Reading and thoughts on world-class teams – II

(Reposted from my anandoned blog)

Read some more, and found some parts very interesting. For example, the author contends that a working group is way more productive and useful to the organization than a pseudo-team. According to the definitions used by the authors, a working group is when each of the members work on their own strengths/skills and the sum of individuals is equal to the whole. A pseudo-team is when the members think that they are a team though they are not (because they lack one of the important ingredients of the team: small size, common purpose, challenge, complimentary skills, enthusiasm, clear performance goal), so their efforts in trying to behave as a team is actually detrimental to even their individual effectiveness, so the whole is less than sum of the individuals. He contrasts a working group with a potential team, and says their current contribution to be similar, but the potential team (as the name suggests) has the potential to be a real team and then the effectiveness will go up for this potential team.

This reminds me of my experience with one of the teams in my previous company. We were supposed to make a networking device (actually the software for the device) and the team consisted of 7-8 members, all eager and enthusiastic, very smart guys, who wanted to make a difference to the world. We used to indulge in lots of brainstorming and knowledge sharing sessions, and of course in writing code needed to deliver the software. We were definitely a potential team, and the effectiveness we had was much more than other such groups in the organization (there were 3 such groups, involved in 3 different product lines of the same suite). We were innovative all the time and everyone was trying to help others out even when that meant spending more time at office, again some of the vital ingrendients of real teams. However, the software we delivered was not enough to keep our customers interested in the product, or the company in black. When the company started going down, no one wanted to leave the company even when the writing was clear on the wall, primarily because they enjoyed each others’ company so much.
From the definitions from this book, we were on the verge of being real team. And when I analyze that situation given my understanding today (based on my experience with successful companies) and of course reading this book, we were missing at least two vital ingredients:
1. Common performance goal: We were always enthusiastically working on our and others’ work, but we were never given a charter of (and we ourselves never figured it out) what we were supposed to shoot towards, what was the common binding goal for all of us. As a result, we kept on working technically cool stuff, and kept solving business problems with good intentions but bad plans, and could never have a rallying cry for our common goal.
2. Complimentary Skills: Almost all of us were techies, and none of us every tried to recruit (or pick skills) for business understanding and what it takes to deliver a product (and it is not technology if you are wondering!). If we had, we would have immediately realized that our efforts were not helping the company in any tangible way and we could have done something about it.
3. Leadership: The book talks about leader of the team, and that it is necessary though not sufficient, and the fact that in exceptional teams, at various times, different members can play leadership role. In our team, even though we had designated leader, he was more of a manager than a leader, and we never thought we should take lead in solving problems.

Don’t mistake it: this team was one of the most effective teams I have seen, and I have seen many teams in last 11 years; this means it had many things going for it. The above points just illustrate what could have catapulted into the high-performance teams that the authors talk about. If only we had ready the book 7 years back!

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