Is your team a real team?

Is your team a real team?
Article appeared in Corridor Business Journal, June 12 – 18, 2017

I find it interesting when managers introduce me to their procurement team or invite me to spend time with an accounting team. In many cases, these groups are far from what we know to be real teams.

Katzenbach and Smith, in their book, “The Wisdom of Teams,” define a real team as “a small group of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, shared performance goals and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

On the other hand, a working group is made up of people who have individual goals and perform their tasks independently. While they come together to share information and best practices (aka staff meetings), they do not take responsibility for any results other than their own. Working groups are typically characterized by a strong, clearly visible leader.
Teams must have shared performance goals or there will be no mutual accountability. We are all in; we win as a team and we lose as a team. I have every right to call out unproductive behaviors in my team members because those actions are negatively impacting our ability to achieve our goals – my goals and our goals.

Typically teams share leadership, utilizing the complementary strengths and talents of the team at different times and in unique ways.

Teams must be kept to a reasonable size. The ideal is five to seven members – preferably less than double digits and certainly less than 20. Why? Have you ever tried to get 30 people to reach a consensus on anything? Everything, including communication, conflict resolution and member engagement becomes more difficult as teams get larger. We also experience “teams within the team” because people will naturally align around smaller groups where they feel more comfortable, secure and aligned. Social loafing happens when team members believe they can essentially hide and not perform because no one will notice.

It is imperative that teams define their norms – “how we do things around here.” Providing clarity with respect to how we communicate, share documents, make decisions and resolve differences defines expectations for everyone on the team. Team members hold one another accountable for these norms as well as the team’s core values – behaviors we cannot live without.

Teams are often considered more risky by those in the team because they are giving up control to the whole. It is easier to simply be accountable to myself and not have to rely on someone else to do his job or to keep her promises. However, teams make better and faster decisions because they tap into the unique perspectives of everyone on the team. When collaborating effectively, the results are often superior to that of a working group.
When is it important to utilize a team structure? When the processes are interdependent and very complex, teams are a much better solution. Do you want to stop the blame game, fingerpointing and throwing one another under the bus? Try a team structure where everyone owns the same goal. Looking for an innovative, creative solution to a difficult problem? Effective teams will always come up with the best solution over an individual.

Why is it important to know the difference? Not selecting the appropriate structure will cost you time, commitment and engagement. Utilizing working groups when a team was needed will result in less-than-stellar results. Choosing a team when a working group would have sufficed will waste time and critical resources.

Both working groups and teams can be highly effective. It is important to identify the goals, the tasks/ processes and desired outcomes. Then, choose wisely. •