Trouble with Teams

by Matt Poepsel, PhD

Now recently, there was a Harvard Business Review article with the provocative title Do we still need teams? gasp, oh my gosh, it was written by Constance Newton Headley and by Mark Mortensen. And it’s actually a really great article, I’ve included the URL below and you can just do a simple search for do we still need teams, if you would like, as part of what they had found is that the author said that went team itself is something that’s been kind of overused. And it creates a lot of things like collaboration, fatigue, and these types of things. And they really, at one point, made an important distinction that I wanted to talk about here for a second. And that’s the difference between what they call true teams. And those are teams that have that shared mindset, compelling joint mission defined roles, etc, kind of the classic definition of teams, and something that they refer to as coaching groups.

So this is that loose confederation of employees that kind of dip in and out of collaborative interactions. And then as the initiative unfolds, it’s just a little bit less taxing, it doesn’t have some of the extra administrative burden and collaboration burden that teams can sometimes have. So that really was interesting to me, because I think there are huge differences between workgroups and teams and these sorts of things. But it turns out, they’re not really misaligning or maligning, I shouldn’t say teams at all, it’s just pointing out that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, when we put together people into teams, and especially in a remote work format, then it can have some detrimental side effects.

Now, when they provided some advice and counsel to us, I found a couple of things interesting. Again, big fan of the article, but I thought this is things that we should just be watching out for. So here’s one that talks about what types of employees and to recruit onto these coactive teams. And you see this, we need employees who are have such qualities of self direction, flexibility, and cooperativeness. Now, it’s very difficult. We call this a unicorn sometimes to find an individual who is extremely good at all of these things. So the more self directed you are, for example, the less likely you might be to be cooperative.

Now these things can be coached and developed, but naturally occurring in individuals and with low levels of awareness, then it’s really difficult to find all these qualities at once. How about this one, being able to switch gears between being independent and collaborative again, depends on certain people, they’re able to make that type of switch more easily than others. So switching gears already is a type of attacks that any collective group is going to going to incur.

About this one minimizing competition is seen as a good thing among group members. Well, I would say that that depends, if we need a competitive mindset and attitude and behavior. Depending on the nature of the product, or project, I should say, That’s might be exactly what we need. So we have to be careful about providing and prescribing any type of one size fits all, again, not that the authors are doing that. But I’m just saying again, that even a collaborative team is going to have these human dynamics that we need to be aware of. And then finally, let’s talk about dashboards.

Other transparent monitoring systems, again, I look at self direction, self directed, people don’t always caught into having monitoring systems in place, and, and dashboard and these sorts of things. So it’s really about compromises it is with any team. And that’s why I like to say that we have talent optimization to the rescue, whether you have a team and our leading one that is about true teams, and the classic definition or a coaching group, the principles of design, which is all about how to design winning teams, is absolutely going to apply.

So in this case, recognizing team members strengths and understanding the team dynamic. These are things that don’t go out of style, regardless of what we may think about teams in the current frame. So that’s it for today. If you’ve got any questions about how you might be able to utilize these insights in your organization, or your situation or a client who you are working to support, I would love to hear from you. Hit me up on LinkedIn. I’d love to continue the conversation.