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.