In the words of Kristi Hedges, in an article published by Forbes, “leaders spend a sizeable portion of their time focused on improving their teams. They want their teams to perform better, innovate more, resolve conflict, and independently solve any problem that emerges.”
Hard to disagree with that. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about a team? As Hedges points out, we might refer to an organisation’s sales representatives as a sales ‘team’. But if they work independently, covering their own territories and only engaging with each other at their annual conference, do they really constitute a team? I think the answer has to be ‘no’.
It’s an important distinction to make. A lot of time and effort can be wasted trying to turn what Hedges terms ‘work groups’ into teams. It generally can’t be done. And it’s easy to see why not when we remind ourselves of the key characteristics of a team outlined by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith in their seminal work The Discipline of Teams.
The members of a real team need to have a common commitment, a shared sense of purpose. They need to have agreed performance goals. They need to have complementary skills – each member of the team will have a clearly assigned role – combined with a willingness to communicate. And they all have to accept a genuinely mutual accountability. When, but only when, you have those elements in place, you have a team with the potential to achieve something great. Otherwise, you have a group of individuals who need to be managed and motivated individually.
A group of individuals doesn’t become a team just because that’s what you choose to call them.