Stop killing your teams now!

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You have just met an architect, let’s call him Bill. Bill works on the design of a new skyscraper, he has the designs approved and funding awarded. He gets straight to work and builds the most beautiful building in town. Immediately after he destroys the building having met his goal of building the most beautiful structure in town.

What do you think of Bills behaviour?


Well, tech organisations do this kind of stunts all the time. They put in massive resources to build a team that will work on a project, once the project is done the team is disbanded and assigned to different projects. This is a massive waste of time, money and human capital.

In this entry, we are going to be discussing how this happens and why it is so costly to your organisation.

How do teams form?

A group of people does not become a team because you call them a team. In fact, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith in Wisdom of teams argue that teams go through 5 distinctive stages:

  1. Working group
  2. Pseudo team
  3. Potential team
  4. Real team
  5. High performing team

Dr Bruce Tuckman in Tuckman forming storming norming performing model proposes a model by which teams form.

In my experience this process manifests in the following steps:

  1. The team members have just been assigned to start working together. Being human and thus social creatures, they spent a good amount of time studying each other personalities.
  2. The members have discovered differences in how they work. This points of difference become fertile ground for blame games. If you are lucky the members move past this stage.
  3. The team has started experiencing some success working together, points of synergy have been found and exploited. They are actually starting to like each other more and leaning on their own judgment rather than the team leads.
  4. The team is now performing at optimum. At this point, we can confidently say your team has jelled.

This is not necessarily a linear process or even a four-day process, rather an iterative process that the team members work through to get their stride.

Why should you care about having a strong team?

You may be thinking “Chencha, this is a self-evident truth, just get on with it?”. You would be wrong. Cooperation can be achieved successfully without going through the trouble of forming a team. In fact, this happens all the time. Think about your trip to work this morning, if you drove, then you had to cooperate with all the other drivers to ensure a safe trip.

Real teams matter the most where you need the sum to be greater than the parts. Companies whose primary work is innovation need teams.

In The Lean Mindset: Ask the Right Questions, the Poppendiecks assert.

    Peer pressure is far more effective than the concept of a boss and much more powerful

Therein lies the power of teams. Organisational goals tend to be abstract and far removed from the everyday lives of the team members. Millions of years of evolution, however, guarantees that each member cares a lot about the other members.

Evoking this old instinct means that the team will serve the goals of their “tribe” loyalty. When this happens, the chances of success dramatically shoot up.

So then how am I destroying teams?

For consultancy firms, projects have finite timelines. At the end of the project, the default action is to disband the team and allocate them to different projects. The other option would be to keep them on the same team but with some downtime as you wait for the next project to come. This does not reflect quite well in your financials.

Yet, I firmly believe that it is better for a jelled team to have some downtime than to incur the cost of growing a whole new jelled team just to serve a new project.

My former boss always said, “When it comes to it, I would rather be loyal to my employees than to my clients”.

Don’t you think it is about time you made the same commitment?

Talk to me on twitter @jchex or in the comment section below.


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Software Project Manager