Why teams don't work

Why teams don’t work

In fact, most so-called “teams” don’t work, for one of two reasons:

  1. They’re not supported or encouraged by the surrounding organization and are not recognized or rewarded for their efforts.
  2. They’re not really teams, but merely groups (at best) or (at worst) pseudo teams.

Teams without access to necessary resources, who are discouraged from investing time in team activities or who find their results and recommendations ignored, eventually will flounder in frustration.

And if teams don’t receive positive feedback for their efforts, teamwork won’t be a positive value for them. To a great extent, people do what they’re recognized for.

For the moment, though, let’s assume that your organizational culture is conducive to teams and that management knows how to recognize them. We then focus on the second reason teams don’t work — the attributes of the “team” itself.

Groups vs. Teams

What do we mean by the terms group and team?

Generally, a group is three or more people who have something in common. Many such groups, e.g., people stuck in traffic together, all retirees, or people who like vanilla ice cream … would never be mistaken for teams.

In the workplace, however, a working group often is mistaken for a team.

The following describes the essential attributes, consequences and examples of the various kinds of “teams” identified by Katzenbach and Smith in The Wisdom of Teams:

  • working group is any number of people who work in the same setting and share, or profess to share, a common set of concerns. Much of what distinguishes a mere working group from a team relates to accountability — working group members are individually accountable for specific goals, but there is no joint effort or mutual accountability.Their output is the sum of the individual contributions.
    [Not bad, but not all that they can be.]Examples are common and include most organizations and departments. An example in sports is the U.S. figure skating team, whose members train and compete as individuals or pairs.
  • Much worse is a pseudo team — a group of people (often a large group) who call themselves a team, while not functioning as such and whose interactions actually detract from each member’s individual performance.Their output is much less than the sum of the individual contributions.Examples often are notorious and include most committees, some quality teams, the U.S. Congress, prima-donna sports teams, and the figure skating team of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.
  • real team, on the other hand, is a small number of people (ideally 5 – 10) who take the risks of joint action and work product. They have specific goals and a common approach — for which they hold themselves individually and mutually accountable. Real team members also possess complementary skills — functional, problem solving and interpersonal. They are committed to a meaningful purpose focused on performance.Their output is more than the sum of individual contributions.Examples are noteworthy and include orchestras, many sports teams, some quality teams, and the ensemble cast of the TV show, Friends.
  • The ultimate in team effectiveness is the high-performance team. Such teams possess all the attributes of a real team … plus a deep commitment to one another’s personal growth and success.Their output is much more than the sum of individual contributions.Examples are inspiring and include the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, the heroes of 9/11, and as dramatized in Apollo 13.
  • potential team has begun the process of taking joint action, but they are still in an early stage of development. [In team development lingo, they are forming or storming.] The risks they’re taking have not yet paid off.Their output (thus far) is less than the sum of the individual contributions.Examples are new teams and, perhaps, your team.

High Risk / High Reward

It is because of the dramatic results of real or high-performance teams, that team building training and activities are in such demand and this article has been written.

But, as we’ve shown, attempting to act as a team is risky! And, even if successful, the short-term results are minimal. [Notice the output of pseudo and potential teams.]

If you already have a reasonably effective working group, you may be better off not attempting it. Especially if:

  1. You have doubts about your group’s willingness to take the risks and hold themselves mutually accountable … or
  2. There is insufficient organizational support … or
  3. Quick results are a priority.

However, if the commitment and organizational support are there — and you’re willing and able to stick it out for the long haul — the results can be spectacular! And the sense of camaraderie and personal fulfillment experienced by the team members is unrivaled.

By teaching essential team skills and processes, facilitating interpersonal bonding and trust, providing guidance through the inevitable stages of team development, and coaching how to handle common problems — an experienced team leader (or qualified trainer/facilitator) can help ensure that a potential team successfully transitions to a real team.

And, if that extra personal commitment to each other exists — or can be ignited — they may even become a high-performance team.

By Don Grimme

The Grimmes conduct customized onsite training workshops and large group presentations for organizations in every sector of the economy. Their groundbreaking book on managing people in today’s workplace will be published by AMACOM in the second half of 2008. Visit their main website at http://www.GHR-Training.com and topic-specific http://www.Employee-Retention-HQ.com and read issues of their own e-newsletter at http://www.WorkplacePeopleSolutions.com

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The Leadership Sphere is the trusted business partner to many of Australia’s largest and most respected companies across a range of industries. We specialise in Leadership DevelopmentCorporate Team Development and Culture Change.