To team or not to team, that is the question…

It doesn’t quite have the poetic moment of Hamlet’s original, but this is still a question that leaders and their teams see as critical. It is however not a very useful question.

To go through the effort and the pain…

In my work, team leaders pose the ‘do we need to be a ‘team’ or not?’ question quite a bit. It usually comes with a squinty expression and a slight sigh… as Hamlets continues, is it worth ‘taking arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them?’ leaders themselves continue….‘Is it really worth the pain?’.

Whilst the organisational structure, which they may have engineered themselves, may dictate that they are all part of the same ‘unit’, and the configuration has logic, still the question remains – do they actually need to do anything together? And is it worth the effort trying to get really good at it?

It would be a pretty impressive bit of organisational planning if you were expected to come together with your colleagues without any purpose at all, but some teams feel like that has happened to them. As a result the meetings are a morass of heart-sinkingly grim conversations, endlessly padded out with one to one reporting. Team members become spectators at the coliseum, as the boss gives the thumbs down to their colleagues.

A much better question

I think the question is not a very useful one. It is binary, demanding a team/no team response. A much better and practical question is ‘where does the team need to work together effectively?’ This focuses everyone on the specifics, and encourages them to work on those activities that will make the difference.

And some others

Other useful questions can refine your conversations and give guidance on where to focus your team improvement efforts.

I propose a series of prompts to assist the team in answering the question ‘where does the team need to work together effectively?’:

  • What are you trying to achieve together? What difference the team is trying to make to the world out there? If it is initiating or following through on huge change or re-orientation, then better get good at working together.
  • How complex is the team’s task in pursuing that outcome? The more complex, the more it will require team members to collaborate and co-ordinate their activity and align on a common purpose.
  • How do you wish the departments below you to work? If you wish them to collaborate, better be good at it doing it yourselves first – as Ghandi had it ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’.

If, in responding to these questions, there is really nothing there, and no overt need to work together on any task, don’t bother. It may be that a need to get together persists. This is likely to be a need that is related more to relationships. The outcome sought could be about belonging, affiliation, learning, or networking. So focus on those things. Don’t confuse them with a need to progress a task together. Lighten the load and move on.