FOUR MYTHS ABOUT TEAMS
Teamwork is becoming increasingly important because of the complexity of modern knowledge based organisations where collective intelligence is required for bottom line success. A team has the potential to exceed what its members would be able to do on their own. However, these results do not come about automatically just because we call ourselves a team.
To enable a team to work successfully, you have to pay attention to the social dynamics among the team members. But there are some myths that may prevent a team from reaching it's full potential. Many believe, for example, that a good atmosphere in the team automatically creates a good performance, and others believe that it will guarantee results if the members' team roles complement each other.
Here are four myths that I want to challenge:
MYTH 1 – "WE SEE NO PROBLEMS SO EVERYTHING IS FINE"
Many teams report that they have no problems working together, but this may hide the fact that the team is not optimising the talent and skills of its members.
A team gets used to certain ways of communicating and working. “That’s the way we do things here." The force of habit is strong and it's hard to see yourself from the outside. Therefore, the team is not aware that their culture can have some blind spots that inhibit collaboration and knowledge sharing among team members across their different tasks and expertise.
The consequence may be that all the skills are not used, that important business potential is overlooked and that the team misses opportunities for new discoveries. But the problem is that the team can't see any problems, because they do not know what they do not know.
It might be important to challenge the teams who are complacent and don't think they need to develop. Teams will benefit from opportunities to see their team culture from the outside, reflect upon their patterns and blind spots, and in this way discover their unused potential.
MYTH 2 - "A TEAM WILL SOLVE PROBLEMS BETTER"
Diverse teams are necessary to solve complex tasks because people with different backgrounds and competencies will bring their different perspectives and knowledge into play. Small and large, ad hoc and permanent, internal, and cross-functional teams are formed so that the diversity of the team members can enable better solutions and new insights than individuals can do on their own.
But all too often a team falls below expectations because they fail to generate new thinking and fail to take advantage of synergy. Creative friction about the task generates new approaches and new solutions, but interpersonal friction can prevent teams from reaching high levels of cooperation.
The reason can often be found in the team's culture where some inappropriate social dynamics and group pressures have developed. For instance a strong force towards consensus, so the group avoids certain topics on which the members may differ; or there may be a tendency to talk about 'them-and-us' using blame to create false cohesion and a false sense of security. In such cases, talented individuals may actually obtain better results than an immature team.
Teams will benefit from being helped to understand their own culture and way of communication, and how they can change this. They will become aware of how they unknowingly impede their own results, and they will develop concrete guidelines for how to create a more fruitful appropriate and fruitful culture. It is often said that differences lead to better solutions and innovation, but this is only the case if the company is doing something actively to manage the differences so that their positive potential can flourish.
MYTH 3 - "IF ONLY OUR TEAM ROLES COMPLEMENTED EACH OTHER"
Companies often make an effort to ensure that team members' social roles are complementary. But even if one puts together a ‘dream team’ of competent people with complementary roles and skills there is no guarantee that the team will succeed in delivering good results and new ideas.
The most important thing is not who the group members are, but what they do when they work together in everyday life, in other words which kind of team culture they create. If the team culture is characterised by high trust with a strong focus on common goals, members may not confine themselves to certain roles, but take stock of the situation, adapt and contribute with the inputs needed. They will perform their priority tasks jointly and create a suitable division of labour consistent with the demands of the task.
The relationships are essential to enable people to encourage the best in each other, so all can unfold and use their skills.
Team leaders and the team members will not benefit from putting each other into boxes, and should focus on the culture that the members jointly create. The team can be enabled to stop and think about how they work together, and to reflect on the impact of old established patterns of behaviour have on their collaboration and their results.
MYTH 4 - “A GOOD TEAM SPIRIT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING"
Teams often spend time on the development of a shared framework and shared rules, especially during the initial phase of the work. Team building is expected to enhance the knowledge and confidence in each other, and the team leader is pleased when team members talk about team spirit and cohesiveness.
But in some teams consensus and a friendly work environment can become a goal in itself, and the team's task comes second. In this case comfort is dangerous for the company because such teams do not perform optimally and they find it difficult to develop and innovate.
Collaboration is not just about consensus; it is equally important to be able to leave the comfort zone and explore disagreements within a team. Different viewpoints should be used actively so that participants’ different skills and perspectives can emerge and contribute to new thinking and new solutions.
The team can be helped to develop the ability to question the 'usual' and allow their differences to be in play in constructive ways. They need trust and a strong sense of community to dare to alternate between agreement and disagreement, because that is the way to development and innovation.