Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why Teams Don't Work

Back in the 1970's the concept of "teams" started to become a major emphasis. By the 1980's the vogue was very much an emphasis on "teams" and much time and money was invested in team building. It was argued that "teams" would revolutionise the organisation through the synergy that can occur when people work together. The ideal, according to many, was that teams should become self-directed with managers playing a largely supportive role. Of course what happened in practice was that, in the majority of cases there was a shuffling of the deckchairs on the Titanic - the terms changed but everything functioned largely as it always had.

"Teams" are still a major emphasis today. The problem, however, continues to be getting "teams" to actually work as they are intended.

One team of researchers and practitioners from the 1980's (Organizational Psychology Kolb, Rubin & McIntyre) placed the emphasis on "goal issues, role issues, procedural issues, and interpersonal issues". Another team from Harvard University in The Wisdom of Teams (Katzenback & Smith) made similar findings but they added the point that "high-performance teams are extremely rare". Other researchers endorsed this and made the emphasis that the key to effective teams lay in defining what had to be done, clarifying roles and responsibilities, involving team members, and empowering people to act.

Organisations with First Generation Leadership and/or Second Generation Leadership (ie today's dominant organisational model) face a conflict of interest in relation to teams - especially if they try to introduce self-directed teams. By definition these organisations have a defined power structure and those people who want career advancement know that, no matter what the rhetoric, the fact is that the team needs to fit in with what is really wanted by "the boss". This can easily lead to competition between "team members" with (as often happens in sales teams, for example) the prime emphasis being on individual performance rather than on team results.

High performing teams need to operate in an environment:
  • in which the team leader is collaborative
  • there is unconditional respect for every team member
  • questions are openly and frequently invited
  • in which the leader sees him/herself as a fellow team member and a facilitator
  • decisions come from multiple viewpoints and are team based

They need Third Generation Leadership and a 3G Leader.

For more information, see http://www.dglong.com

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