Teams can be greater than the sum of their parts…but not by accident

Taking a deliberate approach is almost always a better idea than relying on default - teams are no different. Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

Taking a deliberate approach is almost always a better idea than relying on default - teams are no different. Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

Unfortunately, despite the need to work interdependently as a team, a lot of our experience still feels like we are a group of individuals who occasionally work together. Team leaders are often bemoaning the fact that they are overwhelmed with meetings, requests, approvals and sign off processes. Similarly, team members often wish that they were able to make more decisions and take more action without needing to run it by their boss.

To create an interdependent team, we need to realise that bringing together a group of very talented, hardworking and dedicated individuals, is not enough to automatically produce a great team. Most of us can think of examples from our own life when this has shown up. This is supported by recent research supports the fact that - in the right conditions - real teams are collectively more intelligent, more productive and more profitable than individuals or less cohesive groups.

"Individual reasoning and talent contribute far less to team success than one might expect"
Sandy Pentland, MIT

The good news is that, there is plenty of evidence to support that “team dynamics of high performing teams are observable, quantifiable, and measurable. And, perhaps most important, teams can be taught how to strengthen them” according to Sandy Pentland from MIT. That’s not to say that it is easy or that it’s a one-time process. To commit to becoming a high performing team, it requires challenging and meaningful work that is rewarding for individuals, the teams and all those who the team serves. As KornFerry points out in their whitepaper on teams, “one of the keys to developing high performing teams is to remember that successful teams do not simply happen.”

Typically, we don’t spend a lot of time explicitly helping teams improve their collective performance.

So, what's the solution? The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. The inherent and infinite complexity of human interactions means that making statements about specific actions that will work in all teams, in all settings, at all times deserving a fair bit of skepticism from all of us. I have, however, come up with an approach that is designed for you to apply. If you'd like to read more, the details are in this whitepaper. In essence, whether it is my framework or a different one, I'd encourage you to consider a deliberate approach to team performance and to keep these three things in mind:

  1. Does the framework acknowledge and work for teams in the 21st Century?

    Yes, I am throwing rocks at frameworks that assume teams are static or linear.

  2. Is it simple enough to help your leaders, teams and organisation in real-time?

    Unless people are able to repeat back the key principles, it is unlikely that they will be applied as a real-time decision making aid.

  3. Is it robust enough for you to have confidence in?

    While there may be no hard and fast rules, there is enough peer-reviewed research around for it to inform any framework to increase the likely effectiveness.

Some questions for you to consider this week:

  1. Does your team or organisation have a deliberate approach to development and performance?

  2. Do you have any questions for me about team performance frameworks? I'll answer some over the coming weeks.