Teams are an important building block of today’s dynamic organizations. While today’s business environment is increasingly complex and competitive, the use of teams is seen as a way to respond to these challenges. Teams allow for inclusive workplaces that support the sharing of ideas, the fostering of creativity, flexibility (the ability to respond to change), and continuous learning. Management teams are seen as a way to engender strong leadership in an organization, and cross-functional teams as seen as a way to bring talent from across an organization together. In response, we see today’s organizational structures become flatter, as traditionally stiff organizational hierarchies become more dynamic to allow for teaming.
Teams are defined as “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”1
Team performance and individual performance are defined by similar factors: ability (that is aptitude, resources and training) and motivation (goals that are believed to be important). According to Harvard psychologist Richard Hackman, well-designed teams include:
- Clear Goals
- Well-Defined Tasks
- Tasks Conducive to Teamwork
- Team Members with the Right Skills and Experience
- Adequate Resources
- Coaching and Support
According to Harvard professor Amy C. Edmondson, teaming is a verb. In dynamic organizations, teams form for specific projects or to respond to specific challenges. As a result, teams are quickly formed and disbanded. Teams no longer have “time to build a foundation of familiarity through the careful sharing of personal history and prior experiences, [or] time for developing shared experiences through practice working together.” Teaming, therefore, requires a special consideration of effective leadership and communication skills to be successful.
When people work towards a desired outcome that is greater than the sum of all of the members’ input, this is called teamwork. For example, a group project can be split into equal parts, and divided among group members; or, a group project can be shared, and team members can compare their problem solving methods and answers, and teach each other what they know. The latter is teamwork. Teamwork takes time and interpersonal skills; however, done effectively it leads to better outcomes and continuous learning.
1. Katzenbach, J. R. and Smith, D. K. (2005). The Discipline of Teams. Harvard Business Review.