When I teach young leaders about the relationship between leaders and successful teams, I routinely start with the following three questions:
- What is a team?
- What is a working group?
- What is the difference between the two?
Our challenges, according to Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen in their excellent article called “The Secrets of Great Teamwork”, Harvard Business Review, June 2016, is that “Today’s teams are different from the teams of the past: They’re far more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic (with frequent changes in membership).”
From my own experiences and observations, I know that a team is different than a working group. I also know that it’s a common mistake to try to turn a working group into a team. For example, within a working group, the members interact primarily to share information, best practices, or perspectives. Within a working group they make decisions to help each individual perform within his or her area of responsibility. There is no reason for either a team approach or mutual accountability. To members of a working group, team building activities are pointless and take time that could better be spent “doing real work.”
Jon R. Katsenbach and Jason A. Santamaria in their very good article called “Firing Up the Front Line” by, May-June 1999, Harvard Business Review, explains this difference as follows: “Managers tend to label every working group in an organization a “team,” whether it’s a roomful of customer service operators or a string of assemblers on a manufacturing line. But employees quickly lose motivation and commitment when they’re assigned to a team that turns out to be a single-leader work group. If executives want to spark energy and commitment on the front lines, they must know how a team differs from a single-leader work group, and when to create one or the other.”
This week, I encourage all of us to read the above two articles. It is time we build healthy teams and healthy single leader work groups.