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Is your team less than the sum of its parts?

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There’s a common perception that teams are a source of great productivity and creativity in the workplace.  Nary a job spec goes by without requests for excellent team working skills and abilities.

Is it really the case though?  It’s often said that teams can be more than the sum of their individual parts, but significant research suggests that more often than not, your team will be less than the sum of their parts.

For instance many of the studies done into group performance reveal that the gains are minimal at best.  Richard Hackman is arguably the foremost authority on group performance, and he has identified certain common team traits.

  • High performing groups are not normal, instead groups often have huge variations in ability from top to bottom.
  • People in groups often waste time squabbling over goals.
  • Groups frequently suffer downward performance spirals.

So if the potential for group performance is often over egged, how can you go about building more effective teams?

The research suggests that managers should not assume that everyone needs to be in a team to work effectively.  Whilst there are suggestions that team membership can carry psychological benefits to members, their minimal performance benefits suggests we should not get hung-up quite as much as we currently do on employees perceived team working prowess.

There should also be a flexible approach adopted to team membership and formation.  Social collaboration tools make it much easier to discover the talents lying within each employee, and as such it makes sense to have a flexible approach to how those talents are best applied.  Allowing employees to move around teams, applying their skills where required is a great way of ensuring the best is got from each employee.

How effective are your teams, and how often do you assess their effectiveness?

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