Some Thoughts on Teams in the Workplace

Problem solving comes in different flavors. It can be analytically,
procedurally, relationally (collaboratively), and/or innovatively. And
in today’s world of inclusion, the method we seek is often
collaboratively. We do this through teams.

The Harvard Business Review did a good opposing angle piece about teams called “Why Teams Don’t Work.” The stance was taken by J. Richard Hackman
by Diane Coutu.
Much of the emphasis is on how a good leader is required for team dynamics
to work. The leader must focus the group, be assertive with the
roles people are playing, keep the team at a manageable number (less
than 10), and establish clear boundaries as to who even is on the team.

Teams also need someone who is a “Deviant” and is willing to put
alternative opinions out into the group. These people do so with
immense personal courage, which is often not rewarded. This person, can
be known as a pain in the butt and very few companies reward these
individuals in the long run. A culture must be established for these
people to fit in.

But my favorite part of the article is this part:

How good are companies at providing a supportive context for

Perversely, the organizations with the best human resource departments
often do things that are completely at odds with good team behavior. That’s
because HR departments tend to put in place systems that are really good at
guiding, directing, and correcting individual behavior. Take a personnel system
that has been honed by industrial psychologists to identify the skills of a
particular job and test individual employees on those skills. In such a system,
the HR department will set up training to develop the “right” people in the
“right” way. The problem is this is all about the individual. This single-minded
focus on the individual employee is one of the main reasons that teams don’t do as
well as they might in organizations with strong HR departments. Just look at our
research on senior executive teams. We found that coaching individual team members
did not do all that much to help executive teams perform better.

HR departments do focus solely on the individual and many companies
have pay for performance methods that don’t truly manifest themselves
in group success or failures. Being on a team is then not priority A,
especially if the team doesn’t have an effective leader.

What gets me though is that successful companies often lean very
heavily on intrinsically motivated employees. Those that have
completely filled work loads and yet they participate in team working
situations and add tremendous value. These folks know that the business
will keep going without them participating, but it is the right thing
to do so they figure out a way. Strangely, I think if you tie too much
compensation to team success then you would create a crutch for people
– they will be less likely to be self motivated.

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”

Japanese proverb


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