Teams and Team Building


I'm trying to think of problems that I can solve without involving anyone else.
Not many.
Not many problems are impacting only me.
Usually, at least one other person is involved.
And since there's more than one person, we have a team.

What's a team?
I had a long chat with my son who's at the age where he feels his job is to challenge each idea I have and every thought I express.
He believes in the adage, "Your friend will argue with you." (Alexander Solzhenitsyn),
He must like me a lot.
But I diverge.
He suggest a group is a collection of people.
A community is a group with some commonality (geographic proximity, interest, etc.).
A team is a community with a purpose, something to accomplish.
Suppose he's right.
I've been studying team building in the Armed Services (particularly the Marine Corps), corporations, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts (I was a "Man in Green").
I've noticed each training has the same elements at the core. How they address those elements varies, but they are all the same.
There are five (5).
None is more important than the other.
All are necessary.
I suggest that forming the team needs only these 5 elements. Team activity will require more, but these 5 are essential.
When you're in a team, determine how each is manifested. I'll bet at least one is missing.

  • Who is on the team? What's their name? What are their passions? What are their fears?
  • What resources and capabilities (assets) does the team have or can influence? What skills? What "stuff"?
  • What are values does the team share? This is not a question of collected values, because is some members feel emotions are important and other members are emotionless, there is a division regarding emotion; emotion is NOT a shared value. What values are important to EVERY member of the team? If some, but not all team members have all the information, is the rest of team okay with that?
  • What is the vision shared by each member? Does each member know what "done" will look like for the team? Can each member define what "done" looks like for them?
  • How will the team communicate? How will every member know what progress has been made, what's going on, who owes what to whom by when?

You may have noticed things that are not on my list.
Like "leader".
[I'd really like an example that I can personally verify and validate, but for now, I'll use one from popular literature on leadership.]
Consider a family of beavers building a dam and lodge.
Jobs are getting done, but no leader.
Because there is leadership, shared among the beavers. Each appears to know the objective and what they must do.
So they do it.
When we teach the Tuckman Group Dynamics model (forming, storming, norming, performing), we emphasize our objective is to enable the team to be effective and efficient without requiring a leader, a single person. We will always require leadership, but that role must be held by the person best suited to perform in the role.
Leader vs Leadership; not the same thing. Not how I see it. We need the latter. We need to eliminate the need for the former.
We need leaders to get the team to the point of performing. If we've built the team right, that person is not needed because the team will have leadership shared by the members.
If and when we get sucked into believing we need leaders, we effectively agree to abdicate our responsibility and authority, and become accepting of decisions and actions that may be contrary to our values.
We military personnel are trained to understand we have a duty to disobey unlawful orders. A duty, not a choice.
A problem is our society has no similar guidelines. People take action based on directions from someone perceived to be in a position of authority, or they take no action at all until told to but that perceived person in authority.

Another item I did not include is "Planning."
I have seen many groups spend all billable hours in planning, without having any of the 5 elements.
Dismal failure in many ways. For example:

  • No feeling of unity (lack of defined team)
  • Frustration and hurt feelings when "fill the box" encountered "do what is right, not what is expedient"
  • People worked assigned tasks because of arbitrary decisions, not because they had the requisite skills (assets were unclear)
  • No objective was set (no vision) so no one could determine if progress was being made
  • Frequently, meetings lacked a key person (communication was lacking)
  • I suggest unless the team is defined (all 5 elements), planning is pointless. While it may be fun to create a Gantt chart and project schedule, or get kudos from Management for demonstrated project leadership, you are on a death march to Destiny.