Teams and Teamwork in Organizational Management
The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy.(Sun Tzu ping-fa V.21)
Organizations that are managed in a comprehensive way, are managing their environment
and its workspaces. Holistic, environmentally-related management doesn’t focus on the
present and the past. It has its attention firmly fixed on the future.
Imparato and Harari suggest organizations should “look a customer ahead.” They should
perfect talents and processes that lead to sustainability and success, and use, “group
learning…seeking out ideas…encouraging open, constructive conflict (as problem analysis
not blame analysis) and using technology.” They favor “Inclusive organizations” that
break down walls and barriers, and they:
keep divisions and project teams small, regardless of how large the organization
are clear on the broad responsibilities of the group and the individual while allowing
everyone continually to recreate his or her job.
make flexibility and change a way of life, they foster networking and collaboration
across departments and disciplines.
foster a climate where action is emphasized over debate, pilots over proposals tries
over analysis, accountability over sign-offs, trust over second-guessing.
reward (not merely tolerate) the risk takers and challengers. (1994, 130-131)
Workgroups – and teams
In today’s organizations, work groups are used when collective minds are needed to focus
on either issue definition or resolution. These groups are what Peters and Waterman (In
Search of Excellence) call, “the basic organizational building blocks of excellent
Work is delegated to these groups. They send recommendations upward. They bring
together multi-disciplinary talents to deal with all sorts of organizational needs. They
address such issues as employee relations, health and safety, parking, office
accommodations and the need for improved coffee services.
But some of these groups are informal and do not meet establishment and maintenance
conditions that should be fairly, or even strongly rigorous. Indeed, in the North America
work environment, oftentimes little thought goes into the whole business of workgroups.
Someone is told to “see who is available and get a group together.” The casual nature of
the process can be seen in Doug Miller’s comment about group membership. “Depending
on the situation, people will find themselves as the leader on one team, a peer on another,
and a subordinate on a third, the roles being defined by the nature of the work.” (The
Future Organization, in (Hesselbein et al 1997,123)
A team is different from a group: a team adds value. A group associates people by anything, whether
deeply like a family, or superficially like a group of mostly random passengers on Flight 108. A team is
more than individuals; it has synergy. It has an organizational advantage. (Lipnack and Stamps 1993, 85)
Hackman reports having heard from one manager that he liked “more informal leadership
(as, for example) a designated team leader takes away from the team concept.” (Hackman
1990, 343) When groups are more thrown together than constituted, trained, led and
empowered, management should not expect them to accomplish much.
While a great many American firms have adopted ‘team approaches’ in recent years, success has been
mixed. The reason could be that American managers don’t quite realize what they are creating requires a
lot of energy and attention from them to sustain.” (Pascale and Athos 1981, 126)
Because we do not have discipline around teams and teamwork we tend to use the terms
“team” and “group” interchangeably. In fact, we usually don’t make any distinction
between them. A hospital psychologist said,
I don’t see the (treatment) team as a group. I see the entire ward as a group. We don’t have a strong sense
of identity; we are more members of a ward than we are members of a team. Our team task is very narrow:
we get together once a week to develop treatment plans. (R.B. Shaw on Mental Health Treatment Teams, in
Hackman 1990, 341)
Some analysts see a need to establish a more defined distinction. Teams are important.
They are, with leaders, the two most important human elements in the organization.
Winning Through Innovation suggests teams are a key to competitive advantage. With
planning, intelligence and effective decision-making processes, teams and leaders are
able to deliver results in an expeditious and low cost manner. As Somerville and Mroz
…..organizations in the twenty-first century must find a way to make the spontaneous forming and re-
forming of high-performing multidisciplinary teams a natural way of working. (Hesselbeing et al 1997, 71)
“Teams” do “teamwork.” When they are properly constituted, they are microcosms of the
organization, conditioned to work with teams from parallel or competing organizations in
order to resolve issues and deliver joint solutions. They are – or should be – key elements
of our work strategies. According to one guru, “Empowered teams are, (in their simplest
form, where) people come together with a very clear common business purpose.
Members are peers who interact laterally. Leaders emerge from within the group based
on expertise and fit with group needs, rather than by superior appointment. (Lipnack and
Stamps 1993, 310)
World Class Teams says, “Teams are the answer whenever there is an issue to be
resolved.” (McDermott et al 1998, 7) Pat Riley, who knows sports, teamwork and a lot
about winning, says teamwork means everyone’s efforts are flowing in one direction. But
importantly, there are also shared values in a team. “Every team that wants to move
toward significance and greatness has to decide what truths it will hold to be self-
evident.” (1993, 24)
The military is also a good source for messages and lessons about teams. Combat unit
interdependence is an attribute that is developed through the military’s rigorous boot
camp training. Its importance is referenced by Gallie:
In war, the most intelligible action units are relatively small groups of men, in close physical contact and
operationally interdependent, who share, as if by animal magnetism, the same reactions and feelings,
whether in the form of resolution or faint-heartedness, of renewed dedication to, or of blind faith from, the
demands of their terrible trade. (Gallie 1979, 104)
In progressive, intelligent organizations the terms “team” and “teamwork” are not used
casually. They are mission critical terms that indicate a hard-nosed, not casual way of
doing business. Corporate “team concepts” need to be rigorously defined if the
organization aspires to “best of breed” status:
World-class teams face turbulent waters on their journey. They are not for the unskilled, unprepared, or
fainthearted. For most organizations (they) represent a different and complex way of working, thinking and
behaving. They are complex. They require work. They force change. (Mcdermott et al 1998, 8)
Organizations that seek team excellence pay close attention to team formation, function
and control. They ensure that teams are kept small, lithe and mobile. They maintain an
ability to react quickly. Real teams are not “part” of organizations. They have no ongoing
function. They deliver what they have been directed to deliver, and then they disband.
Donald Krause speaks of military teams where:
Armies came into existence to serve defined purposes…in response to specific, definite threats or
opportunities. (Such) armies were disbanded after the threat or opportunity had passed. (Krause, 1995)
What makes teams work well? Tushman and O’Reilly III say it is efficient decision
making, flexibility and adaptability and autonomy. (Tushman and O’Reilly III 1997, 117)
Strong teams are like Doug Miller’s “chameleon … organization of the future (that)
builds itself on a premise of flexibility.” (Hesselbeing et al 1997,120) But relationships
and gentleness are also keys to team effectiveness. The Tao of Teams says:
Water! The image of moving water suggests an effortless flow that is yielding while supporting all things.
Unlike water, values can clash, creating resentment and mistrust – the ebb and the flow. (Torres 1994, 29)
Rosabeth Moss Kanter says that when teams are working right, there are tight controls.
Clear limits and guidelines and leadership are important in making an empowering, freedom-generating
process work. True ‘freedom’ is not the absence of structure – but rather a clear structure which enables
people to work within established boundaries in an autonomous and creative way.” (Foreword to L.J.
Spencer’s Winning Through Participation)
Well designed, populated, trained and managed teams are invincible. But to achieve that
state, nothing is left to chance – not the choice of leader, not the members, and not the
training of any of them. When the training is done correctly, there is a full internalization
of values, rules and purposes. They are so competent they can, if need be, operate without
their leader. Their competence depends upon shared values, shared understandings and
shared techniques. They know how engagements are won.
Benevolence is a critical characteristic of highly effective teams: the only real win is
when everyone wins. Bob White of the Canadian Autoworkers says teams in collective
bargaining must be full of strength and integrity. (White 1987, 104) Stephen Covey says,
“Success comes when you “unleash the energy and talent of people,” (but if I am using)
manipulative strategies and tactics to get other people to do what I want – while my
character is flawed or my competency is questionable – I can’t be successful over time.
Rhetoric and good intentions aside, if there is little or no trust, there is no foundation for
permanent success.” (Covey 1990, 17)
But how does an organization embark on the road to effective team-building and team-
management? World Class Teams says when “real teams” are needed, organizations
•Before teams start their work, senior executives need to participate in a systematic
process to set teams up for success.
•Senior executives must provide visible support and commitment to the team
•Teams need a clear Charter and Boundaries
•Team Leaders must be selected for their diversity and competency
•Teams need communications processes and technologies
These messages are repeated in Groups That Work – and Those That Don’t. Here the
author, in his discussion of team competence, says structure must promote, and precede
competence. At the beginning, the focus should be on,
•“Task structure (clear task, consistent with the group’s purpose, high on
•group composition (the right people, the right size)
•and core norms that regulate member behavior.” (Hackman 1990, 10)
“Core norms” is another way of speaking of team charters. World Class Teams says
teams start operating when their Charter and Boundaries are defined. “Teams are
committed to achieving a specific Performance and Business Challenge. The Challenge
must be aligned with and supporting the business’s mission / vision.” (McDermott et al
Contemporary management theory says that teams work best when they have freedom
within a well-defined framework of principles. High performance happens when
members know the limits, and know how to work within (and sometimes outside) them.
Stephen Covey says, “I teach (people) correct principles, and they govern themselves.”
The talent for leadership is organization-critical and mission-critical. It is the most
significant success factor in organizations, followed closely by management and
administrative professionalism. (Simon 1996, 221)
Team leaders are a special breed. They are able to combine observation and assessment
skills, with exceptional talent in leading and managing. They do all that while remaining
in harmony with their organization and the organization objectives. They are highly
proficient planners and have a proven capacity for learning and adaptability. They know
intuitively when they need guidance, approvals and refusals. They are at complete ease
with decision-making despite the fact that this aspect of their role is highly stressful.
Leaders are not given to intemperance, but they are born risk takers. They know they
must decide, and do.
Good leaders are discreet, yet forthright. Always, they give up only what intelligence
they must. When they are most successful, few will know. When they are unsuccessful,
all will know. Because their intelligence is sound, they are fully informed and rarely
surprised. Their timing is impeccable.
The competent leader knows (s)he is utterly dependent on – and will be judged by – how
well (s)he develops teams. Therefore they must be skilled at managing the dynamics of
teams and the techniques of control. Leaders empower their team members. They recruit
them, teach them, and make them one. Leaders share achievements with their teams,
seeking no glory or reward for themselves. They make their teams not as strong as its
weakest link, but as strong as the strongest link.
Because leaders know and believe in the mission, they infuse their teams with their
vision, understanding, and commitment. Filled with energy and power, such teams are
always ready to move when the organization calls upon them. They win when they
If you are a member of a team in a competent organization, you should consider yourself
honoured. You have been selected for very important work. Your main reward is in
having the opportunity to participate in strategic events of great importance.
Your selection has told you several very important things – about yourself.
1.You are compatible to the team culture.
2.You are known to place the needs of the organization over yourself
3.You are one who learns with, and works with colleagues
4.You have shown that you are unafraid to serve as required.
5.You will have no problem adapting to, and adopting team values that focus on
strength, intelligence, trust and discretion.
As you are capable of being trained, you will be properly indoctrinated and integrated.
During this process you will establish trust and interdependence with other members.
Your leader will train you for every known contingency and teach you to adapt to
situations. (S)he will hone your talents in observation and communication. At the end,
you will know your role and that of your colleagues and leader perfectly. When you and
your team are at that state, you will be ready to engage.
When an engagement is assigned to the team, you know it is necessary. Your leader will
brief on the issues at stake, the strategy, possible tactics, who are the participants and
what intelligence has been gathered. You will be reminded of the importance of victory,
and the fact that loss of control equates to failure. During these exercises, the leader will
be infusing you and your colleagues with energy and dedication. He will not release you
until he is confident that spirit is at its highest possible level.
Having served your organization successfully through membership in a high competent
team will have repercussions in every aspect of your life.
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© David G. Jones 2006