Teamwork: Does It Really Make the Dream Work?

By Heather Campbell

We’ve certainly focussed plenty on teams so far this summer.

Wales’s football team – good. England’s football team – not so good. Leicester City, the David that slew the Premier League Goliaths and delighted us all in the process – good.

Although don’t get me started on the lack of teamwork our politicians have displayed over the last few weeks – boy, did they demonstrate how not to do it. Let’s hope things improve after their summer recess!

Teams are the Holy Grail, aren’t they? Teams are so much more than the sum of their parts. Teams are good for business.  In fact, teams are good – full stop.

Or are they?

Yes, teams are important. But they aren’t THE ANSWER that so many leaders believe them to be. In the endless quest to create the perfect ‘high-performing team’, leaders actually waste time, money and energy – and irritate a lot of high-performing individuals in the process.

Teams are effective when the people involved have a mutual dependence on each other to achieve a specific result. But, all too often, groups of people in an organisation are labelled “a team” when they don’t need to be.

My biggest bugbear is the habit of labelling groups ‘a team’ just because they all report to the same manager. So, let me put it out there – reporting to the same manager doesn’t make a group a team, doesn’t mean a group needs to become a team and doesn’t mean those monthly death-by-update meetings are actually creating a team.

That’s why the first question I put to any group when asked to help them become a better team is: “Why do you need to be a team?”

People usually struggle to answer this question, but taking time to tease out when there is genuine mutual dependence really brings focus.

The second question I ask is: “When is trying to be a team getting in the way?”

In today’s modern workplace – with complex demands, work colleagues around the globe and membership of multiple different teams – it’s as important to know when not to try to be a team as it is to try to be one.

Here are three examples that I come across regularly where ‘being a team’ is counterproductive:

1. Closing Ranks

Teams become so insular that they put up barriers to prevent others joining.

This can really limit teams when contractors, consultants or colleagues from other Divisions need to join for a short-term project. I’ve seen many examples where closing ranks against outsiders is prevalent and costly.

2. Too Many Cooks…

There are too many people to actually make an effective team.

There are still examples of so-called teams of 20 or more people. Not only does this become unwieldy for any kind of effective leadership to take place, it almost certainly means that this is not a team. It is highly unlikely that 20 people share a mutual dependence on one another to get the job done. And it’s particularly counterproductive when team members work at a distance from one another – maybe even on different sides of the globe.

3. Contant Changes

The team puts off ‘being a team’ because there’s always someone about to join or leave.

Everyone waits for the final team to be in place but – with the rapid change that’s inevitable in today’s organisations – there’s always flux. Because there is still a belief that there will be a time when the team is final and fixed, everyone waits… and waits…

Let go of the idea that teams will work together long enough to form, storm, norm and perform – that’s rarely the case nowadays.

Yes, there will always be a place for teams in organisations and creating high-performing teams takes time and effort. This is a worthwhile investment when the team really is a team – and needs to be one.  But don’t waste resources – and frustrate people – by forcing the idea of ‘team.’

If you’re stressing-out at the ineffectiveness of your team, maybe you’re getting het-up unnecessarily. Ask yourself why you are trying to create this team.

Does there really need to be a team to achieve a particular goal – is there a genuine mutual dependence? Are there so many people involved that the notion of teamwork is actually counterproductive? Or maybe you need to loosen those team ties to create a more fluid structure – one that allows for people to come and go as the reality of today’s workplace so often necessitates.

If you’d like to hear more, check out our recent webinar, where we discussed whether Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. Click here to watch to the recording.

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