Why Teams Do Not Work

Coverdale’s mission is to enable people to succeed together. We are experts in cooperation and our foundation was built on developing teamwork skills.

We often get asked if teamwork is always the best approach. Our answer is that whenever you can achieve an aim better by working individually, teamwork is not the best way. Often in truly creative tasks or in endeavors where patient detail oriented focus is required (imagine a watchmaker) teamwork would take longer and risk compromising a high quality result. The challenge for the leader is to determine the right balance between independent individual action and a team approach.

There are steps before the action phase of a task or project and after completion that still require cooperative and leadership skills: the aims for the project have to be agreed upon, so that all stakeholders are aligned with the deliverables. After completion the end result has to be accepted by the clients of this project.

When teamwork is most appropriate, e.g. when a variety of skills are required for project completion, other challenges can prevent a team from being effective. According to research by J. Richard Hackman, the Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University and a leading expert on teamwork, teams often struggle and don’t work based on the following issues:

  • Team size, boundaries and membership are not clear
     
  • There are no compelling direction and vision
     
  • The team lacks organizational support
     
  • Team members have underdeveloped cooperative and operative teamwork skills
     

To address team dysfunction, HR development programs often focus on individual behavioral change and skill development that have little direct effect on team performance. Hackman proposes that expert team coaching is critical to build successful and effective teams. Finally there are many tasks that are better performed individually and cooperative skills come into play at a later stage.

To read the entire Harvard Business Review interview with Professor Hackman,"Why Teams Don't Work", HBR, May 2009, go to Harvard Business Review (click here -  you will leave this website).

Category: general
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