Most people have never been on a team

Team rowing together
Team rowing together
Reading time: 3 minutes

Well not a real team anyway. From everything I see and hear, the team thing is really screwed up and we either need to accept it and do something about it or stop moaning and getting frustrated about it.

Teams Matter

Here’s how it breaks down. Teams matter. Everyone in the world of work knows that and agrees with it. Most results and pretty much all the results that really matter, are delivered through teams of one sort or another. Whether you measure results through project delivery, profit, sales, margin, market share or any one of the hundred other examples of results that really matter, they’re delivered through teams. It’s the primary vehicle in organisations for doing the stuff that matters and delivering results that matter.

So, it’s just a tiny bit bizarre that when it comes to creating, building and sustaining teams that can perform consistently at the level required and in which there’s high levels of confidence that they can deliver results, it’s amateur hour.

What’s in a name?

For too long, in too many places, groups of people working in a particular area or reporting to one person are called teams. That’s not a team. The clue is in the name – that’s a group of people working in one area of the business, say sales, or reporting to one person, say a sales manager. It’s not a team.

The test is easy. If you’re not sure whether you’re on a team or not, ask one simple question. Do we have mutual responsibility for shared goals? If you haven’t, then it’s not a team. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not a team thing.

What we call things matter because if there’s no shared understanding of what we mean when we name things, then we must accept the consequences of that choice. When it comes to teams, those consequences include frustration at results, poor performance, lack of consistency and an irresponsible waste of effort and energy.

Raft building anyone?

The consequences also include doing “team building” stuff that’s a waste of time, energy and resources because if the team was built properly in the first place, this stuff wouldn’t be necessary. If we’re naming things for what they are, these “interventions” should be called “Crap Team Set Up Damage Limitation Programmes.”

It gets worse

Not satisfied with a failure to set up the team properly, businesses then often compound the problem by having all the performance review processes they use aimed only at individual performance. There’s never a team performance review in sight! Presumably the conversation that led to this situation was something like this:

“Of course, all of our key results are delivered through teams. So let’s set up all of our performance review process around individual goal setting and performance, as that’s bound to help the teams perform better.” Let me think about that…

Team work

It’s pretty clear that there’s very little point in even thinking about being a high performing team if you haven’t got the basics right. Teams are hard things to get right because they require a skilful blend of personal responsibility and shared credit; of individual excellence aimed at collective success; of pride in individual contribution and personal humility in the face of success; of a desire to keep individual standards high and make everyone else on the team better than you; of bringing something unique, not more important.

That’s a proper team.

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