The Definition of a True Team

Companies today are searching all the time for team building activities and if you scan the classified ads in any newspaper in North America, you will find a multitude of companies searching for “Team Leaders”, or requesting you to “Join Our Team”. Does this mean the latest paradigm shift is now fully complete? Have all companies across the board truly found the benefits of team building, team dynamics, group consensus, and leading by example?

This must be the case as the Research Center for the Study of Work Teams at the University of North Texas states that at the turn of this century, 80% of Fortune 500 companies will have half of their employees on teams.

But are they really?

In business, a “team” is defined as a group of people who collaborate or work together toward a common goal. A “team” implies synergy, meaning the whole is greater than the sum of their parts. A team may be lead by a team leader, but it may also be self-directed. The essence of a team is a common commitment, because without it, the members are simply a group of individuals.

And thus team building is simply the exercise of constructing or strenghthening work based teams.

Has your organization truly made the transfer from Work Group to Team, or have you simply made alterations to your business cards and letterheads? Here are some tips to help you answer this question:

  • In the strictest sense, a work group is dictated to by a manager, whereas a team is facilitated or coached by a leader.
  • The goals of a work group are established by the organization, whereas in a team the goals are self established.
  • Meetings are called and the agendas are set by the managers of work groups, whereas in a team any member may take this initiative.
  • Similarly, in a work group the manager assigns the work tasks, but within a team, they decide themselves.
  • Work groups rely on individual competition and rewards to measure and recognize success, but within a team workers cooperate and the entire team benefits from any rewards.
  • Communication is from the top down in a work group, but flows up and down and side to side in a team. Thus decisions are made by the top dog of a work group and by every member of a team.

    In the past 30 years the global economy has undergone drastic changes and business has tried every tactic and method under the sun to keep up with these changes. We have tried Total Quality Management, Reengineering, Rightsizing, Downsizing and a whole host of others. Is today’s solution the introduction of teams? How are your employees to know what the staying power of this latest experiment will be?

    In order for this transition to work, you MUST have full support of upper management. They must be educated in regard to how this transition will occur and exactly what the outcome is expected to look like. Keep in mind, upper managers have generally been around for some time and have become accustomed to certain ways. They are after all called upper MANAGEMENT and not upper leadership. The shift to a true team format will be more difficult for them than for any other member of your organization. But without their full support, this experiment will never succeed.

    The transition from work group to team must be slow and methodical. Abrupt changes will lead to disaster. Teams require:

    • interpersonal relationships
    • trust
    • confidence
    • coordination

      These attributes are not something that can be instilled overnight by an inter-office memo. Morphing from a work group to a team requires change, and change can be a scary thing because it introduces the unknown. We may not like the way things are right now but there is a certain security in knowing from experience what can be expected tomorrow. Very few of us want to venture out into the unknown on our own.

      This is why it is so important to instill within your team that nobody is “out there on their own.” Start with baby steps and avoid the pitfalls of using old methodologies to create a new reality. If the title of the group Manager changes to group Leader and she tells the “Team” that they will now follow her new mission statement that emphasizes synergy and a common commitment, has anything changed at all?

      Rules to Remember

      Titles don’t matter; it’s all about how the team functions. Start by allowing the team to develop their own mission and vision statements. Work together to:

      • define your identity
      • what you do
      • where you want to be
      • how you want to get there
      • where your priorities lie

        Set the ground rules and norms, agree on action items, then use the elements of your statements to progress from talking to the talk to walking the walk.