27th July 2017

The Trouble with Teams

Teams are the biggest performance multiplier there is. A group of committed individuals working together, towards a common goal does more than add to the output. It multiplies the output. So for many businesses creating a context and a setting wherein individuals can combine, to work as a team is often a highly efficient method to achieve the common goal. However although all of this may sound like common sense, it isn’t common practice.

In my experience, very few of the groups that work together can be described as a team. They may be a working group, but not a team. One of the seminal authorities on teams is author Jon R. Katzenbach who describes a team as “a small group of people (typically fewer than 20) with complementary skills committed to a common purpose and a set of specific performance goals.”

So the requirements for team formation require the adoption of a common purpose and performance goals. Usually tasks associated with management or leadership. Therein lies the rub. It is very difficult in business for real teams to form without strong leadership and clear direction, two attributes that are all too often lacking. When they do combine and all the stars align to create a high-performance team, it is a wonderful thing. It provides immense satisfaction and results for everyone concerned. But the challenge is that such a state can be ephemeral, it doesn’t last. Or more precisely it is a fragile state that can so easily be brought to an end. Minor differences are allowed to spread, disagreements are allowed to fester, bad behaviour goes unchecked and then spreads like a cancer.

To reach the point where we have developed a great team is one heck of an achievement. To maintain that great team over time is indeed a truly gifted piece of work, particularly when there may have been multiple changes in personnel and when that team or teams exist over multiple locations.

That really is the trouble with teams. Great teams do not form themselves and they don’t maintain themselves without active, sensitive and judicious management. This may come from inside the team but it has to come from somewhere. The rewards are great and the input needed is great too.

So, when you look at the people you work with, can you really describe them as a team? Whether you can or not will be the result of a couple of things above all others. The first is a conscious decision to operate as a team and the second will be a measure of the leadership capabilities that have been applied. The reward for being a ‘valued member of a winning team on an inspiring mission’ is well worth the time and effort needed to learn those skills.