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Collective competence: A new (-ish) perspective on building great teams in organisations

Organisations go to a lot of trouble to ensure they have the best staff possible.

They develop proactive recruitment strategies to identify excellent candidates, offer competitive employment packages to attract the best individuals and rigorously evaluate the applicants. Once hired, staff are encouraged and supported to develop and enhance their skills.

However, while hiring the best people and further developing their capacity and capability is a great way to assemble a team of champions, it doesn’t guarantee the outcome will be a champion team.

This is a particularly important issue for organisations whose products or services depend on teams of people working well together.

It’s now becoming clear that no matter how highly skilled its individual members, to make a champion team, the team needs to develop collective competence.

First defined in the late 1990s, collective competence refers to the way a group of individuals work together in performing a task. It’s about how individuals interact, exchanging their experiences, knowledge and perceptions to develop a shared meaning for the actions or tasks the group members contribute to.

But collective competence isn’t something that just happens. Indeed, most of our social, educational and organisational structures work against the development of collective competence. We educate, train and assess individuals; we employ, performance manage and reward individuals. We work in silos, protect our professional territory and promote deconstructed, modular approaches over systems-based thinking.

Therefore, organisations that want to develop the collective competence of their teams need to facilitate and drive the process, by encouraging active, deliberate exchange of information between team members through structured conversations. This information exchange enables team members to function in their individual roles with an awareness of each other – in terms of their respective skills and knowledge – as well as an awareness of the system in which they work.

Embracing the concept of collective competence also has implications for evaluation and quality improvement. While it will always be important to assess the performance of individuals, collective competence requires us to also think about how we evaluate – and remediate where necessary – the collective performance of the team.

At MEERQAT Pty Ltd, we’re creating tools to help organisations build the collective competence of their teams and to apply a collective lens to evaluation and quality improvement.

Our flagship application – MEERQAT – has been developed specifically to tap into the knowledge and experience of staff in assessing the health of business processes or programs. MEERQAT tools provide structure for team discussions and allow staff to learn from each other about their respective contributions to business processes and the impact of their own contributions on the activities of others. Importantly, through being encouraged to make a meaningful contribution to the evaluation process, staff develop a collective sense of ownership about assessment and quality improvement activities.

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