From me to we

While teams can be an effective way to organize, not all teams are effective. Leadership is always a shared commodity in a team, since nobody fully controls a team process. While discipline is crucial, if you want to succeed, social aspects cannot be overlooked.

Team members share roles and responsibilities crucial to their task’s success. In one project, you may be the formal leader but depend on others for key insights. In another project, you watch others excel but may have unique experience in a vital area. If you are very outspoken, you can rally people to support you when there is time to make a decision. You may be the social leader in the group. The important thing: You must think and lead simultaneously.

In the last decade, business has been seen rapid innovation. Those who fail to innovate die — unless they operate a monopoly. (And eventually, monopolies also die, due to government regulations or because an ever-changing business environment.) Innovation grows in importance. Fresh perspectives are held in high regard but cannot possibly come from the insiders alone. And while insiders are important, one person alone cannot change much. What matters: Look around yourself, and work with what you have. Within any organization, there are insiders and outsiders. A team has a great deal of knowledge that is inaccessible those not on the team. This holds true even for colleagues who have been part of a company for 20 years.

Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith’s 1993 classic The Wisdom of Teams posits that corporate teams must be small, diverse, and accountable. Their follow up tome, 2001’s The Discipline of Teams, indicated that successful teams depend not so much on bonding, togetherness, and empowerment but, rather, on discipline — all of which is true. But there is more: Meetings, for instance, must be issue-driven. You have to allow time to solve the issue. Do not stick strictly to project plans. Effective teams, wrote Katzenbach and Smith, alternate leaders even when completing one task. All members are mutually accountable.

A Hollywood soundstage or a large public-sector consulting project, are both examples of team settings. A team is a small group of people, usually twelve or less, working together for a limited time to achieve common goals. If the team is larger, additional people perform marginal roles or act as subcontractors to the main delivery. A successful team is a group whose elements (e.g., people, process, leadership, and resources) lead to deliveries that match or exceed initial expectations.

Teams command a set of resources and are affected by several factors specific to their task, the individuals on their team, the setting, and the sector. Other factors may intervene.

Successful teams believe in their task and command sufficient resources to reach their goal. They have a social leader, as well as a task leader (neither of which may be the assigned project leader), and they spend considerable time face to face. When forced to meet online, they are aware of the current limitations; communicate carefully and do not spend too much time on controversial issues.

The bulk of existing research on teams indicates that while all teams are working on a task or task, most teams devote equal time to maintaining the social relationships within the team.

Teams differ in degree of complexity, and you need to know which factors come into play in your own team. Even more importantly, as we will see, every team must become a “we” before anything useful can happen.

About Trond Arne Undheim, Ph.D.
Trond Arne Undheim is a futurist, speaker, entrepreneur and former Director of MIT Startup Exchange, based outside of Boston. He is the CEO and cofounder of Yegii, a search engine for industry professionals, providing collective intelligence. He holds a PhD on the future of work and artificial intelligence and cognition. He has accelerated four unicorns and helped launch over 50 startups. A former MIT Sloan School of Management Senior Lecturer, WPP & Oracle executive and EU National Expert, he writes for Fortune and Cognoscenti, and has been featured in print media and television. Undheim is the author of Pandemic Aftermath (2020), Disruption Games (2020) and Leadership From Below (2008). His next book is Future Tech (2021).

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