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Is Your Team REALLY a Team? Why Instant Pudding Doesn’t Cut It (Part Two of a Series)

February 24, 2010


Monday’s post kicked off this series on teamwork by looking at an Eco Challenge event, from which I drew several lessons on human dynamics. Today, we roll up our sleeves and begin examining specific topics on teamwork.

Teamwork is talked about widely in organizations, but often with little understanding of what it means. Management typically wants immediate results, teams that are formed and ready to go overnight–something like an instant pudding.

This post looks at the six basic elements of teams. But first, here’s one definition of a team (from Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith):

A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

Think about that definition for a moment. What’s your reaction?

There are two key prerequisites to becoming a team. One is that the group of people involved has a common purpose and the second is interdependence among the members. Without BOTH of these present the group will never become a team. It’s impossible.

It’s essential that the members of a team be committed fully to their common purpose and performance goals. A common purpose takes time to develop, but it gives the team an identity. Remember this: team purpose = team performance. They’re inseparable.

To determine if your group is a team, or has the potential, answer the following questions.

1) How large is your group?

• Is communication frequent?
• Do you meet often, and are discussions constructive?
• Do people understand their roles?

2) Are their sufficient, or potential, skills to achieve your goals?

• Are the three types of skills present: interpersonal, technical, and problem-solving?
• What skills are missing?
• Are people willing to learn new skills and to help one another?

3) Is there a clear and meaningful purpose to which people will strive to reach?

• Is it a team or organizational purpose?
• Does everyone understand it the same way?
• Do people think it’s important and inspiring?

4) Are there specific performance goals that everyone agrees on?

• Are they organizational, team, or the leader’s goals?
• Can they be measured easily?
• Do they allow for small wins along the way?

5) Is there a commonly accepted approach to work?

• Does it maximize the contributions of people?
• Does it allow open interaction among people to solve problems?
• Are new ideas encouraged?

6) Is there mutual accountability among people?

• Is there individual and mutual accountability for the group’s performance and results?
• Are people clear on what they’re accountable for, individually and mutually?
• Is there the view that only the team can fail?

These questions need to be asked and reflected upon to determine whether any elements of teamwork are present in your work setting. Pseudo teams abound in organizations, but what we’re striving for is a common purpose and interdependency of effort as the key ingredients. The rest will come with dedicated effort.

Next Post: The Five Levels of Teams

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2010 10:37 pm

    You raise important questions, Susan. As work gets more distributed (e.g., telework) and becomes more virtual, such as through transnationals that have workforces in dozens of countries, the whole nature of teamwork changes. This creates new challenges, especially with multinational workforces, not to mention issues of supervision and trust with employees who telework.

    Yes, decisions can be made faster when you’re working independently, or in dictatorships. However, with respect to sociaties or groups of people, one would hope that the quality of the decisions are better and of a more sustained nature when people share a common purpose and vision.

    I’ve had plenty of head-banging experiences working with committees and groups over 30 years. But when a group of people gels and works collaboratively towards the same end, it’s incredible to watch the creativity and talent emerge. Unfortunately, there are too many pseudo teams in organizations, thus producing meager results, along with inefficiencies and (often) cost-overruns.

    This is the leadership challenge for senior management: how to create effective teamwork in the appropriate contexts, and as I noted earlier, how to address the rapid emergence of virtual work.

    Thanks for writing.

  2. February 26, 2010 3:54 pm


    As someone who often works alone, I was wondering if at some point working as a team becomes inefficient. For example, does it take longer to make decisions because you need a consensus? Do decisions tend to be conservative because groups are less likely to be risk takers than individuals? Do simple tasks that could be handled by one competant individual now become tasks for the whole team?


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