There is the team you lead, and the one you are a member of. There’s your family, maybe you participate in a team sport, and a community group you’re involved in. Everywhere you go you’re a part of a team, in one way or another.
The question is, how is your team working? Or is it not really a team at all?
“Teamwork remains the one sustainable competitive advantage that has been largely untapped.”— Patrick Lencioni, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2005)
Corporations increasingly organize workforces into teams, a practice that gained popularity in the ’90s. By 2000, roughly half of all U.S. organizations used the team approach; today, virtually all do.
A recent survey found that 91 percent of high-level managers believe teams are the key to success. But the evidence doesn’t always support this assertion. Many teamwork-related problems actually inhibit performance and go undetected.
While leadership styles have been evolving from autocratic to more participatory, the blurring of hierarchies and sharing of responsibilities have created other performance problems.
What are some of the obstacles that appear when teams start working together? There are several barriers to achieving great work from teams:
- Some individuals are faster (or better) on key tasks.
- Developing and maintaining teams can prove costly and time-consuming.
- Some individuals do less work, relying on others to complete assigned tasks.
In my work coaching leaders, I often hear concerns about how their teams are working. Roles and responsibilities aren’t always clear, and often it’s easier to avoid debate and conflict in favor of consensus or to do it yourself. Pressures to perform drive people toward safe solutions that are justifiable, rather than innovative.
Yet, a good team beats out individual performances hands down. Despite these potential pitfalls, effective teams benefit from combined talent and experience, more diverse resources and greater operating flexibility. Research in the last decade demonstrates the superiority of group decision-making over even the brightest individual’s singular contributions.
The exception to this rule occurs when a group lacks harmony or the ability to cooperate honoring individual gifts and talents. Decision-making quality and speed then suffer.
Beyond perfunctory team-building training sessions, what’s needed for teams to perform optimally? How can they evolve into resourceful, high-performing units? What’s worked in your organization? And, what hasn’t worked to build a successful team? I’d love to hear from you.