On Teams- Forming, Changes and Stability

posted Oct 14, 2009, 11:16 PM by Ravindar Gujral   [ updated May 4, 2010, 11:29 AM ]
Teams are a collection of individuals that come together as a cohesive unit to work on a shared common goal. The group understands that the shared goals and outcomes are achievable if everyone cooperates and works towards a solution as a team, much like being in a lifeboat together. When we are in that boat together we learn to deal with those who are different and to tolerate those we don't like.

This is a basic, simplistic view of teams but it is very powerful. Changing teams and moving individuals from one team to another is like throwing people out of the lifeboat. Of course, some individuals like to move frequently, but most like a bit of stability.

This kind of change done often enough creates a difficult situation. Any addition or removal of team members creates stresses within the team. As many would agree that the team is effectively a new team if key members are moved frequently. And any new team takes time to become an effective and high performing cohesive group. If changes are made often to a team such that stability is never achieved we never get to the elusive “High Performing Team”. What we will have instead is constant churn. If team change is made every couple of months, we have 1) individuals who do not believe in the concept of team, 2) people who don’t feel that achieving a high performing team is within their grasp, and 3) teams that never settle into a workable rhythm. What we get is a gap between management expectation and reality.

One of the very basic understandings that we need to have when forming teams is that we need to “Respect People” and that at the end of the day it is about people. I like this explanation from the Poppendieck’s (http://www.poppendieck.com):

  • Respect People: Engaged, thinking people provide the most sustainable competitive advantage.
  • Teams Thrive on Pride, Commitment, Trust, and Applause. 
    What makes a team? Members are mutually committed to achieve a common goal.
  • Provide Effective(situational) Leadership 
    Effective teams have effective leaders who bring out the best in the team.
  • Respect Partners
    Allegiance to the joint venture must never create a conflict of interest.

Let us examine each point that is made above. If we respect people we should communicate fully and openly about decisions on team formation and destruction. We need to believe that everyone is a professional and an adult and if provided with information will understand the reasons for changes and decisions. We should also be willing to hear opposition if team members or entire teams disagree with a decision.

Teams thrive on pride, commitment, trust and applause. The two most important aspects of this are that teams are trusted to make the right decisions and that individuals trust each other when they are part of a team. Trust is the basis of any interaction within the team or between teams. Replacing trust based interaction with processes that calibrate and measure to ensure correctness of interaction creates an environment of fear where individuals feel that every judgment and decision is questioned. An environment that fosters trust allows individuals to support / accept decisions made by their team members as well as decisions made by others. Obviously trust alone is not enough. The team has to be committed to achieving a shared goal and have pride in what they are doing.

Providing Effective Leadership is also important, but the key is to recognize that leadership is situational. Different leaders surface in response to differing situations and circumstances. Thus, static, general-purpose leadership models are not based on reality, nor do they provide methods for shifting power and leadership organically based on the situation. As is very nicely put by Ricardo Semler the way to achieve situational leadership is to give up control. True situational leadership — flexible, effective, and evolutionary — can only arise from self-management, which means always giving up control.

Respecting everyone involved in a project whether they are part of your team or another team is the key to achieving a cohesive work unit. This is not to say that common interest or goals won’t cause friction, but that these common goals coupled with trust, effective (situational) leadership and a sense of belonging to a team will ensure that these frictions don’t become personal or become conflicts of interest.

The basis of all this is people and as an organization recognizing this aspect is the key. The quote below from Ricardo Semler sums up the recognition that any organization wanting to sustain itself should place on people: “it’s not what Semco makes…it’s the way the people of Semco make it” (1)

It is also important to point out that just having teams is not the end of the road, team composition is also important. Innovation and achievement cannot be realized without considering what types of individuals are being brought together as a team. As Jim Collins states in his book, Good to Great(2): “Get the right people on the bus”.

PS: A quote I like, which does not really relate to the topic above, but probably will be a topic for my next blog post : "Does it take $600 million to stick another blade between the other two?".


Reference:
(1)Maverick by Ricardo Semler
(2)Good To Great by Jim Collins
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