The belief that working in teams makes us more creative and productive is so widespread that when faced with a challenging new task, leaders are quick to assume that teams are the best way to get the job done . . .
. . . Contrary to conventional wisdom, teams may be your worst option for tackling a challenging task. Problems with coordination, motivation, and competition can badly damage team performance. Even the best leaders can’t make a team deliver great results. But you can increase the likelihood of success—by setting the right conditions. – Harvard Business Review May 2009.
I stumbled across the article Why Teams Don't Work by Daine Courtu. Having been a coach, team-teacher, team-leader and also team member in many successful (and some unsuccessful) teams,
I immediately pounced on the pages and scanned the content.
Courtu interviews J. Richard Hackman, Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology at Harvard University, and author of the book, Leading Teams.
Hackman, a notable expert on teams with a lifetime of experience in studying and working with teams, has an authoritative opinion that makes a lot of sense to me. He comes over as a straight thinker who cuts to the chase when it comes to matters about the worth of teams.
Hackman’s stance is that teams can generate magic (didn’t we always believe that?) though we shouldn’t always count on every spell working the way we’d like. In his book Leading Teams, Hackman rationalises five critical conditions governing the balance between success and failure:
- "Teams must be real. People have to know who is on the team and who is not. It’s the leader’s job to make that clear.
- Teams need a compelling direction. Members need to know, and agree on, what they’re supposed to be doing together. Unless a leader articulates a clear direction, there is a real risk that different members will pursue different agendas.
- Teams need enabling structures. Teams that have poorly designed tasks, the wrong number or mix of members, or fuzzy or unenforced norms of conduct invariably get into trouble.
- Teams need a supportive organisation. The organisational context – including the reward system, the human resource system, and the information system – must facilitate teamwork.
- Teams need expert coaching. Most executive coaches focus on individual performance, which does not significantly improve teamwork. Teams need coaching as a group in team processes – especially at the beginning, midpoint and end of a team project.”