The Rise, Ubiquity, and Paradox of Teams
Written by: Bennett Bratt, CEO and Founder
One of the reasons I find it easy to be passionate about helping Teams improve is because they are so deeply woven into our daily experience and existence.
First, whether you sense it or not, you’re a non-stop consumer of things that Teams produce. That Grande Latte? The newly repaved road that made your commute smooth? The healthcare so expertly provided in the Emergency Room? It’s hard to think of an example wherein some way, a Team of people didn’t make that “thing” come to life for you.
Second, the odds are overwhelming that you’re a participant in Teams. Our Team Elements research over the past 11 years shows that on average our clients report participating in about 9 Teams at any given point in time, taking into account both work, home, and play. And this number will likely continue to increase.
Not that long ago, many of our parents and grandparents participated in a few select committees, clubs, or boards. Today, take a look at almost any facet of our lives, and you’ll see Teams as the primary organizing vehicle of our day and age. From middle school science contests to contemporary mega-churches and everything in between, I see Teams. In fact, the ability to be an effective team participant has become so important to the way we live today that daycare and pre-schools are increasingly organizing children into Teams to teach Team skills at the earliest ages.
All of this is mirrored in this Google chart showing the frequency of use of the word “team” in books published between 1800 to 2019, and its growth especially over the last 100 years or so.
Teams have become a part of almost every experience we engage in. They’re everywhere we look. They have become ambient, a part of the daily experience we swim in and the atmosphere we breathe. And, such as ambient things are, paradoxically, they are hard to see and so difficult to understand. They’re just there.
So it’s sad when my clients describe only about 20% of their Teams as effective or highly effective. [Can you imagine tolerating anything else in your daily life being effective only 20% of the time? If your cell phone connected only 1 out of every 5 calls you placed, you’d be furious. Doesn’t this state of Teams make you just a little bit frustrated?]
A few quick data points from people who research these types of topics:
Josh Bersin’s analyses of Global Human Capital Trends sought input from thousands of executives around the world. These executives’ top concern, even higher than leadership development, culture, or workforce analytics? How to structure their organizations into highly effective and agile Teams that can work across functional and organizational boundaries.
Global powerhouse Google spent two years studying their Teams to determine which variables predict better Team results. [Google, like Cisco and others, focus on and invest heavily in Teams as the fundamental unit of productive work.] Certainly, they would find that the Teams with the best results were made up of the most brilliant individuals, no? No. The Teams with the best business results were ones with behavioral norms around empathy and listening, and in which leaders helped create a sense of psychological safety.
Finally, Deloitte has spent the last almost 5 years referencing the new model of thinking within organizations, which they like to call Networks of Teams. This new way of thinking about organizational management is evolving past the Industrial, Hierarchical, and Collaborative models, and now into Team-based management. Here are Bersin’s Human Capital Predictions for 2017 and Deloitte's 2020 Human Capital Report for reference.
This ubiquity and quickly growing importance bring challenges to our daily lives, and these only seem to be increasing. Not sure what your role is on the Team? Unclear what the Team’s purpose or vision might be? Hate conflict? Don’t believe the Team is living up to its fullest capability or hitting its goals? Indeed, you are not alone.
[As a side note, we also find it interesting that at the very same time we’re seeing this rise and ubiquity of Teams, something of a backlash is taking shape. Harvard Business Review’s take on “Collaboration Overload” focuses us (once again) on Star Performers, and how they perhaps give too much and suffer burn-out. But I get stuck on the title. Really? Can we have too much collaboration in this world that is so oriented to individual optimization? How about we simply do the hard – but entirely possible – work of simply collaborating better, while maintaining healthy boundaries?]
I was chatting recently with a C-suite client troubled with a particular team, and I could hear the mix of consternation and bewilderment. Their team issues vex them, almost beyond description, not because the problems are so big, but because they seem enigmatic. Where to begin? What happened to the trust we had? What happened to our Team-ness? Instead of too much collaboration, why does it seem in such short supply?
The path forward lies in the only place it can – in the very first acts of seeing our teams and claiming both our right and responsibility to begin a journey to more effective, and enjoyable, small social systems.
That destination – living and working in small social systems that work well, accomplish their goals, and have a positive impact on our world – is a fine place to end up, and worth the investment. And the added bonus? The journey itself is an amazing voyage of discovery for you and those on your team.
I’d love to hear about your experiences on this topic. What’s your Team experience?