A key part of success is leading high performance teams, but as a word “teams” is beginning to lose its definition, and is often applied incorrectly.
It is being used to define anything from organizational groups, committees, panels, tribes, and of course in sports. This is understandable because words have power, and there’s something about that word that suggests positivity.
Labelling a group of people as a team can be a wellbeing hack, to improve motivation, and to suggest being part of a family, where everyone looks out for one another, and they are all in it together.
But labelling something a team, does not make it so.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe a group of superheroes are brought together to form the Avengers, in order to deal with threats greater than one individual can deal with. It is a noble idea, and working together can achieve great things. Until it doesn’t.
Not All Groups Of People Are Teams
Katzenbach and Smith define a team as
“… a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”
This correlates with good leadership, which should be about leading people with similar goals, to impact the world in a positive way. Teams tend to be innovative, have open ended discussions focusing on problem solving, collaboration, and multi directional communication.
We can see this with the Avengers, who are focused on collectively saving the world through cooperation. This seems like the ideal, and it is understandable why so many groups aspire to be thought of as a team.
But what is the alternative?
The Power Of A Work Group
A work group aligns more with the control and command style of leadership. They have meetings for coordination, delegation, and one way communication where the authority figure is making decisions and each individual is focused on their own goals.
This is not a bad thing. Teams can often be less effective than a group of individuals due to the level of discussion and compromise. It can also take a great deal of time for a team to find their cohesion. When decisions need to be made, a work group may be the better choice, especially with a tight deadline.
As the pressure mounts for the Avengers conflict occurs, egos clash, and eventually civil war ensues.
As Bruce Banner states,
“What are we a team? No, no no, we are a chemical mixture that makes chaos. We’re a timebomb”
In a work group there is a clear, authoritative leader who is calling the shots, and each individual can focus on their own tasks. This can mean less conflict, faster decision making, and a more agile style of leadership.
The Avengers fell apart because of a leadership battle primarily between Captain America and Iron Man. Both had the same goals to protect the world, but the strategies for doing so were different. The Avengers were not a team.
Captain America “Stark, we need a plan of attack”
Iron Man “I have a plan. Attack”.
This isn’t to say that the situation can not be turned around. If the team is prone to conflict, personality clashes, and poor productivity, it is up to someone to take control. That may mean removing some team members, or simply stating that the dynamic is changing and it is now a work group.
We see this with Iron Man when they are now in the final battle, and he manages his ego and asks Captain America to take the lead. His first task is to delegate and give people individual tasks.
“All right, listen up. Until we can close that portal, our priority is containment. Barton, I want you on that roof. Eyes on everything. Call out patterns and strays. Stark, you got the perimeter. Anything gets more than three blocks out, you turn it back or you turn it to ash.”
Teams and work groups can both be effective, and it will be up to you to carefully consider the tasks ahead, and to use your knowledge of the people and organization, to decide whether a team dynamic will get the job done.
Choosing to call yourself a team just because you like the warm fuzzy feeling it gives you is a path to civil war, and is poor leadership.