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What do we mean when we use the word “team”?  If you’re like me, a team implies a certain level of cooperation and trust and collaboration and helpfulness between a collection of people.  It is different than a “group” because a team implies meaningful connections where there is a shared sense of ownership.  A group is simply a bunch of folks who periodically come together and then go off separately to get stuff done.  Their interconnections are defined by being members of the same enterprise rather than a deeper sense of personal responsibility.

So I’m being serious when I ask you, “Do you need to convene a team or a group?”

Do you need a team?  Of course you have direct reports.  That does not mean that they are a team or need to be a team.  They could be autonomous units taking care of business.  They could be a group of people who you need to keep informed.  They could be individual “consultants” to you letting you know how the business is doing.  Or they could be a critical group of people who need to become interdependent and cooperative in order to accomplish the business objectives.  Without that intense interaction you will all fail.

All of these options are fine depending on your business needs.  My point is if you don’t need a highly collaborative team then you are fine just doing the basics described in the previous post.  You can call them your staff.  If your situation needs more than that, I still recommend getting some help so this collection of individuals can gel into a real team.

I could quote you all the research on how effective teams produce better business outcomes and I can even produce loads of executives who would agree with that.  But in the real world there are very few highly productive (sic. no silos, collaborative, joint decision making, healthy debates, genuine respect, strategic focus) senior teams.  That is just a fact.  What passes as a team in reality is a group of highly skilled people that all report to the same person who come together periodically to report on the business.  No need for advanced leadership skills for that.  But you still must ask whether or not your business needs more than this loose confederation of individuals.

Here’s a sad truth.  Businesses can really excel if they have leaders who are dedicated and talented team builders.  But because most executives are not skilled enough there is, as the saying goes, lots of money left on the table.

So think about this one very hard.  Maybe you do need a real team.  If the answer is yes, find a great teacher.

Do your people trust each other?  I ask the question because without trust you end up with loads of counterproductive, and often destructive, behavior.  It doesn’t matter if they are a group of direct reports or a team.  Without a baseline of trust or goodwill your people will be backstabbing, undermining, sabotaging and manipulating (longhand for getting “thrown under the bus”) to get the upper hand.  This doesn’t even come close to the notion of teamwork but it is all too often the substitute in the real world.

Again, this is a huge topic with loads of research done by very smart people.  So let me bottom line this.  First, you need to be trustworthy as the leader.  Second, buses must be forbidden.  Third, you need to get rid of the bad apples.  You cannot coach a devious, power grabbing person to become dependable and honorable.  Even a therapist would find that a challenge.  So set a few rigid standards for yourself and others and eliminate those who chronically misbehave.  If you don’t, you have no hope of building a productive group or team.  End of story.

So, what have we learned?  Teams are great but they don’t usually become great.  Groups of people can be productive but they are not necessarily a team.  Use some of your good management skills to help you improve the performance of your team.  Your gut is smart (even if it hangs over your belt).  If you really, really want to become a great team leader get help.  And get rid of those people you already know you can’t stand.

And lastly, rip down those “team norm” posters.

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