On Teams:  A Blog About Team Effectiveness

The Seven C's -- Cracking the code of teamwork

Written by Scott Tannenbaum on .

Here's some recent data about teamwork and collaboration:

  • 67% of 23,000 employees surveyed report collaboration requirements are increasing (CEB, 2012)
  • 89% of HR leaders believe teams will become even more important (Davey, 2013)
  • Yet less than 25% of employees see their own teams as highly effective (HCI, 2014)  iStock 000010201128Small 2

Working collaboratively can boost performance, but many, if not most teams, aren't performing as well as they should. Teamwork sounds easy, but in practice it's not so simple. Yet, easy or not, you'll probably be working on more teams in the future.

All this suggests that we need to crack the code. Let's see what team science has to offer. 

Over the last 20 years or so there has been a surge of empirical research on teams that can help us crack the code. Eduardo Salas and a few of his colleagues just published an article in the journal Human Resource Management in which they reviewed the research and identified nine critical considerations for understanding teamwork in organizations.

Eduardo and I have collaborated together for many years (yes, team researchers try to practice what we preach!). We've identified seven drivers of team effectiveness that we refer to as the Seven C's of Teamwork. These seven factors have been consistently supported by empirical research. We've been sharing them in our work with teams and leaders and they appear to be quite useful in diagnosing opportunities for improvement.

I briefly describe the Seven C's below. I'll also be talking more about them in a free webinar on December 10th. Join me if you'd like to hear more.

The Seven C's of Teamwork

Seven Cs

  1. Competence refers to the knowledge, skills, and abilities that your team possesses individually and collectively. Teamwork is important, but can't make up for significant gaps in competence. 
  2. Cooperation refers to having the right attitudes about teamwork. For example, people with a collective orientation tend to think about the team and not just themselves. Teams need "enough" members with a collective orientation.
  3. Coordination is at the heart of teamwork, the teamwork behaviors that team members need to demonstrate, such as providing backup when needed. In some cases teams struggle because they aren't clear about the teamwork behaviors they need to succeed.
  4. Communication is often the first thing people think about when teamwork is discussed. Communication with fellow team members and with people outside the team can greatly influence team effectiveness. But you'll recall from an earlier blog entry that more communication is not always better – better communication is better.
  5. Cognition may be invisible, but what team members think matters. Are they on the same page regarding what is important, how they are supposed to handle a particular situation, etc.? Effective teams possess shared mental models.
  6. Coaching is the term we use to describe leadership (because leadership doesn't start with a C!). A key point here is that team members other than the formal leader can demonstrate important leadership behaviors that help the team succeed.
  7. Conditions refers to the environment in which the team operates. Your team may be able to succeed with insufficient resources, or collaborate within a cutthroat organizational culture, but your odds for success drop.

Think about a team you work on, support, or lead. Where are the greatest opportunities for improvement?