I seem to be encountering a lot of information about teams lately. Last week, I sat in on a webinar put on by Patrick Lencioni, the author of many books on teamwork, including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Then, in reviewing the April 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review, I read two articles on teams – Teamwork on the Fly and The New Science of Building Great Teams. (These links will take you to an abstract of each article, but you will need to purchase them or log in as a Harvard Business Review subscriber to get the full text.)
Patrick’s talk was actually focused more on his soon to be published book called Organizational Health – A Powerful Advantage, which focuses on the organization, but one of the essential building blocks that has to be in place for an organization to be healthy is a healthy, functional, cohesive team.  In order to do this, leaders and their teams need to master these five behaviors: Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results.  It all starts with trust and team members wiling to be vulnerable with the group.  With this kind of trust in place, the team can engage in conflict without fear.  The team also needs to be able to disagree and then commit. Each team member also needs to hold other team members accountable and call them on their behaviors without having to go to their leaders all the time – the need the “…courage to enter the danger.”  Finally, the team has to have attention to results – not their own individual results based on their department, status or ego, but rather those of the team and the organization.
The two HBR articles focused on different, but complimentary, ideas.  In the “Teamwork on the Fly” article, the author makes the case that in this fast paced and constantly changing world, teams as we have traditionally known them are not as effective as the concept of teaming, or flexible teamwork.  What teaming really amounts to is teamwork on the fly and teams that are made up of members across departments, disciplines and geographies.  The issue that often bogs these kinds of teams down is that they do not have the opportunity to develop trust and build psychological safety over time – this must be accomplished much quicker and, essentially, as the team is doing its work.  The author provides ways to get teams to embrace the concept of teaming and use it to allow participants to become nimbler, more innovative and achieve amazing short-term results.

In the article titled “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” the author studied physical characteristics of team members and suggests that building great teams is a science.  We can’t all go out and buy wearable electronic sensor for our team members to capture their tone of voice and body language, so the biggest takeaway for me from this article was that the ideal team player is one that the author calls a “charismatic connector.”  These are the people that circulate within the team and engage in meaningful conversations, listen as much if not more than they talk, and connect their fellow team members with each other to facilitate the sharing of ideas.  (I don’t know about you, but this reminds me a little bit of the “Connector” that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in The Tipping Point, no?)

What if we were able to bring some of these concepts and tools and apply them to our teams, both the teams we lead and the teams we are members of?  Law firms are still asking us to work more efficiently and be innovative and having the “best team on the field” would certainly allow us a much better chance at success in these areas.  I suspect that many of us are already embracing the concept of teaming without knowing to call it that, but we are also probably encountering many of the pitfalls of teaming.  Maybe we all need to spend some time thinking about what we can do to be a better team member and make the teams that we are a part of and that we lead the best teams they can be.

  • Anonymous

    Teams can be great, but we need to be aware of the pitfalls of forced collaboration. Some people are great at collaborating via email or other asynchronous means, but are not as good in physical group meetings or open settings. See "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking" by Susan Cain (http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com)

  • Project management protocols derived from SixSigma, Lean and other process improvement initiatives almost always begin with defining the problem to be addressed in order to build a diverse team best equipped to attack it. Diversity is the essence of robust problem solving and the genesis of most conflict. When we bring different opinions about problem solving to the table, conflict should be expected . . . and welcomed. What great innovation ever arose in the absence of conflict? Thus the SixSigma principles in DMAIC begin with the creation of a team (Form, addressing the inevitable conflict (Storm), establishing the guidelines for reaching consensus (Norm) in order to achieve the team's objective (Norm). Without conflict competent leadership skills on the part of the team leader, little will be accomplished. Great post!

  • To reply to the comment about introverts…

    I think that a really great team can (and should) include both introverts and extroverts. If the team starts with trust as their first building block, they can create cultural norms for the team that respect everyone's creative process. A great team should create energy amongst its members, not stress or anxiety, but I certainly think it can be done. The team leader is cricital here in setting the tone and respecting the different processes that people have.

  • In my opinion people do not realise what team work actually means. This is a very special mixture of chracters, temperaments, emotions and moods. What do they mean by team work? Does it mena that if you cannot work well in a team, you are a leader, or just the opposite – yu are a looser?