TEAMWORK can benefit individuals and organisations, but working together for a common purpose also means having to face many challenges. Before organisations set up teams to achieve business objectives they should consider several factors as it is common for teams to fail. 'It may be right to be in a team and also have teams in your organisation. But there are challenges in making teams successful,' said Shaun Smith, managing director of change management at Forum Asia, a consultancy. 'Teams offer a lot of promise. Teams can increase productivity, shorten cycle time, improve innovation, increase competitiveness and enhance quality. And all of this is true to some extent. But, for many organisations, these benefits do not materialise.' Mr Smith said there were 10 main challenges that teams confronted. 'There is role confusion, divided loyalties, failure to renew commitment, oversized teams and abandonment not empowerment,' he said. 'Also, teams have to deal with inadequate resources, are overwhelmed by information, weak communications links, key stakeholders are not brought in or bought in and they become distanced from customers.' So, what makes for effective teams and in what environments do they thrive? The answers can be found in a survey by Forum Corporation over the past year covering industries ranging from pharmaceuticals and electronics to hi-tech and aerospace. The survey included case studies, interviews with high-performing team leaders and also identifying the best practices that made effective teams. According to the study, the best organisations display five qualities: they are customer-driven, dynamic, interactive, capable of following a process and aim for results. Also the best team-based organisations manage five core processes: accountability, buying in, learning, infrastructure and partnering for results. Mr Smith said: 'Buying in involves how people are enlisted for the team, accountability determines how performance is shaped and learning affects how performance is improved. 'Infrastructure affects how work is organised and partnering for results relates to how people work together.' Mr Smith said to enlist people, team leaders needed to identify and recruit stakeholders, set directions, build a shared purpose, sustain commitment and establish and maintain credibility. 'The process of accountability involves sharing power and control, clarifying roles and responsibilities, motivating and rewarding teams and acting as a leader,' he said. 'Learning involves coaching and being a mentor, feedback, taking risks, constantly correcting the course set for the team, 'seeding' or transferring available expertise and evaluating progress. 'Putting the right infrastructure in place involves project management and sharing information, and the allocation of resources, meetings and measurement.' And, in partnering for results, team leaders should facilitate effective communication, solve problems, build trust and promote innovation, he said. But teams did not succeed by themselves. Team leaders also were required to excel. 'Leaders must understand the organisation's business and look for results, continuously reassess goals and responsibilities, ensure stability and use existing systems as against re-creating them,' Mr Smith said. 'Effective team leaders empower without abandoning their leadership role. 'For a team effort to be successful, the needs of a team have to be thought of as a strategic decision, not a structural one. In other words, managers need to think whether teams can generate better results for the organisation, not just for teams themselves.' He said skills alone were not enough. 'Effective team-based environments have different cultures compared with hierarchical environments. This is particularly true in the Hong Kong environment,' Mr Smith said. 'The commitment of senior managers to teams can either make or break the team. 'Management in a team-based environment does not go away; it gets transformed to a coach, trainer or advocate.' He said teams would succeed only if managers were well-prepared. They needed to have the right attitude, skills and tools. Effective team-based organisations thrived because they paid attention to these factors.