Expected behaviors for team performance

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It's an obstacle encountered by every workplace: lack of productivity and efficiency brought on by coworkers not operating as a team. So Lisa DiTullio took the podium in one of this morning's concurrent sessions to provide advice on how to improve team performance. DiTullio, now a specialist in project management, once worked for Harvard Pilgrim in Massachusetts, a health plan so troubled it was turned over to the state government and given 150 days to get its act together -- or else.

"A simple investment in team dynamics can yield huge returns," DiTullio noted. "It's a process, not a singular event, and practice makes perfect." She should know: Harvard Pilgrim was eventually able to turn its performance around with the help of some of the exercises outlined after the jump.

According to DiTullio, there should be four key expected behaviors for effective and efficient team performance:

Treat everyone with dignity and respect. "It seems like the definitions of these terms are readily apparent, but there's an extraordinary range of interpretation," she noted. Discuss with team members what dignity and respect means to them.

Appreciate the impact of your own work on others, as well as what you need from them. "There's nothing that can happen unless we understand that there's a give and take across the organization," she said. "Much of what we do requires interaction with others."

Demonstrate an ability to problem-solve and make timely decisions. DiTullio noted, "In my opinion, this is one of the biggest problems facing organizations today. Discuss problem-solving and decision-making before problems arise."

Actively seek and receive feedback for improvement. "The only way that we as individuals will ever know if we're getting better is to actively seek feedback from others," she said.

DiTullio also touched on a "rules of engagement" exercise designed to help improve productivity in meetings. Most teams can finish the exercise in a half hour or so. It involves reaching consensus on six key areas: basic courtesies, operating agreements, problem solving and decision making, accountability, conflict resolution and leadership.

Finally, DiTullio looked at improving the virtual meeting. "There are some unique challenges with what we do in virtually managing our businesses," she noted. She recommends that teleconference attendees enhance intimacy by asking the name of each person joining the call and by exchanging photographs with virtual teammates they've never met in person. "Putting a face to a name goes a long way," she said.

For meeting management tools and templates -- all of which reinforce the expected behaviors covered above -- you can visit DiTullio's website, www.lisaditullio.com.