A common reason that teams fail

Teams aren't always the right solution. Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

Teams aren't always the right solution. Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

It is important to realise that teams are not always the answer. There are times when the task at hand may be better suited to independent or leader dependent work.

When I am working with teams (or groups!), I'll often differentiate three ways of working - as individuals, as a group and as a team. Each of these types of working is better suited to different operating environments, different tasks and provide different benefits.

Individuals
Work that requires no interaction with others. This type of work is best suited to simple environments, where there are very few variables and those that exist are easy to predict and control.

Group
Work that requires team members to do, not think. The leader has visibility and responsibility for all of the work that the team does. Best suited to complicated environments where there are many variables, but experienced leaders are able to confidently predict and control.

Team
Work that requires interdependence to be greater than the sum of their parts. The leader's responsibility is to empower and enable team members, who need to think and do. Teams are best suited in complex environments with increasing speed of change decreasing predictability.

With this in mind, it's easy to see how Richard Hackman can make a statement like..."Contrary to conventional wisdom, teams may be your worst option for tackling a challenging task."

Teams are a way of working that we can choose to work. My hunch is that in our world, the work that we need is polarising - away from working as a group. That way of working is a product of the industrial revolution and generally not all that useful in the 21st century. Increasingly, we are needing to do more work as a team. There is also more scope for parts of our work (like me writing this post) that are best suited to working alone and as an individual.

Some questions for you to ponder are:

  • When do you need to operate as a team in your context?

  • Can you build the agility in your team that allows both team and individual work?