6 Challenges of Teams — Removing the “I’s” from Your Team

Join Our Team, by Craig Taylor, Flickr

Join Our Team, by Craig Taylor, Flickr

The use of teams and team-based structures in organizations continues to grow. Teams are associated with many benefits. One of my discussions on the benefits of teams is here (Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?).

In addition to benefits, the use of teams also has challenges associated with it. We are told there is no “I” in team. Beyond individuals bringing a commitment to the team over themselves, I’d like to also share my short lists of “I’s” to remove from teams.

Ingrown: The first “I” to remove is the challenge of groups becoming ingrown. This is just another way to talk about the reality of “group think” that teams face.  When individual members of teams are not willing to speak up and make their perspectives known, this passive posture of team participation can work against innovation and creativity. In contrast to the dynamic of group think, team members need to be willing to challenge one another’s ideas and pursue new insights, new discoveries, and new innovations as they seek to pursue the team mission.

Indecision: The second “I” to remove is the challenge of indecision. In contrast to the point above, sometimes groups are characterized by sharing many new perspectives and ideas, but the open-ended process of idea generation never translates into decision. This can translate into a form of creative paralysis for teams—always generating new ideas and perspectives, but not making decisions on the questions the team is facing.

Inaction: The third “I” to remove is the challenge of inaction. This “I” of inaction can be a result of several factors. Inaction can be a result of the indecision noted above. But at times inaction is not about indecision but rather lack of fortitude or conviction in moving from decisions to action as a team. Inaction can also be due to lack of role clarity. When assumptions are made and people do not bring clarity and commitment to their role in moving toward actions, these assumptions can also result in inaction. Teams must gather a broad range of perspectives as they resist group think, and then they must land on decisions, clarify team member roles in light of these decisions, and then be willing to act on these decisions as they work toward the teams mission together.

Inefficiency: The fourth “I” to remove is the challenge of inefficiency. As identified in a previous post (Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?), team process often can take longer than working as an individual or in a group process that simply brings together individual work. However, teams benefit from limiting this dimension of inefficiency. Although teams can take longer, it is important to maximize efficiency as the team pursues quality in its common work.

Inequity: The fifth “I” to remove is the challenge of inequity. If you’ve ever participated in a group project over the course of your schooling process, it is common for there to either be an uneven workload distribution or an uneven effort given to the workload of the team. This is an issue of equitable workload. Teams want to have team members that are full participants—team members that fully show up and engage the team process. Removing the “I” of inequity requires that team members are willing to hold one another accountable and call underperforming members to step up in their commitment to the team’s common work.

Inconsideration: The sixth “I” to remove is the challenge of inconsideration. When people come together in group and team processes, there is significant opportunity for conflict and dissention to emerge. Some of this conflict is substantive in nature—team members disagreeing over their ideas and perspectives. Other conflict is relational in nature—team members disagreeing over personal matters related to the interpersonal dynamics. Whether substantive or relational, a key solution to such conflict is consideration among the team members. Rather than engaging with inconsideration, effective teams care for one another. They care for the ideas of other members of the team. They care about the health of relationships on the team. They understand that erosion of team cohesion due to either substantive or interpersonal conflict is a threat to the health of the team and the team’s capacity to care out their mission.

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We are told “there is no I in Team.” This is a helpful reminder that team members need to primarily be about the needs of the team rather than their own self-interest. However, there are many other “I’s” that need to be removed as well. Teams need to face and remove the “I’s” on their teams—they need to remove the dynamics of tending toward the I behaviors of Ingrown, Indecision, Inaction, Inefficiency, Inequity, and Inconsideration.

How is your team doing? Are there any lingering “I’s” to remove in your team?

Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

Photo Credit: Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, by Scott Maxwell, Flickr

“A group becomes a team when each member is sure enough of himself
and his contribution to praise the skills of the others.”
– Norman Shidle

Most people participate in some form of a team or group on a regular basis. This happens through recreation in the realm of sports and clubs. This happens on the job as people come together to get things done within organizations.

Although you likely have been part of both groups and teams in the past, do you understand the difference? What are the key distinctions between a group and a team?

Defining Teams

Larson and LaFasto describe three basic characteristics of teams.

  1. Two or more people
  2. Specific performance objective or recognizable goal to be attained
  3. Coordination of activity among the members of the team is required for attainment of the team goal or objective

Independent or Coordinated Effort

Larson and LaFasto’s third point is the key to answering our question.

  • Groups organize around individuals bringing together independent work in light of individual goals.
  • Teams organize around individuals bringing together coordinated work in light of collective goals.

Contrasting Groups and Teams

Groups

Teams

Independent Work

Individual Goals

Individual Accountability

Individual Evaluation

Coordinated Work

Collective Goals

Mutual Accountability

Collective Evaluation

Valuing Both

I highly value teaming done well. However, there is a time and place for both groups and teams.

Groups are generally more helpful for quickly and efficiently getting things done in the context of a temporary working relationship. When individual and independent work can be brought together to advance the individual goals of multiple parties, then a group is an efficient way to work together. Many of the group projects and assignments I’ve completed over the years of my schooling fit into this group model.

Teams are generally more helpful for taking on bigger projects over a longer period of time. When the outcome requires coordinated work being brought together to advance collective goals that will be collectively evaluated, then a team is the most effective way to work together. Although teaming done well tends to take more time than working as a group, this extra time investment pays off in the quality of the team’s performance.

Speed or Quality

  • Groups are best when the stakes are lower and speed is the key.
  • Teams are best when the stakes are high and quality is more important than speed.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

– African proverb

This African proverb sums it up well. Though most of us want to go fast AND far, usually we have to prioritize one over the other. Groups help us go fast. Teams help us go far.

Enjoy the journey of working with others. I’d love to hear your experience of working with groups and teams!

Leadership: A Commitment to Learning

Learning by Anne Davis, on Flickr

Photo Credit: Learning by Anne Davis, on Flickr

The Cry for Leadership…

In an essay entitled “The Cry for Leadership,” John Gardner notes the following:

“Most men and women go through their lives using no more than a fraction—usually a rather small fraction—of the potentialities within them. The reservoir of unused human talent and energy is vast, and learning to tap that reservoir more effectively is one of the exciting tasks ahead for humankind.”

As someone who is at a mid-career point in my life, leadership, and work, such observations press the question of whether I will:

(1) simply rest on the skills/knowledge I’ve already developed (using the fraction Gardner notes), or will I

(2) aim to continue learning in the second half of my life and professional service of others?

Such a question motivates me as a practitioner-learner. In service of others, I want to commit myself to ongoing learning. Leadership = A Commitment to Learning. If I am committed to the servant leadership values I hold, this commitment leads me to a path of life-long learning. A commitment to leadership translates into a commitment to learning.

As a leader, how are you committing yourself to learning in service  of others?