Continuing with posts about human factors skills necessary for the provision of safer services, I now turn to consider teamwork.
Anyone who has done a management course is likely to have
studied something to do with teamwork. Famously Tuckman  suggested that
teams develop in stages – forming, norming, storming and performing – and
eventually face adjourning. Belbin  has introduced us to the idea that
different team members, irrespective of their professional or functional
status, adopt different generic team roles (such as “Chairman”, “Shaper”, “Plant”
“Completer-Finisher”, etc.). He argues that a mix of such roles is essential to
effective team performance.
Hackman  tells us that effective team performance is
rarely achieved simply through bringing a group of people together. On the
contrary four conscious steps are required: pre-work to determine if individual
or teamwork is required to achieve the objective; creating conditions to ensure
appropriate performance, such as resource allocation; forming boundaries and
clarifying expected behaviours; and providing on-going support and help.
We also know that working in teams has its dangers. One of
the most relevant to child protection is group
think which Janis  defines as “… the psychological drive for consensus
at any cost that suppresses dissent and appraisal of alternatives in cohesive
decision-making groups”. Janis argues that excessive optimism and risk-taking
can be a consequence of dysfunctional team working, with any deviation or
criticism within the group being censored or discouraged. In similar vein
Stoner  identified the ‘risky shift’
in which groups of management students were willing to make decisions involving
greater risk than their individual preferences revealed.
In child protection in Britain an important factor is that
teams are usually multi-disciplinary and that team members are often employed
by different agencies. Joint working between the local authority and the police
(often just a social worker and a police officer supported by their immediate
line managers) is common in undertaking ‘Section 47 enquiries’ into child abuse
and neglect. It is possible that a health professional may also be involved at
this stage (e.g. a paediatrician or a health visitor). Subsequently a
multi-professional group will form a Child Protection Conference and decide if
the child should be made subject to a child protection plan.
There is little research into the important area of
multi-agency decision-making in child protection. We do not know, for example,
whether particular professionals or agencies tend to be more or less risk
averse, or the extent to which individual preferences are reflected in
conference decisions. Is there a risky shift when groups, rather than
individuals, take a decision? To what extent do consensus decisions involve
suboptimal compromises? We do not know.
From the point of view of developing greater skills in
teamwork, however, the existence of the sociological and psychological research
can be helpful. We should not just expect teams to work when people are thrown
together. Some element of planning and design in team working is clearly
necessary. And the structure and effectiveness of the team is likely to evolve
as time goes by.
Diversity of role may be a factor that strengthens and
enhances team working. However, we need to be alert for possible dysfunctional
consequences of working in teams. Team members need to consider whether they
are being drawn into a risky consensus. They should be alert to symptoms of
groupthink such as illusions of invulnerability, rationalisation, excessive
optimism and the suppression of dissent.
 Tuckman, B. (1965). "Developmental sequence in
small groups". Psychological Bulletin 63 (6): 384–99.
 Belbin, M. (1981). Management
Teams, London: Heinemann.
 Hackman, J. R. “The Design of Work Teams” in Lorsch, J.
W. (ed.) Handbook of Orgaisational
Behaviour, Prentice Hall, New jersey, 1987, pp 315-342.
 Janis, I. L. (1982) A
Psychological Study of Foreign Policy Decision and Fiascos, Boston, MA:
 Stoner, J.A. (1961). "A comparison of individual
and group decision involving risk". Unpublished master's thesis, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, quoted in Brown, R. (1965) Social Psychology, New York: Free Press