Module 4: Agile Team Dynamics & Leadership
What is a “Team”?
A team is a set of two or more people who interact adaptively, interdependently, and dynamically towards a common and valued goal (Salas et al. 1992). In a team, members work together because their outcomes are interdependent – what A achieves (or not) impacts whether B can achieve her goals (or not), and vice versa. A team also has a limited life span. This makes teams different from business groups, which typically exist for a long period of time.
Teams vs. Individuals
Teamwork is essential, as most innovations are developed by teams, not by individuals. It is crucial to understand how teams think, behave, feel, and make decisions. In groups, members need to negotiate, discuss, disagree, and reconcile their goals and activities. Motivations, thoughts, and behavior are social and interactive processes between individuals and not solely within the individual. Because thoughts, actions, and decisions happen in-between, not within individuals, teams do not work the same way as individuals do. For example, teams are less overconfident than individuals, more risk-averse, and better able to manage uncertainty, more competitive, and greedy than individuals. (Salas, 2008)
What’s the main challenge with teams?
Teams can outperform individuals, but only if members work well together. A team that manages to combine the knowledge of its members is fantastic. But teams can also be subject to conflicts that tear them apart. Despite having access to a broad range of knowledge and expertise, it does not mean that team members are able to combine it into something useful.
What determines team performance?
Team performance is determined by the parts that create the team (“inputs”) and how those parts play together to create something bigger than its parts (“teamwork”). When you hear the expression 1+1=3, that’s what it means. If the team manages both these things (inputs & teamwork) well, they will have a good output.
Generally speaking, inputs are (1) team members and (2) resources. These are some questions to ask yourself to see if you have the right inputs:
Are your team members smart, compassionate, empathetic, ambitious, hard-working, experienced,…?
Does this team have access to enough money, time, organizational support,…?
People and resources are relatively static aspects of a team. Team members have whatever traits or skills they have, and these attributes cannot be changed in the short term. The same is valid for resources: they are set and often in short supply.
Teamwork is emergent. It develops over time as the team members work together. Great teamwork—playing well together—has different aspects to it. Team members need to manage:
Their relationships with each other; build trust; develop unity in the team; manage conflicts.
The task at hand: make plans, set goals, divide roles, establish routines.
The positive and negative impacts of teamwork
For those working in an innovation team, these emergent teamwork qualities have both a negative and a positive impact.
Teamwork is something that team members can influence themselves. Trust, planning, and work processes are dependent on what members decide and how members behave.
Teamwork has a strong path dependency. This means that once norms, routines, and relationships have been set in a team, they are difficult to change.
Building trust is easier than repairing trust. Setting a good routine is easier than breaking a bad one. Because of this path dependency, the most important decisions you make in a team are the ones you make right on. First impressions last.
How do you build a strong team?
Building a strong team is complex, and there is no silver bullet for it. It depends on the team members, how they work together, and how long they have worked together.
There are, however, a lot of tips and tricks to learn along the way. It helps to remember that there are different routes to performance:
Good team members
Good management of the task at hand
And above all, it is much easier to enhance team performance if you, as a team member, reflect on what it implies to work in a team.