The prestigious publication ‘The Economist’ has published an article under the title ‘Team spirit. Businesses are embracing the idea of working in teams. Managing them is hard’. The article is doing the rounds of social media.
The article has no doubt been sponsored by the Association of People Returning from their Sabbatical in Mars . It’s a very useful article if you don’t know what the word ‘team’ means and if for some reasons you’ve missed the idea that most organizations have teams of some sort.
Aside from the wrong date of publishing, 19th March, instead of April 1st (Fools Day) the article is full of platitudes not worth even discussing. I have no idea what the purpose of this article was, but, hey, I may have missed something fundamentally profound.
There is a broader issue though, the one that The Economist could have tackled if the author had been on Earth. Actually the problem with teams is that we have too many of them. The team as a ’structure’ had become the default position in organizational terms, and, as such, taken over all air time in the collaboration arena. High performance teams have been described for many years, and the whole solution to the historically limited ‘divisional organization’ had been the matrix, which, by definition, required the inter-disciplinary project teams. Business have teams, sport has teams, the military has teams. So it must be good.
The trouble with ‘team’ as a structure is that, today, in 2016, misses the point. The noun, ‘team’, is no longer the issue, the verb, ‘teaming up’, is. The question is how to create fast, productive non-bureaucratic, responsive, self-recalibrating collaborative structures. ‘The pair’ may be a very premising one, for example. Team or not, the issue is how to bring some minds and hearts together for a purpose, short or long term, and make it work.
I’ve written before that, today, net-work is more important than team-work. The ability to ride the networks of connections, some of them tight, some weak or lose, is the 21st Century equivalent of the previous competence of ‘team player’. I don’t want more team players. I want network riders that can team up, as needed, ad hoc, for short, for long, and not restricted to a ‘team charter’ designed as if the structure needs to run up to Apocalyptic times.
The focus today must be on collaborative formula, in a environment where hyper-connectivity has not made us more hyper-collaborative (connectivity is not collaboration). The ability to group and regroup, establish short or medium term collaborative arrangements, come together fast and disband fast, is more important than ‘the establishment of teams’.
Stop worrying about ‘teams’ and focus on hands on, sharp, creative, fast and fit for purpose collaboration. It may end up on something looking like that classical ‘team’, or not.
Let me go further. If you are serious, find another label. As soon as you call a collaborative structure ‘team’, you inherit a tremendous liability of ‘machinery expectations’, with no obvious guarantee of productive collaboration.
Again, with apologies, no more teams, please, we have a full house already.