Posted by: genevievetaylor | September 10, 2010

Why Teams Aren’t the Silver Bullet

Teamwork is hard work. In this day of “decentralized, team-based organizational structure,” of “collaboration” and the “flat organization” – that is not something we like to think about.  It would be easier to say that teamwork is the silver bullet, the cure-all.  In fact, being a “team” isn’t always necessary.

Eeegads, did the “teambuilder” say that?  Much of our work at Global Genesis is involved with building teams – it is a primary service, and one that our clients are happy to have help with.  We have helped all kinds of teams in our work – newly starting, re-organizing, functional but not performing, dysfunctional and temporarily performing, the works.

And, in that time,we have seen “working groups” who are missing their potential as  teams;  and vice-versa – “teams” who would have been better off as simple working groups, not saddled with the responsibility of the “team.”

So then, who should be a team?

To answer this question,  we first need to think about what makes a  team.  In our experience, we have to agree with what Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith in the The Wisdom of Teams (1993, 2003) stated: that two major differences between a team and a group is: their shared, common purpose and their mutual accountability. By mutual accountability, their personal success is tied into accomplishing the shared purpose of the group.

A working group may have a shared purpose, but their personal success is not necessarily tied into the success of the group.

Distinguishing itself from the “team” or “potential team” is the high-performance team.  As with the simple team, they share a purpose and a sense of mutual accountability.  However, the high-performance team achieves spectacular results because of its commitment to:

  • A common purpose and goals and mutual accountability, AS WELL AS
  • Each others’ personal success,
  • Continuous learning, and
  • Building trust and respect.

As you can imagine, these other pieces take considerable more time and energy.  To have not only your own success, but the success of others in your mind at all times, to keep yourself open to the learning that comes from feedback, experimentation, success and failure, and to constantly be attuned to building trust and respect requires hard work.  And, likewise, the rewards can yield tremendously – a “synergy” of ideas, energy, action, and results has been reported on again and again.

A nice summary of the possibilities is presented in “The Team Performance Curve”, also found in The Wisdom of Teams.

As you can see, working groups can achieve good results; one can see that in the forums and groups for sharing best practices in industry associations. 

The Team Performance Curve

However, where one really sees great performance impacts is with the the High Performance Team.

The question for each potential team and working group to consider is – are we getting the results that we want in the way that we are organizing ourselves?

If the answer is yes, we are getting the results we want, then it is about maintenance – ensuring that the foundation is solidly built and continues that way. In that case, putting the effort to become a team will create frustration and could stall the effectiveness of the original purpose if there isn’t good reason to do so.

However, if you are NOT getting the results you want to achieve, then it is time to consider what is missing:

  1. Does the team have a clearly articulated and shared purpose and worthy goals?
  2. Does everyone have a personal stake in the success of the effort?
  3. Is it mutually accountable, and open to continuous learning?
  4. And, does the group trust and respect one another, to accomplish their roles, to support their team members, to speak truth to one another in a kind and constructive way?

Assessing the strength of the team on these qualities of the high-performance team can help the team achieve its potential.

At Global Genesis, we are asked most often to help teams in all levels of effectiveness and impact achieve high-performance  by building skills and incorporating tools and practices.

Stay tuned for the next post, where I will discuss about how your team can build a foundation for high-performance teamwork.

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