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When Teams Are Not Really Teams
Enterprises often organize people into a working group and call them a team even when the members work independently and have no overlap of tasks or outcomes. Because they are called a team, leaders naturally hold meetings with the collective, asking them to provide updates and review performance metrics that others on the team could care less about.
Not surprisingly, these meetings are a death march and so boring that anyone not speaking checks out and disengages. The leader is left scratching their head, wondering what to do to create meaningful dialogue and collaboration. The problem is usually obvious to everyone but the leader who has been directed to provide oversight and manage this so-called team.
Drum roll, please.
This is not a team. And can’t be.
The group is a loose collection of individual performers and will not operate as a team no matter what strategy the leader employs. By definition, a team is comprised of highly interdependent members with a common purpose and a shared set of outcomes. When those characteristics are absent, nothing can make members engage as a team.
Giving the group a false purpose or common goal will often compound the problem. The same is true for inconsequential results or outcomes to bind the individuals together. Effective leaders don’t fight the fact that some groups can’t and won’t operate as a team. Instead, they foster collaboration and relationships by avoiding gatherings of the entire collective and use three-way meetings as their surrogate.
By inviting two group members to join the leader for a periodic discussion, leaders can use the time to receive the updates they need and also to promote a stronger relationship between the peers. The key is to treat both members as co-leaders. After reviewing recent news and updates and exploring strategic issues and metrics with one member, the leader should ask the other individual to work with them to provide feedback, ask questions, and offer insights about what they heard.
Asking each of the parties to apply their smarts and sense-making to the other creates a robust learning conversation that becomes invaluable over time. Mixing up the pairs each week adds to the benefits everyone receives. The more group members know about each other’s projects, assignments, and results, the more they will seek each other out for advice and counsel away from the leader.
Some groups just can’t operate as a team. Instead of forcing them to, the best leaders accept that reality and treat everyone as leaders. Sometimes unity exists in the conversation and not in a common goal.