to the rules. They review lots of information, do studies, enjoy accounting and quality assurance and take great pride in doing things the right way. They are less concerned with their personal lives (like the first person) but take great offence if you disagree with their work.

Keep in mind that none of these four groups is better than another. In fact, you can imagine if everyone fit into only one category and you had a team of all evaluators (group four). You would have little new to do or get little work done. In the same way, if everyone on a team fit into the first group you would have wonderful, dynamic ideas but no one to actually do the work or convince other people that it was a good idea.

When people have been asked about which style they think is the best in a work environment they often answer that their style is most useful to the organization. The first person would say that without ideas and a "go-getter" attitude, nothing would get done. The second person would say that good ideas do not go anywhere unless there are people to educate others about the benefits. She might also suggest that everyone go out for a coffee to discuss the matter in a less formal setting.

The third person, quietly frustrated in the background, knows that without them all the generating of ideas, promotion and evaluation is worthless since no one else will probably do the work. They would prefer that people didn't spend time asking such silly questions and let them get back to work.

The fourth person clearly understands that without her everyone would be doing things without knowing what the results were. They would continue to work in old or new ways without measuring the results and consequences. In fact, she has several hundred studies to prove that exact point and if people would just take the time to read these they would not have to waste company time figuring out whose style is more important.

Exercise #1

Your Work Style

So how does a basic understanding of work styles help you? This exercise will help you understand how you, and others, use your work styles in similar ways, and in different ways. Remember the following groups are just one way of categorizing your work style preferences and that other methods are just as valid. Use this as a self-awareness tool rather than a way to label yourself or others into only one "box".

Look at the following work style categories. Under each group write down the circumstances in which you feel most comfortable using that style. You can use your work, home and social roles to identify similarities and differences.

Style #1:Come up with ideas. Using the force of your personality or your authority to get other people to do the work for you. For example, are you most comfortable generating ideas and energy for a specific action you want to see happen at home or at work or with some friends on a weekend away?

Style #2:Promote ideas. Getting people involved and excited about an idea. Teaching or promoting a new way of doing things. Getting people together to socialize and get away from work for a while. For example, do you prefer to work with lots of other people mixing social chitchat with work?

Style #3:Do the work. You like to work quietly until the work is done and get home as soon as you can. You prefer to do things the way you have always done them. For example, do you prefer to do the work alone, in a quiet place until it's done? What is your preferred style at home?

Style #4:Evaluate ideas and actions. You like to use numbers and statistics to make sure that the work is being done correctly, accurately and on time. For example, would you rather work late into the night to find a small bookkeeping error than go home and have guests over for supper?

Once you have described when you prefer to do different things, write down which style you tend to use most often at work, at home, with friends.

When you are most under stress which style do you think you tend to use more often and why?

For example, when I am not under much stress I prefer to educate and promote various ways of doing things. This is a useful style for a person who teaches adults for a living. When I am under lots of stress I prefer to isolate myself in my home office and write, stamp envelopes, or do research for a new self-study package. When I am under even more stress I tend to get away from everyone and hide out at a movie theater to escape "real life" for a few hours. Note: None of these styles is better or worse than any other since all serve a purpose that does not harm anyone else.

Contributing factors. We have looked at some of your preferred working styles under different situations. It is important to be clear about various contributing factors that may increase or decrease your likelihood of using a particular style. For example, do you have a high or low need for power and control? Do you enjoy or need a lot, or a little, social interaction? Do you have a high or low need to achieve and/or to be seen as an achiever?

Aside from some of these personal needs and wants there are always outside influences such as: your family and friends, your health, work or personal stresses (e.g., financial, career). Since you cannot always predict these influences it may be helpful to look at your life right now.

What contributing factors affect your work style right now? Do these factors change how you act at work, at home and/or with your friends? What can you do differently, if anything, to allow you to work in a more comfortable style?


Leadership Roles

Team building assumes that everyone on a team takes on some kind of leadership role at different times. Examine the table below and decide if you do the skills very well, average, or not very well right now. Add any notes or ideas you have to different points to remind you of what specifically you would like to continue doing well or what skill you want to improve.

Very wellYou do it very well, therefore, there is no need to spend time improving this skill right now.

AverageYou have an average amount of this skill but you need to keep up-to-date and/or develop this skill to higher levels.

Not very wellYou need to develop this skill within the next few months to reach an average level of competency expected for your job.


Sometimes it is necessary for someone to take control to get something done quickly and competently. This includes during a crisis, during a work impasse or when you have legitimate authority over the group to get things done your way.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well


At times other team members need someone who can actively listen to what is being said and to help communicate those ideas to others. Teaching skills may also be needed to provide others with advice and skills development.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well

Group/team leader

If you are assigned the task of leading a group through a project, you have the skills to keep the team working together to get the job done well, on time and with minimum friction between members.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well


If you witness activities that are unethical or illegal you have the skill to inform the right people about the problem without destroying your working relationship with other members of the team not involved in that specific activity.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well


You distribute information openly and honestly to everyone who should have it, rather than keeping it to yourself.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well


You have the skill to both praise people when they do things well and the skills to help people see what they are doing poorly without isolating them from the rest of the team or making them resentful of your evaluation. Note: discipline comes from the root meaning -- "to follow" rather than the negative meaning we so often give it.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well


You keep up-to-date in your work without bragging about your knowledge to others.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well


You communicate the position of the team to other people within and outside the organization.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well


You organize the work between members of a team and any people outside the team affected by the work.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well


You encourage an entrepreneurial environment that helps other members see the short and long term economic benefits of various actions.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well


You know when to make others aware of your knowledge and skills. This is different from bragging. Self-promotion is necessary for your valuable contributions to be accepted in a non-threatening way.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well


You can negotiate between people who have different points in a way that everyone benefits.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well

Problem solver

You can identify specific problems and use techniques to help your team generate alternative solutions creatively and effectively.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well

Conflict resolver

You can help others and yourself resolve conflicts as they arise in a mature and respectful manner that brings people closer together, even if they dislike each other personally.

   Very Well, Average,Not Very Well


You can play host to people from outside your team and/or organization in ways that enhance the organization's image and the guests' image.

    Very Well, Average,Not Very Well

You have identified some of the leadership skills that you do very well, average and not very well. Now you must design a plan of action to reinforce what you do well and learn new knowledge and skills to improve other skills. All of the skills listed above are learned. You do not get them when you are born. All leaders and effective team members need to identify what they are good at and what they need to work on. This type of self-awareness makes it easier for people with different work styles to understand some of the differences between team members and how they can help each other adapt to everyone's strengths and styles.

How Do You Identify What Skills You Need?

Review the table above with special attention to the second column describing specific skills. Which of those skills do you need to strengthen to help you become more effective under the different skill groupings in column 1? For example: to be an effective Ambassador one needs effective communication skills, to be assertive and diplomatic, to present themselves well in public (presentation and public speaking) and to run meetings effectively. They also need some practice in dealing with stress and incorporating appropriate humor. Once you have identified the skills you need to learn, you must think of how you can go about learning them. To help you, you may use other sections in this book as well as other literature, your colleagues, and your family and friends.

Use the sample table below to help you plan out what skills you want to improve on and by when. It is also important for you to write down how you will know you have learned the skills and how you can prove it to a colleague or friend who is supportive of you improving your leadership skills. Writing these points out will help ensure you actually improve your skills. Just thinking about improving your skills usually does not lead to changing your behaviors or skills.

Action Plan

Skill                                                    How                                                                    By When                Successful?(Check)

Requirements for Success

As well as understanding various working styles and improving your own ability to play various leadership roles in a team, there are some more elements needed to ensure team success.


All individual members (or at least a majority) must believe that the team can do the work better together, than any individual can alone.

Team leaders must believe that their role is valuable and that the team (or, again, a majority) is the right mix of people to get the job done.

Organizations must believe that the team approach deserves its support, encouragement and praise when the work is done well.

Above all, there must be an attitude of pride. Pride that this collection of people can achieve something that as individuals would not be done as well, or with as much creativity or with as much enjoyment and excitement. Working together only for the sake of saying that a group works together will fail.


The team needs to know its purpose and promote it actively. It needs to return over and over again to its "vision" of what they are doing and why. All decisions must be based on that original or revised vision and goals so that there is consistency in purpose and implementation of the work.

Team is Supported

Individuals are motivated to work together when they receive support.

The organization must support their work through recognition, coaching, support to help the team achieve their goals and objectives, financial and human resources to meet the needs realistically, and structural support to encourage cooperation between teams and to remove any organizational obstacles to getting the job done well.

The organization also encourages the team to be involved in the planning of the work and changing the work based on their ongoing efforts. Since the team is usually closest to the end result (e.g., improved products, patient care services and client satisfaction) organizations should listen to their teams when it comes to making changes.

Ironically some of the most effective teams in history (organizational, sports teams, professional groups) have excelled because they did not receive support. Their individual and group motivation to see a job done was heightened by a lack of organizational or societal support. Like the child who wants to show her parents that she can, in fact, become a scientist, these teams want to prove to themselves and the world that they can be successful. The young team that invented the Macintosh computer is a fine example.


Even though you do not have all the requirements in place for success you should try to complete the work. Organizations and teams have all sorts of constraints (financial, human resources and other resources) that do not always make for ideal work situations. The successful teams understands the compromises it must make, lets those in authority know what those compromises are and does the best job possible under the circumstances. Progress will continue and success will be achieved but they may not happen at the speed or quality originally required.

Team is Knowledgeable and Skilful

Individuals have a range of knowledge and skills that together will get the job done. Recruitment for the team must include looking for people who have knowledge and skill but also people who look at the work world in different ways so that different perspectives can be used to produce the best product and services. Many organizations are now including patients, families or clients in all, or part, of the work of teams to make sure that the work meets the needs of the people using the products and services.

The public has increased awareness of their right to give input about care issues. Right now there is a lot of Internet accessibility. We have long-term residents who are ‘on line.’ In fact, we have a resident on our ethics committee who was able to pull in information and get in touch with an American hospital. This other hospital sought our advice through the Internet connection with a resident. Clearly, the community has so much knowledge. For example, we have a post-polio clinic. Outside people know so much about what we do and what others do at other clinics. When they come in for treatment, they know a lot. They press our staff to be on the leading edge. The new clientele know terrific amounts and they have a right to know. Years ago, for example, people would sign a consent form for surgery. It was just routine. Now it is important to demonstrate that you have communicated in detail, the information the patient needs to consent and that the patient gave feedback that they understood what they were consenting to. That is the informed consent. This struck me as part of the new edge that is good for health care receivers and providers. Patients are big players now.

Larry Lewis

If you have little or no control over who is recruited for the team it becomes every team member's responsibility to learn how to adapt their own working style, knowledge and skills to the other team members. It is only through a spirit of cooperation and adapting oneself that a team can effectively achieve its goals.

Recognition of Differences

Individuals recognize that they all have different ways of working and communicating. These differences must be seen as beneficial in order to work together. Equal participation must be required and differences in power between members must be minimized during the work.

Successful teams can exist where individual members do not like each other personally. Although it is sometimes easier to work within a group where people like each other it is not a prerequisite for successfully getting the job done. In fact, sometimes it is better to have a group where there are real differences in personalities because such a group more accurately reflects the society we live in.

Team Identity

Individuals and the organization must recognize the team as a whole as well as its individual members. A set of agreed upon goals, objectives and performance expectations must be the first task the team does. Understanding people's different work styles does not mean that the team as a whole does not have a set of values and expected behaviors that all members must agree to and use. For example, many projects have design, implementation and evaluation stages. Team members will have different ideas about which stage is most important. A team's identity recognizes the importance of all three stages and requires the team to accept this point from the beginning.

Core values take time, mutual experience and reflection to develop but it is essential in terms of arriving at a consensus about what can be expected. For example, if I have a difficulty and I page one of my team members they almost always respond unless they are with a client and cannot be interrupted. I understand that their failure to get back to me is this rather than neglect. If I personalized it, I would waste time and energy. This comes from our commitment to working together as a team and levels of trust on the part of all team members.

Michèle Chaban


Teams, even ones without formal leaders, do have one or more individuals who take a leadership role during the work. For example, one week a member experienced in working with certain equipment may take a leadership role when discussing what new equipment to buy. Another week, a different member may be the leader while discussing new personnel policy changes. In an effective team this kind of give-and-take leadership is seen as a benefit. There is often one person who makes sure that the team runs effectively within the time constraints they have even when the leadership role changes from time to time.

Recognize the Ebb and Flow

In most group tasks there are times of real excitement, boredom and fear of failure. These are very normal and when expected, not so intimidating. Whether in producing a community play or designing a new product or service, there will be times when some people, or everyone, may want to quit. A break from the routine tasks of the group can provide new perspective and energy that will bring the process back on track. For example, everyone goes their separate ways for one week to do things they like to do in their own ways without having to consider the other team members. Or the group may decide to go somewhere together (a weekend away, a day at an amusement park, a picnic, etc.) to spend time socializing and getting to know each other better without the pressures of work getting in the way. Anything that encourages laughter, reflection, self-awareness, and relaxation can be very helpful here.

We used to have a tradition of getting the team together for discussion and reflection. I found these times enhanced our group process. Then we added a few new members who felt this kind of encounter fractured the boundaries between their professional and personal lives. The team eventually accommodated to these new values but in time this weakened the team and the program. Not having a place to just be with each other and do some team building was a significant loss and ultimately compromised our ability to provide good patient care.

Michèle Chaban

Informal Climate

The more a team enjoys working together, the greater the level of creativity and productivity. Enjoyment comes from success, from appropriate humor and fun, from recognizing each other's idiosyncrasies and spending some time on non-work related things.

Up-Front Time

Spend the necessary time at the beginning to make sure people are clear about the goals, objectives, behavior and performance expectations. Too often groups begin by too much action and not enough thinking about what the job or task is. Also spend time having the team get to know each other. Each individual's success depends on the success of the other individuals yet many large organizational teams (especially for committee work and task forces) have members who do not even know each other’s names. People need to understand the basic ground rules of how they will work together. This is especially true around how decisions will be made during and outside of meetings, understanding what is possible to do and not possible to do given the organization's mission statement and policies, and an understanding that work should be treated seriously without having to be solemn.

Doctors sometimes think that team building activities take time away from the “real work” of treating patients. It may take some time before they see that time up-front in team building will actually facilitate their care and make it more effective and efficient. Sometimes the analogy of a football or basketball team can be helpful. They practice as a team many hours a week for a two hour game. We work in teams for many hours with very few hours of practice on how to do it.

Elizabeth Latimer

Strong beginnings usually lead to strong endings and success. Weak beginnings, with unclear roles, expectations and deadlines often lead to a negative attitude of failure that, more times than not, comes true.

Who is the Boss

As much as we read and practice consensus building within teams there are usually still one or two people who are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of a team's work. It is often the Chair of the Board or President who is fired if their organization is doing poorly. It is the coach of a sport's team that is let go when the team does poorly. Within teams this is also true. Usually there are one or two people whose job it is to make sure that the team's work is done well. You need to know who they are and what expectations they have. You need to help them understand what your role on the team is and what expectations may be unrealistic from the start so there are no surprises at the end of the work.

The Ending

Effective teams know when they have successfully achieved their goals because they have specific criteria for measuring that success. Whether the team is short-term or long-term it is always important to spend some time celebrating that success. It enhances the relationship between team members. It allows the organization to reward excellence. Most importantly it sets the kind of supportive environment that teams hope for when they begin (perhaps with different members) to achieve other goals. Teamwork is a never ending process of beginning, working, accomplishment, learning and beginning again.

Deadlines and Action Plans

People need to know how long they have to complete a task or project. They need to know who will do what, and by when. They need to know how their work will be evaluated for successful completion and what recognition or reward they will receive for their success.

To practice this action planning step examine the list above and select those items that your team wishes to work on in the next few months. Examine who will do what, by when and how you will measure short and long term success.

Use the sample table for each specific goal or project.

Goal or Project Title

Task                                                    By Whom                                                                    By When                Successful?(Check)

Requirements for Failure

Obviously, if you do the opposite of many of the requirements to success you will fail as a team. But there are some other things that organizations and individuals often do that lead to failure. Here are a few.

When a Team is Not a Team

Managers read about the importance of teams and want to encourage their staff to work together so they call their staff "a team". However, they continue to manage the staff as individuals therefore creating a confusing environment of unclear expectations. They may also give the team the illusion that they make decisions as a group while, in fact, it is the manager who makes the final decisions. Management responsibility in decision-making is not wrong. One person should be accountable for the work of a team. What is wrong is giving a team the illusion that they have ultimate authority and accountability when, in fact, they do not.

Another example of when a team is not a team is when an organization tries to create a strong work team in an environment where it is just not possible. This could be because of previous distrust of managers or staff; personnel contracts that discourage it; the size of an organization or outside influences. For example, in hospital health care there has been a real movement toward having doctors work in teams with nurses, pharmacists, social workers and therapists but often with little preparation to do so. Many times doctors are expected to assume leadership roles without the opportunity to acquire the required skills.

From an administrative perspective, physicians are generally not staff of the hospital. That’s a really complicated piece. The connectedness of physicians to the hospital itself is sometimes very tenuous and other times very tight. The physicians always have some sort of Medical Advisory Council that is important in drafting and ensuring that we have some of the right policies. They play a role in advising administration when they are putting together a report on the direction of the facility. Or if government comes up with some dictum and we want to respond, we need the medical input. They play a crucial role in supporting operational change.

Larry Lewis

Unskilled Leaders

Whether someone is a manager, supervisor or team/committee leader they must have some of the basic skills required of a leader. They must be able to communicate verbally and in writing. They must be able to run a meeting that gets through a previously distributed agenda with fairness to all participants. They must be able to resolve conflicts, lead people through problem solving strategies, understand differences and similarities among the participants, and understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

The qualities of leadership are not usually given to us at birth so they must be learned. Effective teamwork requires leaders who have learned these skills and who can apply them fairly, firmly and predictably.

Team Member Skills

A team is doomed to failure if it is assumed that the participants have all the knowledge and skills they need to complete the work. They need skills in their own areas of expertise but also skills in working together as a team. Team leaders and the organization must recognize any gaps in members' skills to help them reach their full potential as a team. Whenever new members join the team they must be given time to become a working member of the team while the other members also have time to adjust their working relationship to accommodate the newest member.

Whenever a new team member comes, our team takes more time to discuss cases to teach our theories on patient care. We also take time to model team communication, conflict, decision making and play. We teach by example and in turn we find opportunities to share cases with the new member so that we can learn from them. It is a lot of work but if patient care is our goal, we must do it, for a team is greater than the sum of all of its individual disciplines.

Michèle Chaban

Making All the Decisions Beforehand

Sometimes teams are told what is expected of them without involving them in any of the planning decisions. In essence this team becomes only a workhorse and, therefore, has little invested in seeing the work through to a successful end.

Unclear Objectives

This point cannot be stressed enough. People working with unclear expectations and objectives will never know if they have accomplished the job they have been given or not. A basic cause of many team failures within organizations is when people are uncertain about their own roles (who does what) on a team and are given unclear objectives. It really is that simple.


Sometimes teams are expected to make highly complex decisions without initial time to “team build”.

Exercise #3

How Individuals Can Help or Hurt a Team

Most people are aware of the skills required to make a team work. We have been part of teams since we were little children at home and in school. The basics of good team management are similar to the basics of good human relationships. Much of the material in this unit should be a refresher of things you have done well in the past and things you would like to do differently in the future.

We have presented specific points about effective team building and things that can hurt a team. What so often happens in teams, however, is that when things become stressful there are specific individual behaviors than can help or hurt a team. Rather than concentrating on someone's personality (e.g., he's arrogant, lazy, bossy) we can concentrate on specific behaviors that help other team members and, therefore, help the whole team.

Below is a list of specific behaviors that can help a team. Obviously, doing the opposite of these behaviors will not only hurt individual members of the team but will make the team as a whole ineffective over time.

Check off those behaviors you do routinely. Write out how and when you will do those behaviors that you want to do more often. Write yourself a reminder in your calendar or on your "to do" lists.

Behaviors That Help a Team                                                                          Check        How & When I Will Do This Behavior More Often

Accept your own responsibility for making

the team effective. Take action when needed.

Help the other members be the best team members

they can be. Help them develop their knowledge and skills

and ask for their help in return.

Understand that at different times leadership will shift

within a team and promote the success of that leadership

and the participation of all members on the team.

Help establish, maintain and evaluate performance standards.

Discourage inappropriate humor, gossip and disorder

within the team.

Concentrate on people's behavior, not personalities, when

conflicts arise.

Understand the other members' similarities and differences

in knowledge, skills and preferred work styles. Adapt as best

you can to those differences.

Accept uncertainty and change to the best of your ability

while also helping the team remain focused on the task at hand.

Speak highly of your team to others even when you disagree

with specific actions or behaviors of individual members.

Follow common courtesies at all times to encourage a spirit

of respect, enjoyment and success.

Exercise #4

Understanding the Needs and Gifts of Others

Often in teams there are people with different work styles, personalities, and ambitions. Rarely do people spend any time trying to understand those differences, nor the similarities within team members. Teams are often so task oriented there is little or no time to understand the individual members.

One technique that can help a team function better is to get each person to write out two lists. On the first are the things they need from other members of the team to work effectively. These things can be anything from acceptance of a different style of working to the need to have privacy to think about a problem rather than coming up with instant answers. Some people also write that they want occasional praise for work well done or time with the team to laugh, get a hug when things get rough or permission to sit on the floor during meetings as this is more comfortable.

On the second list they write down what they have to offer the other team members. This list may include their knowledge and skills, more understanding of others who disagree with them, and/or willingness to express emotion as well as facts. They may also write down that they love to bake and will bring cookies or muffins to meetings. Or they may enjoy music and will offer to bring in a selection of background music that will help the team work in a more comfortable environment.

These lists can be detailed or general and redone every so often if the team stays together for any length of time.

Once the lists are written they are shared with the other members. Sometimes having them up on flip chart paper on the wall makes it easier for everyone to compare their lists. Team members can state which needs they can fulfill on someone else's list of needs and which gifts they are willing to accept from the other members.

Phases of Team Development

There are often different phases that teams go through; recognizing these phases help a team identify possible problem areas. These phases are only one way to break down the progress a team makes to reach a specific goal. There are many different phase or stage theories in team building books but, again, the labels and number of phases is less important than using the material to help your team work as well as possible together.

The Beginning

The beginning of a team finds people unsure of what they are doing, what they should say, why the other members are on the team, and worrying about the future relationship with the other members. People may come with previous good or bad experiences of working with some of the members or they may have heard rumors about how so-and-so works in a team. This can be an uncomfortable, exciting, stressful or relaxing experience depending on each individual's past team experiences and how this new team was brought together and by whom. The first phase is very important and must not be, but often is, underestimated by the people who bring a team together. Time spent deciding on the specific goals to be reached by this group, clear expectations by those who brought it together and time to get to know each other is invaluable and must not be overlooked. The team leader should have a specific plan (over several sessions together) to help people feel comfortable with each other.

The team leader should have a specific plan. Our medical director and social work supervisor always begin by asking what I or the group thinks must be done, then we brainstorm ideas, write them down and share those ideas. This type of consensus building and flattened hierarchy has in my experience worked very effectively but it takes trust and creativity to work.

Michèle Chaban


This phase comes and goes throughout a team process because you have people with different knowledge, skills and expectations working on the same thing. Recognizing that this phase happens reduces its power to destroy the effectiveness of a team. If people can recognize that they are going through a natural phase of disagreement, then they can move forward to areas of agreement. This phase can be frustrating for different members of a team who dislike conflict. Accepting this feeling of discomfort can minimize the amount of personality conflict and can help individual members concentrate on people's behaviors rather than their personalities.

As a social worker I am trained in conflict management but if the conflict goes underground in a team or organization, it can be difficult to deal with. A team that can express its thoughts and feelings grows in strength and maturity. Using humor to deal with the conflict and each other’s behavior lets us begin a process of reinforcing trust and fortifies our commitment to work together. Through conflict our team has become stronger even though at times it felt threatening.

Michèle Chaban

We are a Team

At some point, with effective leadership and understanding of teams by the members, the group of people begin to work together as a team. They understand each other better, their goals are clearer and the division of work is agreed upon. Some teams become very close professionally and personally while others maintain a distinct professional air. Neither team is necessarily better. The situation, the membership, the organizational support and the specific goal will help determine how the team develops.

Even when a team begins to work together smoothly, there may still be times of conflict. The better a team works together the more the conflict revolves around specific ideas and actions rather than personality conflicts.

Us versus Them

Some teams experience an "us versus them" attitude of battling other teams or departments within an organization. A competitive edge between teams can be helpful to an organization as a whole but it can be very destructive if the competition becomes territorial and mean-spirited. Organizations must understand this common occurrence and help teams understand that teams working with each other for a common goal can be just as effective as individuals working together on a team.

Sometimes distrust occurs between those who provide the service and those who support those who provide the service. You offer an educational program and choose a time that might be favorable to the majority. Those in non-clinical areas can more easily get away for an hour or an hour-and-a-half, where as on the clinical side, where services are being offered to clients 24 hours a day, only a small number may be permitted to attend. So right away there is a gap in accessibility to educational events, or even celebrations. These types of systemic conflicts are not easily resolved. A couple of years ago you just got more money, brought in more staff to cover services. Now the organization does not have the money, in sufficient quantities, to replace the staff.

Larry Lewis

We are a Successful Team

If a team is given enough support, time and the right mix of members, it transforms itself from a team doing good work to a team that goes beyond good to exceptional. These teams begin to think as a whole. They understand and accept each other’s strengths and differences. They work for a common purpose and for a common recognition of their success. When you have participated in such a team you will never want to leave the security and acceptance you find within it. You may experience such a team only once or twice in your career so enjoy it!

A New Team

Over time, teams may change members and the future success of the team will depend on how carefully the older members of the team orient and welcome new members. There are few things as difficult to do at work than to join a team whose membership was so close that new members are subtly, or not so subtly, made to feel unwelcome.

Where Do You Go From Here?

You have just reviewed a lot of information on team building. Where do you go from here?

Once you have reviewed the material carefully and assessed your own strengths and learning needs it is time to look at the team itself. The following steps assume that you are already part of a team. If you are not, then look at the material in this package again to help you begin a new team or become an effective member of a new team.

Assuming you are part of an established team:

1.Make sure you have completed your self-assessment of your own working styles and your ability to take on various leadership roles in a team. This will identify your team building strengths and learning needs.

2.Assess the strengths and learning needs of the team. Ask the team to participate, if possible, in this assessment using some of the material you have just reviewed. Have them look at what makes a team successful and what can cause failure. If your team is not interested in learning more about team building you have several choices:

Accept the situation as it is.

If you are the team leader, you can set aside time and have the group either listen to your ideas about team building and/or participate in designing a more effective team together.

If you are not the team leader, you can ask to speak with them to discuss any concerns you may have about the effectiveness of the team. If the team leader is uninterested and your concerns are serious enough, you may decide:

To speak to the manager or executive who created the team to discuss your concerns and ideas.

To speak to someone in the education, training or human resources department and ask them for advice about what to do next.

3.If the team is ready to build its skills together and it has done the assessment in # 2 then they can continue by agreeing on areas to work on as a team. They may decide that they need time to look at each other’s gifts and needs for being more effective. They may decide to have you or someone else present the material within this package. They may decide to concentrate on dealing with stress or tensions within the team. They may decide to concentrate on the team strengths before looking at areas of more learning.

As well as agreeing to areas of team building, it is also necessary for the team to assess how well it has defined its purpose, goals and objectives, the roles and responsibilities of individual members, reasonable deadlines for getting the work done, how to measure success, and what type of external supports they have or need to complete their work.

4.Once the team has agreed to areas to work on they begin to work individually on any personal skills development. They can use the same materials you have to assess their own strengths and learning needs and report back to the team by a certain date on their progress. They can also use other resources, internal or external teachers, friends and colleagues.

5.The team may decide to set aside specific time every week or month for regular progress discussions on where the team is at present, how it has progressed and what still needs to happen. These discussions can be as formal or informal as the team likes depending on the relationship between the members.

6.Team building takes energy and support to truly work. Reward yourselves individually and as a team often to encourage the kind of working environment that allows for creativity, high productivity and enjoyment. If you do not have all three of these measurable quantities, review your team again.


Team building is an acquired skill. The prime responsibilities of a team member are: (1) to meet the needs of the clients, patients, or families and (2) to help the team develop into an enjoyable, productive and united group of successful individuals.

Helping your team members be successful means: making sure that others see them in a good light, that you do nothing to harm their prestige or their abilities, and that you genuinely believe that a successful team means that all members of the team are also successful.

The working styles of the team members will probably differ. Your role as a team member or leader is to understand that you must have diversity on the team to have success. If you have all members with the same style as you, you may have a more enjoyable working relationship but you may not get the work done as effectively.

Self-assessment of your own skills is vital in any skill development. If you do not know what you do well and what you need to learn then progress will always be by coincidence rather than by planning. You do not have to be an expert in every skill required by a team. Knowing what areas you are not expert in allows you to recognize that expertise in someone else and encourage them to use that expertise for the benefit of the team. This self-assessment will also help to clarify those things that you do very well but that you prefer not to do any more. Again, you can see if other team members have that skill or you can help someone else develop that skill so that you do not have to do it as much. For example, you may be tired of taking minutes at meetings but you are very good at it. Over time, you can teach other members to do it almost as well as you do and you will not have to do it alone any more.

As in most skill development, your attitude to the skill will determine how capable you become. Many people can learn team building skills without believing in an attitude of team effectiveness. They can learn communication skills, how to resolve conflicts within a team and the other skills without ever showing a genuine interest in the other members. Technical team building skills can take people only so far. If someone truly dislikes working in a team, that will become evident over time and unless the other team members can help them see the benefits, such a disillusioned person can hurt the effectiveness of the rest of the team.

Many people only get to experience working with a highly successful and enjoyable team once or twice in their careers. I have experienced it several times and there are few experiences that feel as good at the end of a workday. The few teams I was involved with that were enjoyable, highly productive and creative were teams with a great variety of working styles, a true commitment to the success of each individual member and the team as a whole, a shared vision of what they wanted to accomplish and the desire to work through the inevitable conflicts, stresses and different backgrounds of the members. There were times of real frustration, anger and passion. They were recognized and dealt with by effective team leadership. And when the end came, as most teams must end, it was very difficult to leave the other members. In our personal lives we might never have become friends because of our differences. Through our work lives we became friends because of our similarities.


The following resources are only a few of the many useful resources that you can find in your local libraries, within your own organization, and in your local bookstores. Look for other books but also for journal articles, magazine reports, films, videos and audiocassettes. Also keep in mind how much you can learn from experts in the field, including people within your own organization!

Chang, R.Y. (1994). Building a dynamic team: A practical guide to maximizing team performance. Irvine, CA: Chang Associates.

Clemens, J.K., & Mayer, D.F. (1987). The classic touch: Lessons in leadership from Homer to Hemingway. Homewood, IL: Dow Jones-Irwin.

Duarte, D.L. & Snyder, N. T. (1999). Mastering virtual teams: Strategies, tools, and techniques that succeed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dubrin, A.J. (1995). The breakthrough team player: Becoming the M.V.P. of your workplace team. New York: AMACOM.

Fisher, K. (1992). Leading self-directed work teams: A guide to developing new team leadership skills. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lipnack, J., & Stamps, J. (1997). Virtual teams: Reaching across space, time, and organizations with technology. Etobicoke, ON: Wiley & Sons.

Mears, P. (1994). Healthcare teams: Building continuous quality improvement-Facilitator’s guide. Delray Beach, FL: St. Lucie Press.

Schwarz, R.M. (1994). The skilled facilitator: Practical wisdom for developing effective groups. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Zander, A. (1994). Making groups effective. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Effective Meetings


There are no special secrets to running effective meetings. Meetings are consistently productive and satisfying if they are held for the right reasons, planned, controlled and allow enough time for people to give their ideas and ask questions. An added bonus is when people at a meeting give each other permission (usually informally) to include a bit of appropriate good humor during the slow or tense times of a meeting.

People know they have participated in an effective meeting when they understand why the meeting was called, what the specific goals and objectives are, what the expectations are of all the participants and what actions the group agrees upon.

This section is designed to identify and reinforce good meeting techniques for seasoned participants while providing new participants with some useful guidelines so that they can contribute to making meetings effective.

Often we know the proper thing to do to make meetings more effective, but we tend to fall back on ways we have used in the past to organize or participate in meetings. A quick review may remind people of more productive ways to organize, participate in and utilize meetings.

The Basics

This section is primarily for chairpersons. However, any participant will find it useful to pinpoint trouble spots in meetings they attend.

A review of the following steps will help to ensure that your meetings are effective. The Chairperson of the meeting can improvise on these steps depending on the importance of the meeting, the location and the people attending.


Is the meeting really necessary? Ask yourself:

1.Can all the people who must attend be there?

2.Is there enough time before the meeting for people to plan and prepare for their participation?

3.Are the costs of holding the meeting acceptable?

4.Is the meeting a regular meeting that should be cancelled because there is not enough information or work to do at this time?

Meetings should only be held for the following reasons:


To make decisions, solve problems, examine opportunities:

1.To define problems and/or opportunities.

2.To brainstorm, without judgment, for a wealth of alternatives.

3.To select (through consensus when appropriate) the most suitable alternative(s) and begin an action plan for resolving the problem or working on the opportunity.


To share information:

1.To make sure everyone receives the same information in the same way.

2.To get support for new ideas and plans.

3.To give clear and concise instructions to everyone at the same time.

4.To review accomplishments, difficulties, future ideas or plans.


To build team morale and acknowledge successes.


To provide in-service education programs.

If your meetings are not held for any of the above reasons, consider replacing the meeting with a memo, a phone call (conference call), a quick informal chat.

With a staff of over 800 staff, there are more than 350 computers. We ought to be able to exchange information without having to have a meeting all the time. If much of what we are doing is communicating information or giving data, you don’t have to be physically present to make that happen. We are on the edge of making a significant difference in how we meet. That should save enormous amounts of time and give people better information than we have ever had.

Larry Lewis


Determine who should attend. Often regular meetings have a pre-determined list of participants. However, a review of who attends should include:

People with the power to make the necessary decisions.

People who can provide information and advice.

People affected by decisions and plans.

People representing groups affected by decisions and plans.

People directly responsible for implementing decisions and plans.

A recorder for minutes.


Who should facilitate the meeting?

Is it the boss?

Is it a rotating responsibility of your colleagues?

Is the person selected by vote at each new meeting?

The facilitator/chair of a meeting is crucial to the smooth running of the meeting. They should understand the rules of running an effective meeting and also understand some of the techniques of managing group dynamics.


Ask meeting participants for ideas to be included on the agenda.

Divide the agenda into action/decision oriented topics and discussion topics. Discussion topics often include reviewing the Minutes of past meetings, items arising from the Minutes, and ideas for future meetings.

The agenda should list who will speak on what topics.

Distribute the agenda at least 48 hours before the meeting. Agendas often describe how long a meeting will take. This helps participants understand how much they need to prepare and how much they need to condense their thoughts and ideas. If people know in advance how long a meeting will take and that the Chairperson will stick to those limits, then they will speak briefly and concisely.

Every so often, the agenda of a regularly scheduled meeting should include an evaluation of that meeting similar to one described in this section.

One of the things we are trying to streamline is the meeting activity alone. Xerox has come up with an interesting approach. We work with them as a partner in developing an accountability model. We hope this will give us more of a health care facility/team focus that will permeate the organization. They have a meeting agenda approach that clearly outlines the purpose of the meeting. Here are the objectives, here is the amount of time we will spend on item 1, item 2, etc. There is a maximum amount of time, with enough space for defining actions that must be taken and who will take the action. It is a very structured agenda that I think is a very clever way of doing things. It has begun to have an impact on how people view meetings and their participation at meetings.

Larry Lewis


People presenting at the meeting should prepare their presentations well in advance of the meeting.


The purpose of the meeting and the number of participants will help determine the type of location. If it is a large group and you are basically presenting information, then a large auditorium is suitable. For small working groups a smaller room with enough tables is better. The room should comfortably fit the number of people attending.

As a chairperson, you may or may not have the power to decide where a meeting will take place. Organizations often have limited funds for renting meeting rooms that meet all of the ventilation and space criteria. People often feel valued and important when they meet away from the regular meeting place. If funds are limited, it is best to save the rental fees for especially important meetings, or as a "perk" to a regularly scheduled meeting.


Check for sufficient ventilation. Also decide in advance if people will be permitted to smoke during the meeting or outside the room during breaks.


Chairs and tables can be arranged "school style" for presentations and lectures. For working groups you may want the "board room style" with a long table or large circular table, or a set up with several smaller round tables to allow for small group participation. A "U-shape" or semi-circle set up of tables is also effective for group discussions.

Chairs should be comfortable and sturdy. Avoid placing chairs too close together.

A trick that is rarely used but helpful is to hold short meetings with people standing up. This may appear odd but people tend to chat less and focus more when they are standing. Just as some senior executives now raise their desk so they can do some of their work and telephone calls standing up, “standing meetings” encourage people to be concise, alert and committed to finishing on time. Remove all tables so that people must hold their reference materials in their hands. This encourages people to better prepare what they want to say and what they need to bring to meetings.

Harry van Bommel

Before the meeting, check that the lights and climate controls are working, that window shades can be opened and closed, that the room is set up the way you want it and that the A/V equipment is working.


Flip charts, overhead projectors, video players, film and slide projectors, etc. are all possible tools to help make a presentation clearer.

When you use A/V equipment make sure, before the meeting, that all your supplies are there and in working order. Place the equipment in suitable locations so that everyone can see without obstruction. Have spare supplies (e.g., light bulbs, magic markers, and paper) in case you run out.


All meeting participants can take part in making meetings fun, as well as effective. Consider:

Choosing a different location.

When appropriate, circulating cartoons or other humorous materials.

Bringing in muffins or other treats.

Celebrating someone's birthday, anniversary, etc.

Ending the meeting early.

Doing anything that takes little time and puts a smile on people's faces.

Specific Roles

The Chairperson

The chairperson is the pivotal person attending the meeting. Here are some things for the chairperson to keep in mind.

1.Choose a suitable location.

2.Most meetings should have an agenda. Prepare the agenda, with input from participants where appropriate, including the date, place and time of the meeting.

3.The agenda should begin with urgent and important action/decision items first rather than discussion items.

4.Hold routine meetings at the end of the day.

5.Try having your short meetings standing up.

6.Set a time limit at the outset of each meeting.

7.Cancel meetings once in a while to avoid routine.

8.Start and end the meeting on time even though everyone is not there. Punctuality encourages people to be on time.

9.Avoid having any interruptions during a meeting. They are distracting and imply that the meeting is not very important.

10.Assign someone to take minutes.

11.Assign someone to watch the time in every meeting if you do not do this yourself.

12.Follow the sequence of the agenda and tell participants how long you think each item may take to meet the meeting deadline. You might revise the sequence if someone who is presenting has asked for a delay.

13.Prepare minutes of meetings soon after the meeting and follow up on specific actions promptly.

Group Dynamics Ideas for the Chairperson

Get everyone present involved in the discussions and decisions. Encourage creative thought! Draw out the less vocal participants and encourage brevity in people who enjoy talking too much.

Insist that participants suggest solutions for every problem they raise.

Discourage private discussions between participants.

Keep the discussion on the topic by discouraging people from bringing in other issues.

Sum up key points made by the participants to help close the discussion.

As a general rule, do not confront a person directly in a meeting if their behavior is unacceptable. Instead, call a short break and speak to the person privately. If possible to leave it until later, ask to speak with the person after the meeting.

If the group fails to generate discussions or ideas, try the following:

Remain silent. Do not take all the responsibility for maintaining the discussion. People often need this time to arrange their thoughts. This also tends to draw out people who normally allow others to control the meeting --sometimes they just cannot handle the silence!

Ask questions to ensure that the purpose or goal of the discussion is clear.

Address the silence as a problem of process. Ask for alternative ways to generate ideas. This shows your flexibility as a chair and your concern for accomplishing the task in a way that is comfortable to the group. Again, it challenges participants to accept some responsibility for the process.

Chairperson Checklist

Location confirmed.



Sent Out

Time Limit Set

Minutes from the last meeting circulated.

Minute-taker assigned.


Prepared and copied

Distributed beforehand?

Audio-visual material prepared.

Audio-visual equipment checked.

Other specific duties.


Prepare in advance, any presentation you will make. Avoid waiting until the day of the meeting in case of unexpected events, illnesses or traffic delays.

Divide your presentation into:

The main point of your presentation.

Supporting information that the participants must know. Break this down into 1-5 easily understood items beginning with the most important.

Supporting information that is interesting but not vital for participants to know. Participants can be given the option to hear the information. Time constraints may prevent presentation of this information.

Any audiovisual aids should be kept to the side until you want to use them, otherwise they may distract the other participants. Keep these aids easy to understand and manipulate. Have spare light bulbs, paper, and markers. Test out the equipment before the meeting.

Give large amounts of written material to the chairperson to distribute along with the agenda. The other participants can use the time before the meeting to read your materials and prepare questions and comments.

Presenter Checklist

Prepare your presentation in advance:

Main point

Supporting information

Information for interest

Audio-visual aids prepared.

Audio-visual equipment checked.


Prepared and copied

Distributed beforehand?

Read agenda, previous minutes, handouts to prepare for rest of meeting.

Other specific duties.


1.Prior to the meeting ensure that "actions" you were responsible for from the last meeting have been addressed. One good technique is to highlight your responsibilities when you receive your minutes.

2.Prior to the meeting read the agenda and prepare to talk about any items that are important to you. Don't wait till the meeting for inspiration to strike you.

3.Arrive on time. If you know you will be late or absent, tell the chairperson before the meeting.

4.Be an active listener. Give your opinion or ideas only when they are new and relevant to the discussion. Keep any anecdotes and stories for after the meeting.

5.When you speak, be concise and clear. Begin with your main point and any supporting information the other participants must know. Do not give interesting, but unnecessary, information to those who have asked until after the meeting.

6.Show enthusiasm for your ideas and enthusiasm for other people's ideas as well. Help to promote unity within the group whenever possible.

7.Speak first to the chairperson and then draw the other participants into your discussion by looking at all of them.

8.Avoid private discussion with other members at the meeting.

9.Meetings sometimes lead to friction between participants. Be one of those participants who consider the other person's point of view before discounting it or arguing against. Listening and questioning often lead to consensus rather than division. Set an example.

Participant's Checklist

Read Agenda, Previous Minutes, Handouts to prepare for the meeting.

Prepare any personal information, questions or information you need to give the others.

Prepare any information you may be asked for during the meeting based on the previous Minutes or the present agenda.

Other specific duties.


Minutes are critical for several reasons:

Summarizing the decisions and discussions of a meeting.

Recording what action was agreed upon and who would follow through.

Informing those people who were absent when the next meeting will take place (if any) and where.

Role of Minute-Taker

The person who takes the minutes should follow the standard format used for past minutes. However, at times it is important to review how minutes have been taken and whether or not they can be rewritten in a more dynamic way; use the active voice and write more in the way people talk versus the formalized style which is difficult for many people to read.

When meetings are long and involve many decisions, motions and discussions, it is useful to provide a summary of decisions and motions at the beginning of the minutes.

The role of minute-taker is vital but often minimized by other participants. If you are assigned or volunteer to take minutes at all meetings or are responsible for the minutes on a rotating basis it is important for you to request comments from the others. You will need to get the odd perk for doing what has often been a thankless job. Don't wait for the perks; ask for them (nicely!).

Action Plans

Minutes should incorporate any Action Plans that were agreed upon to tell people what is expected, by whom, by what date and how the results will be evaluated.


Minutes should be easy to read. Highlight sections that are for information and sections where decisions were made.

Active Voice

Whenever possible, write in the active voice, for example, “The group decided…” rather than, “It was decided…”

Sent Out

Minutes of the meetings should be sent out to participants within a few days of the meeting instead of waiting to send them out with the agenda for the next meeting.

Minute-Taker Checklist

Read Agenda, Previous Minutes, Handouts to prepare for the meeting.

Prepare any formats, charts or systems used in recording minutes.

Prepare any information you may be asked for during the meeting based on the previous Minutes or the present agenda.

Have extra copies of minutes from the last meeting as well as extra Agendas for this meeting.

Other specific duties.

Evaluating a Meeting

After an important and/or regularly scheduled meeting, do a quick review to help improve future meetings. Have all the participants fill in and return the evaluation to someone assigned to compile the information We seldom evaluate meetings except in a cursory way. This is an important task that can reduce frustration and increase the effectiveness and satisfaction of the participants.

Circle ‘Y’ or ‘N’ for the following questions. For any ‘No’ answers, write suggestions for improving the next meeting you attend with this group.

Y/N1.Were you informed in advance about the meeting date, place and time?

Y/N2.Did you understand the reason for the meeting?

___ Share information

___ Make decisions

___ Solve problems

___ Plan

___ Build morale

___ Educate

Y/N3.Were you given an agenda before the meeting?

Y/N4.Did the meeting begin and end on time?

Y/N5.Did the chairperson control the meeting, following the agenda?

Y/N6.Did the chairperson encourage open and honest communication?

Y/N7.Was there sufficient time to permit creative thought and active problem solving?

Y/N8.Did most participants actively listen to each other?

Y/N9.Was everyone encouraged to participate?

Y/N10.Were decisions and plans clear and concise? Did people understand what was expected and who would do what by when?

Y/N11.Did you actively participate and help keep the meeting going according to agenda and expectations?

Y/N12.Were you satisfied with this meeting: its results, the process followed, the other participants?

What would you do differently next time to make the meeting more effective?

What do you suggest the chairperson do differently next time to make the meeting more effective?

How could other participants help to make the next meeting more effective?


People know they have participated in an effective meeting when they understand why the meeting is called, what the specific goals and objectives are, what the expectations are of all the participants and what actions the group agrees to do.

You have read about simple techniques for preparing , organizing and evaluating meetings that are easy to follow. There are no special secrets to running effective meetings -- just good organizing skills and following the agreed-upon agenda.

It is important to recognize the value of creativity and flexibility within meetings that are called to resolve specific problems or examine new opportunities. Regardless of the reason for the meeting it is also important to encourage appropriate humor in meetings. Humor can acknowledge the importance of the meeting but also the necessity of seeing the broader perspective of any situation.


The following resources are only a few of the many useful resources that you can find in your local libraries, within your own organization, and in your local bookstores. Look for other books but also for journal articles, magazine reports, films, videos and audiocassettes. Also keep in mind how much you can learn from experts in the field, including people within your own organization!

Doyle, M., & Straus, D. (1993). How to make meetings work. New York: Berkley Publishing Group.

Hawkins, C. (1997). First aid for meetings: Quick fixes and major repairs for running effective meetings. Clearwater, FL: Career Research Institute.

Haynes, M. (1997). Effective meeting skills. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications.

Lord, R.W. (1981). Running conventions, conferences and meetings. New York: Amacom.

Perry, H. (1984). Call to order: Meeting rules and procedures for non-profit organizations. Burlington, ON: Big Bay Publishing.

Timm, P.R. (1997). How to hold successful meetings: 30 action tips for managing effective meetings. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press.

Tropman, J.E. (1995). Effective meetings: Improving group decision-making. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Watson, J. (1992). The minute taker’s handbook: Taking minutes at any meeting with confidence. Vancouver, BC: Self-Counsel Press.

Creative Problem Solving


We use less than 10% of our thinking capacity. At least that is what many research specialists tell us.

Their argument is based upon thousands of research papers exploring the working of the mind in people who have a genius I.Q. and people who have had severe brain damage and yet can still learn to overcome that damage. The research examines how people learn, what helps and inhibits that learning, and countless other studies to help all of us understand more about the most complex organ in our body.

One of the most interesting concepts to come out of this research is that the mind takes in new information and tries to integrate it with information already stored in memory. The mind sorts and combines information so that when we develop one thinking skill we automatically enhance many other thinking skills. Creative thinking, therefore, is a method of multiplying our thinking processes to get the maximum use of our stored knowledge and abilities.

The human mind is a wonder of technology. It is not surprising that we have not mastered its many uses when we consider that the brain has 100,000 to 1,000,000 different chemical reactions taking place every minute and there are ten billion neurons transferring information continuously.

Our brain controls our bodily movements and the running of our organs (heart, lungs, transfer of blood throughout the system, electrical impulses, systems to combat disease, our speech and hearing and touch, our digestive system, etc.). Our mind is capable of coordinating our thought process when we are working, playing , sleeping and dreaming or studying. Our mind allows us to imagine, to remember, to forecast and to make choices.

Creative problem solving tries to incorporate many of the mind's abilities. In this section, we can present only a simple technique for problem solving. The Resources section at the end of this section can take you on many wonderful journeys into creative problem solving where you use not only your whole mind but also your whole body and spirit.

The word “crisis” is written in the Chinese language as a combination of the words: "danger" and "opportunity". All situations have opportunities. A creative problem solver looks for the opportunity.

Left Brain--Right Brain

In the past decade there has been a great deal written about the left and right sides of our brain. Some people have taken this information literally to mean that the left side of our brain controls certain functions and the right side of our brain other functions. This may be true generally but if the brain has physical abnormalities or has been injured it can often compensate for any irregularities by using other areas of the brain. For any complex thought processes, e.g., listening to music, making decisions and processing language, both sides of the brain are constantly involved and interconnected.

Part of this belief comes from research where surgeons have cut the corpus callosum, the main fiber bridge linking the brain's two halves. Some people who have severe epilepsy have received some relief from seizures by having this fiber bridge cut. A significant side effect of this surgery was that the person could see an object and know what it was (right side) but not be able to speak the words to describe it (left side). As well, people could touch an object while blind folded and draw the object (right side) but not be able to describe it in words (left side).

Since this early research, scientists have found that people who have suffered strokes or other brain damage have been able to bypass portions of their brain thought to control certain functions like body movements, speech, and sight. It appears that the brain is able to develop new control centers when old centers are damaged. Studies in Great Britain have looked at people who were born with damage to large amounts of their brains but who have learned to use other portions of their brains to compensate and be able to function quite normally.

Out of the left/right brain research have come some useful concepts about how we think. I will continue to use the left/right concept of thought but only as a tool to help us understand some of these differences. Always remember that the brain is too complex an organ to assign any one complete function to only one side of the brain. Just as in brain research, our goal in learning about how we think is to learn more about how we can expand our abilities to think and learn more holistically rather than labeling ourselves as right or left brain thinkers.

If we divide how we think into two main categories, we find that:

Left Brain

The left brain is often associated with:

Sequential thinking.

Orientation to detail.

Logical cause and effect.

Linear thinking (right answer).

The side that "talks".

Knows how something is done.

Right Brain

The right brain is often associated with:

Processing information all at once.

Global view versus detail.

Analogic (sees resemblances).

Lateral thinking (looking for many answers).

Uses pictures versus words.

Discovers what is done.

Studies have shown that people who are left handed, for example, can often play certain sports better and can be more creative in the arts. The right side of our brain controls the left hand. The right side is our visual side and can give a slight advantage to athletes who require visual accuracy and coordination such as hockey and baseball players. In fact in the old USSR, athletes and artists were encouraged to be left handed while North Americans have traditionally tried to encourage children to be right handed (logical thinkers, detail oriented).

This information about the left and right sides of our brain allows us to observe our own thinking preferences. Most of us in North American society use the logic of our left brain and largely ignore the creativity and potential of the right brain.

To increase our problem-solving abilities, we can pay closer attention to using our right-brain skills. For example, we can make an effort to back up and look at the whole picture before looking at a specific detail of a problem. We can look for patterns and similarities even if they are not perfect. ("Where have we seen a similar problem? There seems to be a pattern to this situation.") We can produce many answers without judging them. We can draw a picture to stimulate further ideas. We can imagine the problem solved. We can ask a child for their ideas.

If you find that these are the problem solving techniques that you normally use, perhaps you need to pay more attention to your left-brain skills.

The goal is to expand our thinking by using both sides of our brain.

Exercise #1

Take a problem that you are presently experiencing at work, at home or a personal challenge you have set for yourself.

Try using some of the right-brain processes. Write down or draw your solutions. Do not judge them yet. This may feel awkward at first, but persist and try to be aware of the difference in the number and types of solutions you generate. Be daring!

Limitations to Creativity

If it is true that we use only ten percent of our brain potential then we are limiting our ability to learn and to adapt to an ever changing world. What other limits do we set ourselves?

One limitation is that we hear only 20% of what is said. Part of this screening of what we hear is because we are bored. We can hear three times faster than people can speak. If we are listening at less than that maximum speed we can get easily bored if the subject is uninteresting.

We also screen out a lot of information we are listening to because of cultural, sexual, religious and personal biases. We hear so much information in a day that we naturally screen out most information that we disagree with, find uninteresting, or do not have the patience to learn.

These same biases effect how we read. Again we read only about 20% of the words. We may see each individual word as our eye goes by but we do not remember the actual content. How much of the last book you read can you actual retell in great detail; 80% or closer to 10-20%?

Another limitation is our memory. People remember things that interest them or that have terrified them. Nightmares, war experiences, the death of someone close to you are often remembered in great detail. Favorite childhood adventures, your first date, and the time you won first prize in a sport or contest are things you will probably remember.

Most of our days are not filled with these kinds of adventures. We live in the information age where everyday we are given thousands of details: at work, on the car radio, during the nightly television news, when our families and friends tell us details about their day, when we listen to music or watch movies, or when we read novels, a stack of reports, or professional journals.

This wealth of knowledge has forced us to forget much of the details we hear or read everyday. In fact, we forget up to 80% of new information within 24 hours of learning it unless we review what we have learned. In the section on “Improving Your Memory” you can learn more about how to store important information in your long term memory and how to remember that information when you need to use it.

Stress saps energy from your creative thinking potential as well. This is often tied to time constraints and insufficient time spent setting goals and priorities for yourself.

For the most part, these limitations to creativity can be changed. You can practice being more open to written or spoken information about your problem. There are techniques to improve your memory to help you retain useful information for future reference.

Stress and lack of time can also be addressed in order to approach your problem solving in a more relaxed and more leisurely way. Stress management techniques and relaxation Exercises are useful tools. It is not a coincidence that many of our best ideas come at 2:30 in the morning when our mind and body have had time to relax!

Another limit to creativity is how one defines either the problem or the form the answer is "supposed" to take. A narrow definition of the problem will reduce the quantity as well as the type of solution you come up with. This may be useful for some technical problems, but may hold you back in larger problem-solving situations.

What the solution is supposed to look like will also limit creativity. This particular limit will often take some uncovering. Often the perception of what the solution will look like is so strong that the problem-solving team will not even question the perception. For example, many labor negotiations are limited in their creativity because the options are usually seen as "we get what we want or: a) we will go on strike (union), or b) we will lock you out (management)".

Freeing yourself from a specific type of solution can result in a flood of creative alternatives.

Problem Solving Strategies

Over time, people learn various problem solving strategies that work for them. The strategies you adopt personally often reflect the kind of education you received at school or from your parents. Farmers have different ways of solving problems than lawyers may have or that scientists may have.

The following is a brief list of possible strategies that people can use. Some of you may use different strategies for different situations. At home you may work backwards from a problem while at work you are more likely to use stock solutions. If you are stuck on a problem, try out one of two of the strategies that you do not normally use.

Stock Solutions

May be used by lawyers, engineers or physicians to deal with problems in a similar, predictable way as determined by training.

Constructed Solutions

May be used by such groups as scientists or NASA to break problems into components parts and each then further sub-divide each part until the problem is identified and addressed.


Start at the end-point or goal and work backwards to where you are now. In this way you can identify steps needed along the way to reach your goal. This is the opposite of constructed solutions. Also working backwards allows you to look at the possible positive and negative effects of choosing a particular end-point.

Redefine Problem

Redefining problems is used to ask if the problem is really worth solving? What is the real goal? Is the problem real or is the perception of the problem inaccurate?

Cause and Effect

After you identify the problem you examine the major causes are of the problem: procedures, materials, staff, machines, education, outside influences, economic trends, etc.

System Analysis

This problem-solving strategy looks at problems and situations from a very specific system’s approach. What are all the inputs to the problem/situation? How is this input processed? What are the specific, measurable outputs? How will the outputs affect further inputs into this circular process?


Taking an unreasonable step to see the result (e.g., legislating an industry which pollutes a river to move its outtake pipe upstream so that the industry must use its own polluted water). This provocative solution may encourage people to present more reasonable alternatives.

Force Field Analysis

Force field analysis is useful when examining specific problems and possible alternative solutions. What "forces" will help resolve the problem and make the solution work and what forces will work against the solution. For example which people will help or hinder your solution? What economic arguments will help or hinder it? What systemic forces will help or hinder your solution?

Avoid Problem

By-pass the problem altogether. For example if an engine requires gasoline to power it but there is an energy shortage, perhaps the engine can be redesigned to avoid needing gasoline (e.g., the solar powered or propane gas cars). In this case problems often result in people being forced to create even more effective machinery, procedures or communication techniques.

Exercise #2

Think of three problems or opportunities that you have solved at work recently. What strategies did you use? Put a star beside those strategies listed above. Try to use other strategies to see if your solutions might be different, better, or more/less cost efficient.

Repeat the exercise thinking of three problems you have had at home recently. Try thinking of different strategies and how they might work better or worse than what you chose to do.

Problem Solving Versus Problem Finding

We limit our ability to solve problems if we only deal with situations as they arise. If you read history books and biographies you will discover that the most successful people were able to solve problems as they appeared but also to search out problems to solve and opportunities to test their skills.

People who made large sums of money during the Depression were able to find some opportunities and problems to solve. Inventors actively search out problems in order to get the inspiration to invent something new.

Children are constantly in search of new adventures to test their skills and to learn new skills. Sometimes they fail (and get to hear their parent's lecture) but they do not stop trying until they are older and have "learned their lesson".

People who try to resolve problems only as they arise react to roadblocks, while people who actively seek out problems are proactive. Proactive people look for challenges and problems to enhance and expand their ideas, programs, and resources.

Creative problem solving incorporates the best of logical problem-solving techniques with the more open, nonrestrictive and creative ideas of people who search out problems.

The key to successful problem solving is using imaginative and creative ideas to develop a lengthy list of possible solutions without judging their usefulness until after the list is complete. Force yourselves to go beyond the standard solutions to problems by using techniques like brainstorming, humor, exaggeration, and silliness to help stretch yourself beyond the normal reactions to a problem.

Creative problem solving is called ‘out of the box’ thinking at our work. We are always faced with the dilemma of wanting to do more, create new services or improve them, but as the budget continues to diminish over time, a lot of time is spent on this ‘out of the box’ thinking. For example, in offering a service, can it become an ambulatory service and if so, could there be a third-party payer--it puts it on a health care facility/team level. Or is it more efficient, with certain kinds of things, to have a team that will go out of the hospital to do assessments rather than have individuals come to the hospital and stay for a period of time for assessments?

Larry Lewis

Standard Problem Solving

Sometimes you will use standard problem solving to save time or because it is more comfortable for you to use. This process has helped many individuals and teams find solutions to problems that they thought were unsolvable.

It may help you to understand standard problem solving techniques before expanding your skills to the wider scope of more creative problem solving.

Standard Problem Solving

Define the goal or problem. Is it urgent, like a fire, or is it important, such as designing fire regulations? Be specific in your definition.

Decide on the process for solving the problem. Who will do what and when will you discuss the alternatives or solution?

Decide on how much commitment you will give to this problem. Urgent matters need instant decisions. You cannot sit down and brainstorm during a fire. Someone needs to take command and instruct others what to do. If you are deciding on new fire prevention procedures you can afford to commit more time and energy in developing these procedures.

Develop and examine alternatives. At this point people often depend on previous problem-solving strategies. See the "Problem-Solving Strategies" section of this section for examples.

Expand on selected alternatives and their consequences.

Choose the best alternative.

Act on your decision.

Evaluate the results and the process you used.

In one of my problem solving courses, health care participants were to come up with alternatives for a doctor’s strike that was happening at the time. Using the nominal group process described in this chapter, they began with some of the off-the-wall alternatives that no one judged as good or bad. This down-to-earth group used these “goofy” alternatives as a cue to let their imaginations fly. One impossible alternative led the group to a solution that would never have come out naturally during typical problem solving brainstorming. They suggested that the physicians agree to work for free for three days. They were losing income anyway by being on strike but they were getting their patients and community as upset as the medical regulators. By working for free for a period of time, they could pool the income they would normally keep into a special fund through which they could buy some important equipment they were lacking and to get their message across more forcefully through a media campaign—all without inconveniencing their patients.

Harry van Bommel

Creative Alternatives

Creative problem solving does not replace standard problem solving techniques or strategies; it is meant to improve them. Take step 4 ("examining alternatives") in the Standard Problem Solving for example. To change this step into a more creative technique, change that process into the following:

Using the nominal group process described here:

Individuals are given specific time to generate a minimum of 5-15 (or more) alternative solutions each. When individuals have generated their ideas they each read out one solution each until all ideas are presented. The group should have at least 30 alternatives to the problem without anyone judging the appropriateness of any alternative. Welcome all ideas, even ones that are "clearly" not going to work.

You might use yellow stick-it paper or cue cards to write out each alternative. This will make it easier to divide the alternatives into groups later on.

Each member of the group is given a turn to state an alternative with the group giving that person time to think quietly (this prevents one person from dominating the session). No one is permitted to criticize or dismiss any alternative. Even "bizarre" alternatives can generate more realistic alternatives later on in the discussions. A person may pass. While one person reads out an idea, others within the group may come up with new ideas. They write these out as well and read them when it is their turn. The group continues generating ideas until everyone has passed a few times.

At a different time or on a different day, group the various ideas into categories. Each participant will then take all the written alternatives and write out their top five alternatives. This will cut down on the number of possible alternatives.

Group everyone's top five alternatives and begin to combine similar ones together. Divide these combinations into areas of similarities, e.g., all ideas for staff changes in one grouping and all ideas for procedural differences in another group.

Choose the alternatives that are most popular plus any alternative that any member of the group feels very strongly about.

Return to the groupings and examine each alternative separately for:

Appropriateness as an alternative.

Whether the alternative (bizarre as it may be) can produce a more appropriate alternative (e.g., shooting someone is inappropriate while expressing honest feelings of anger may be appropriate).

Whether it can be successful in the present circumstances within your organization.

Prepare a separate list of the chosen alternatives and move on to step number 5 ("expand on selected alternatives") in the Standard Problem Solving techniques described previously.

Creative alternatives may use the standard problem-solving techniques, and expand on one or two of the steps, as described above. Creativity also means:

Taking the left and right brain information into account before you start to solve problems.

Minimizing the limitations of stress and time.

Recognizing that we only hear or read 20% of the information we are working with and may, therefore, miss something important.

Taking time to define the problem or search for a problem.

Making sure the solution is not unnecessarily limited by preconceived notions of what the solution should look like.

Recognizing that problems give us real opportunities to try something new and exciting.

Exercise #3

Before you sit down to solve your next problem, look over the above list. In what ways will you make your problem solving more creative?

Blocking Creativity

Sometimes people say things in order to block or discourage creativity. They use comments like:

We've tried that before and it didn't work.

It won't work.

That is a stupid idea!

Why do it a new way since we've done it this way for so long.

Do we have this kind of money in our budget?

Is there enough time to do this considering all our other priorities?

We should get more advice from "experts" before we make any decisions.

I don't think senior managers will go for this idea.

We're not ready for that idea as an organization.

Creative problem solving means you have to avoid using statements like this. It also means you have to discourage other people from using these kinds of statements. Creativity requires unrestrained encouragement and trust to try out new ideas without anyone judging their value or usefulness.

If you participate in sessions where people do discourage creative thought, talk to that person privately to help instruct them on the value of creative problem solving to them as individuals and to the organization as a whole.


We have only sketched over creative problem solving techniques. The world of creativity is so exciting and there are so many alternatives to explore. The Resources section at the end of this section can help you begin to find dozens of alternative ways of being creative in solving your problems and searching out new problems and opportunities.

The principle technique of all problem solving is to identify what you specifically want to examine and what process you will use to do that. When everyone agrees on the process it makes it easier to concentrate on the task rather than on who does what and when.

Generating 30-50 alternatives, or more, forces us to look beyond standard problem solving strategies. In the end the standard strategy may be the one you choose. The difference is that you will know if it really is the best alternative given the set of circumstances you are working with. If you do not generate dozens of alternatives you will never know if there was a more effective, cost efficient way of solving the same problem.


The following resources are only a few of the many useful resources that you can find in your local libraries, within your own organization, and in your local bookstores. Look for other books but also for journal articles, magazine reports, films, videos and audiocassettes. Also keep in mind how much you can learn from experts in the field, including people within your own organization!

Altier, W. J. (1999). The thinking manager’s toolbox: Effective processes for problem solving and decision  making. Oxford, UK: Oxford University.

Chang, R.Y., & Kelly, P K. (1994). Step-by-step problem solving: A practical guide to ensure problems get (and stay) solved. Irvine, CA: Chang Associates.

Claflin, E. (Ed.). (1993). The experts’ book of hints, tips and everyday wisdom: From leading authorities. More than 1,000 problem-solving secrets for easier, healthier living. Emmaus, PA: Rodale.

Fobes, R. (1993). The creative problem solver’s toolbox: A complete course in the art of creating solutions to problems of any kind. Corvallis, OR: Solutions Through Innovation.

Higgins, J.M. (1994). 101 creative problem solving techniques: The handbook of new ideas for health care facility/team. Winter Park, FL: New Management.

Noone, D.J. (1993). Creative problem solving. Monroe, WA: Barrons.

Prince, G.M. (1970). The practice of creativity: A manual for dynamic group problem solving. New York: Harper & Row.

Stevens, M. (1997). How to be a better problem solver. Kogan Page.

Stice, J.E. (Ed.) (1987). Developing critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Practical Leadership

Below is a FREE iBook of our book Prescription Leadership.

In return for your reading and printing off this book, we ask only that you email us. This lets us know how many people are accessing this FREE information. That’s it! Just email us:

If you find the iBook helpful, please let other people know they can access it for free too!

Copyright © 2000 Harry van Bommel

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical copying, recording or otherwise, except with the prior written permission of the author or under license from the Canadian Copyright Agency.