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Teams: A “Good” Thing or Instruments of Command-and-Control?

May 22, 2009

Organizations commonly have Product Teams, Engineering Teams, and many other types of teams, but are teams a “good” thing?

In “The Discipline of Teams”, Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith explain:

  • “A team is small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”
  • “Think about teams as discrete units of performance.”
  • “Teams will become the primary unit of performance in high-performance organizations.”

Fundamentally, complementary skills emphasizes competency, common purpose emphasizes commitment and ownership, performance goals are based on the team’s common purpose, the approach emphasizes tasks, and accountability emphasizes commitment and trust.

In “Why Teams Don’t Work”, J. Richard Hackman explains:

  • “Research evidence about team performance shows that teams usually do less well — not better — than the sum of their members’ individual contributors.”
  • “Teams that function well can indeed achieve a level of synergy and agility that never could be preprogrammed by organization planners or enforced by external managers.”
  • “What differentiates those teams that go into orbit and achieve real synergy from those that crash and burn? The answer has much more to do with how teams are structured and supported than with any inherent virtues or liabilities they may have as performing units.”
  • “No matter how good coaching interventions are, they do not help much if a team’s overall performance situation — that is, its direction, structure, and context — is poor.”

Fundamentally, team structure emphasizes how an organization establishes its teams and team support emphasizes how an organization supports its teams.

While individuals have the freedom to initiate joining or leaving organizations (enterprises / businesses / companies) and organizations have the freedom to recruiter candidate individuals or “terminate” employees/individuals, organizations are not generally setup to support such a degree of “individual and team freedom” internally (that is, teaming). Rather than recognize this notion of freedom, most organizations “forcibly manipulate” individuals into teams! Thus, generally the relationship between an individual-and-organization involves more self-organization while the relationship between an individual-and-team involves more command-and-controlperhaps many organizations have instituted teams as instruments of command-and-control. Some teams (with the support of their organization) institute “voting members off the team” which generally increases the team’s degree of self-organization.

Hackman explains that “creating organizational conditions that actively support work teams, therefore, is in many organizations more a revolutionary than an evolutionary undertaking, one that requires a different way of thinking about teams and the factors that affect other performance.” Questionably, are coaching interventions more a revolutionary than an evolutionary undertaking?

As Peter Drucker explicated “increasingly employees are going to be volunteers, because a knowledge worker has mobility and can go pretty much every place, and knows it … businesses will have to learn to treat knowledge workers as volunteers.”

Perhaps, many organizations have instituted teams as instruments of command-and-control, so long as individual participation is not authentically voluntary.

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