Don’t believe the hype, teams are awesome

Yesterday I read an interesting piece about how ineffective teams can be. It was interesting because I don’t think there was a proper appreciation of what teamwork enables, achieves and why it either does or not work.

The article claims very little research has been done about the actual effectiveness of teams. Work carried out by Dr Belbin and his colleagues some 40 years ago shows this not to be the case. We have long known how to help teams be effective – the problem has been only some are tasked with actually building and developing effective teams. When you have a start up company growing and adding numbers to their headcount, their priority for effective teams only becomes a priority when someone introduces the need for it. We can say the same is true of big businesses. There may be a need for effective teams but no one knows what this looks like until a facilitator is brought in (internal or external).

The psychological benefits of teamwork are well documented too. Things such as having a social network that you can interact with. Building relationships with people who share similar goals to you. Sharing discussions, thoughts and feelings with a group who can listen and respond. A sense of belonging to something and having motivation to do good work. Recent research in positive psychology shows that working in a team can raise the overall sense of wellbeing a person experiences.

In an organisation, teamwork is the key way engagement happens. Certain factors like good communication channels need to be in place. An inclusive mindset is vital, and respecting differences comes as a core part of this. A team leader helps to give the group a vision and purpose for being. The way learning is shared and feedback given is important to continually develop and improve what the team does and how they do it.

In a different organisational context, teams need to have the authority and responsibility to do what they’re asked to without hinderance or barriers from senior management. The effectiveness of a team can only be realised if they’re actually allowed to achieve their objectives. Teams are very good at creating the culture you desire. They create self defining behaviours. By doing this, they reflect the wider organisation’s culture, as well as the mini culture they create themselves.

Collaboration happens best when the right people are put in the right team and given a clear direction on what they are meant to achieve. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, very few individuals have the ability/knowledge/vision to be able to achieve great things. In all other instances, collaborative efforts will achieve company goals and objectives.

Teams don’t fail because they are teams. They don’t fail because of single factors. There’s often a number of considerations that put together will either help or hinder the success of a team. What we can do is take the time to understand what are we doing to help these teams be a success. Be it a team you lead, a project team you are managing, or a disparate group tasked with working on an initiative, there will be someone who has the experience of what it means to make your team a success. Seek them out and use their knowledge.

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

5 thoughts on “Don’t believe the hype, teams are awesome”

  1. A great post, thank you, and I’m pleased to see you standing up for teams which are so important, even if they aren’t always all that they could be.

    In my experience, teams often under-perform for the same reason that people do: They’re so busy ‘doing’ that they don’t take time to stop and reflect. I was interested to see that the article on why teamwork is overrated quotes Hackman on the challenges of teams, but not his later work (Leading Teams) on the interventions that can create a high-performing team.

    From an L&D perspective, I’m always surprised that we don’t do more in this space. Whilst the game-approach to team building, and facilitation for team meetings is quite common, team coaching doesn’t seem to be as common as I would expect given its potential. Also, I don’t generally hear much mention of the work in this space (like Hackman, Katzenbach, and the more recent Strengths-based leadership stuff from Rath) which surprises me given the untapped potential.

    Thanks again for a blog post which made me think and prompted me to comment!

    1. Hi Ian, thanks for the comment here. I agree, L&D should be doing so much more in this space. There is a lot that is already happening and although there may not be up to date research into this area, there’s a lot of good learnings people have. It’s through blogs like mine, and other sharing spaces where we learn about what this looks like.

  2. OK. The “interesting article” got my blood boiling but then reading the over-riding message in the title again, despite the content, there is a point with some validity here…

    The key phrase I think is “always enhance the performance”….

    Does it help to have a large team of decision making managers running a team or just one individual? In terms of decision making performance and probably cost performance, we know that such a team does not enhance these performance factors. We’ve all seen the impact of too many cooks in the kitchen.

    So the proposition in the title isn’t anything new, even though the content would seem to be myth-busting hype… What the article doesn’t say is that teamwork often enhances the performance of organisations. We also know this to be true – I don’t need to cite examples!

    A contrarian position may work for some, but then you’d hardly expect a contrarian to promote teamwork would you…

  3. What is confusing about the article is that it mixes up groups and teams within it – there is a clear difference and no, teams aren’t always the best way to organise people to get things done! The word ‘team’ is often used inappropriately to describe a group – for example many sales teams are actually groups of individuals who are rewarded for individual effort, with individual goals, only and no incentive to work as a true team.

    Teams take time, effort and investment in team development to be really effective – if the task is worthy and the time is invested the results can be awesome! If, however, the project or task doesn’t warrant that investment then just pull together a group with the right skills, plus a competent, experienced manager and ‘dish out’ the tasks. The manager will have to work hard to co-ordinate the individuals’ efforts, check the work and generally take a lot of responsibility for the results.

    A good team, however, will share responsibility for quality, results and leadership – taking a lot of pressure off the ‘formal’ leader of the team. I use an exercise on leadership development programmes to illustrate the difference between teams and groups.

    I have worked with a number of teams at various levels as a team coach and supported their team’s development and I’m absolutely convinced in the power of good teamwork.

    I have worked with a number of leaders who have been quite relieved to discover that they are leading a group of individuals and all that work they’ve been trying to do to make them a team will never pay off because they have no reason to work together. They can then relax, manage them as individuals and pull them together from time to time where there may be some knowledge sharing or social benefits – but stop trying to bang their heads together to make them a team!

    Sorry Sukh – I’ve almost blogged on your blog here – but I do get a bit irritated by articles/people who ‘diss’ teamwork without really understanding it!

  4. Some great comments here, thanks all for taking the time to grow the discussion. I did get in touch with PsyBlog to let them (him?) know about the discussion here, but seems it’s not a dscussion that has been worthy of picking up.

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