Do You Need Teams?

Team is a four-letter word.

Long ago people worked under the direction of a boss who was [seemingly] all-knowing and all-poweful much like Oz. Work was not only transactional but highly segmented and compartmentalized.

As post-war productivity flat-lined entering the 1970s we began to look at new models of work relationships and many organizations moved to a team model. Soon, everything became a team.

Thus for the last fifty years teams have ruled, team-building became a verb as well as noun and teaming seemed the sensible route.

And even though a new model is now emerging as people bring skills and knowledge together for a finite project and then disperse in a business-driven flash mob the team standard persists.

Like any new technology though teams were misunderstood and misapplied in the rush not to be left behind. But labeling a group of coworkers a “team” doesn't make them so: let's go back to the beginning.

Alexander Calder

Teams have:

  • Common Goals – The nature of teamwork is “interdependence”. If people can perform their work regardless of a coworker's progress, that isn't a team. Goals, and goal clarity not only tie people together but provide the overarching reason for interaction. In a very real sense goals are the reason for being. If people don't have a common set of goals, they are not a team
  • Complimentary Skills – teams leverage their unique skills: this ability to magnify strengths, minimize gaps and collectively propel the group to greater productivity is key. Role clarity and skill usage are what gives teams the performance advantage. Get the right skills, define the parameters and teams will perform given goal clarity. A group of people with the same skill set is not a team: its a club
  • Situational Leadership – team dynamics mean internal leadership shifts organically. Part of the strength in the team model is that this shift is seamless and continuous as different memebers step up and back. Different needs call for different responses and the trust in each member's leadership ability is what allows the role to move as required. Teams let the right person lead at the right time by nature
  • Renewal – organic entities, like teams, have to adapt to their environment or perish. Team members come and go so the ability of the team to inculcate values into newcomers while letting former members leave with minimum disruption is truly a group skill. Tuckman was right: all groups move thought the stages of a development: true teams recognize this and deal directly with it openly

Calling a zebra a giraffe doesn't make it so. Likewise with people and the label team. Colleagues, peers and collaborators are necessary for organizational success. But if you want to have a true team, ensure the basics are really in pace

Otherwise you'll be using other four-letter words when frustrated by your quasi-team's struggles.



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